LOS ANGELES — As one of the most highly decorated players in California, having earned his state’s Gatorade Player of the Year and Mr. Basketball honors after his senior year at Long Beach Poly High, the natural assumption was that Ryan Anderson was a shoo-in to stay home and play his college basketball at any choice of West Coast institutions.
Southern Cal? UCLA? Saint Mary’s?
All seemed like they were possibilities.
So no one would have been surprised had Anderson, who averaged 16.4 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists his senior season, decided to go to any of those schools.
But Anderson seemed to shock everyone when he took a counterintuitive route to the East Coast to play for Boston College. The Eagles offered the 6-foot-9-inch forward the added attraction of playing in the Atlantic Coast Conference and competing against the likes of blue-chip programs such as Duke and North Carolina.
Anderson, a junior cocaptain on BC’s basketball team, hopes to make it a triumphant homecoming Sunday night when he leads the Eagles (3-5) into a game against USC (5-3) at the Galen Center.
“There were several Pac-12 schools that were interested in me, but at the time the Pac-12 was really struggling and a lot of teams like USC and UCLA were struggling with their coaching staffs,’’ said Anderson.
“It was a period in time for me where I had the opportunity to go to a conference where you could play the top teams and have a chance to play right away,’’ Anderson said.
What was more shocking, though, was the fact Anderson brought along a friend, making a pact with Lonnie Jackson of Valencia, Calif., to commit to BC in a package deal.
“It just worked out that me and Ryan made our visit together,’’ said Jackson, now a 6-4 junior guard who had been considering Stanford, Arizona State, Penn, and Harvard. Boston College popped on his radar when Eagles coach Steve Donahue began recruiting him after watching him play at a tournament in Las Vegas.
“We kind of made a decision at the end of our visit that we were both going to come here because we both really liked it,’’ Jackson said. “We liked the coaches and everything, so we decided to come here. But we really didn’t base our decision on being from California. We just based our decision on where was the best place for us to be successful.’’
Anderson and Jackson followed Kyle Caudill of Brea, Calif., a hulking 6-11, 269-pounder who played travel basketball with both players and was the first among the Eagles’ four California-born players to agree to come East.
“I committed in late July, before they even got to visit,’’ said Caudill, who was also considering Northwestern and Harvard, but picked BC after making it his only official visit before his senior year at Brea Olinda High. “I talked to them a little bit, but I don’t know how much influence it had. I just exchanged a couple of texts with them and we all talked about how much we liked it there.’’
There were some cultural differences to be worked out with their other BC teammates, though. Like which was the better burger: Five Guys (East Coast) or In-N-Out (West Coast)? After Friday’s practice at the Clippers practice facility, the team found In-N-Out burgers waiting for them for their bus ride back to the team’s hotel.
The verdict? “There’s some blasphemers who still prefer Five Guys,’’ Caudill said. “But I don’t see how they can.’’
So what made BC the clear-cut choice for many of the Californians?
“You want to play against the top people in the country and we have a Top-25 institution with our academics,’’ Jackson said. “It’s pretty much the best of both worlds with basketball and the academics, so that’s what put BC over the top.’’
Of course, it helped to have a few Golden State natives already on board.
“It’s not easy to come across the country because you get homesick and you miss your family,’’ said Jackson. “It’s a whole different world on the East Coast. So it’s good to know that you’re going somewhere where you already have a support group in place.’’
BC would have had five California-bred players on its roster had Jordan Daniels, a 5-9 point guard from Fontana, Calif., not transferred in January to Drake University in Des Moines.
“He went from California to the East Coast to the cornfields,’’ Caudill noted dryly.
The strong California presence was a definite influence for Joe Rahon, a 6-2 guard from Torrey Pines High who became the second-most famous San Diegan to play for the Eagles after Jared Dudley.
“Yeah, it was big for me,’’ said Rahon, who had looked at several Pac-12 schools before putting BC atop his list as Donahue was among the first coaches to recruit him. Rahon developed a quick rapport with Donahue, whose Philadelphia background and coaching style were similar to that of his high school coach, John Olive.
“I grew up playing against Lonnie and Kyle, and even Ryan, on the AAU circuit,’’ said Rahon, just a sophomore but still voted a co-captain with Anderson. “To see them willing to come out [East] was a big eye-opening thing for me.’’
During the summer of his high school senior year, Rahon played with Dudley and a couple of his Phoenix Suns teammates: Aaron Brooks, who went to Oregon, and Josh Childress, a standout at Stanford. They tried to lobby Rahon on behalf of their Pac-12 schools.
“Jared just talked to me about how much he loved it at BC,’’ Rahon said. “And seeing him as a San Diego kid, being ACC Player of the Year, and now he’s going to be a 12-year NBA pro, it was like if he went out there and made it, then anything was possible at that point.’’
Said Jackson, “When you come from the West Coast, there’s only two big institutions you can go to: USC and UCLA. If you’re not going there, then you kind of want to go to a bigger conference, like the ACC. My dream was to go to UCLA, but they never even looked at me. If those coaches look over you, then you have to go somewhere else.’’
For the California Connection on BC’s roster, Chestnut Hill proved a perfect landing spot.
“For me and Ryan, it just felt right when we were walking though campus and hanging out,’’ Jackson said. “I mean, me and Ryan really weren’t that good friends before our visit, but we hit it off during the visit and became really good friends. It just felt like Coach D and his vision and where we were going, it just felt like it was the right decision.’’Michael Vega can be reached at email@example.com.