Strong bond: Hawks’ Huerter, Braves’ Anderson from childhood friends to Atlanta

Atlanta Hawks guard Kevin Huerter and Los Angeles Lakers guard Danny Green battle for a loose ball in a NBA basketball game on Sunday, December 15, 2019, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Caption
Atlanta Hawks guard Kevin Huerter and Los Angeles Lakers guard Danny Green battle for a loose ball in a NBA basketball game on Sunday, December 15, 2019, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

When Ian Anderson was seven years old, it was clear that baseball was his calling. He had to be placed on a separate youth team, away from his future friend and equally talented athlete Kevin Huerter.

It wouldn’t be the last time the two would go different directions, but it would be the last time they would do so before the start of their decade-long friendship.

Now, 14 years later, Anderson and Huerter have both settled into the Atlanta area. Anderson remained a baseball player and is among the top prospects in a stacked Braves minor league system. Huerter’s best sport proved to be basketball so he switched out a bat and glove and is the starting shooting guard for the Hawks.

Growing up in Clifton Park, New York (just outside Albany), Anderson and Huerter quickly formed a bond. After those three years apart, they teamed up on the same Little League team at the age of 10 and their families grew close. With both of their fathers coaching their youth teams, the two seldom spent a summer day apart.

“We played together since we were 10 every summer up until we graduated senior year in high school,” Huerter said. “He’s seen all my growth and development and I’ve seen all of his growth and development.”

The duo continued to tear it up on the diamond, eventually landing on the Shenendehowa High School baseball team. Anderson tried out for the freshmen team a year early in eighth grade and didn’t make the squad but made an early impression on the coaching staff. Huerter continued to play baseball but also made his way onto the basketball team as a long, athletic wing.

Caption
Atlanta Braves new pitching coach Rick Kranitz watches pitcher Ian Anderson work in the bullpen during spring training at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019, in Lake Buena Vista. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

Atlanta Braves new pitching coach Rick Kranitz watches pitcher Ian Anderson work in the bullpen during spring training at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019, in Lake Buena Vista.    Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Caption
Atlanta Braves new pitching coach Rick Kranitz watches pitcher Ian Anderson work in the bullpen during spring training at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019, in Lake Buena Vista. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

“They loved being at the ballpark, and Kevin loved being at the ballpark and at the basketball court, so we had to balance that quite a bit with the demands of both sports,” Shenendehowa baseball head coach Greg Christodulu said. “They were wonderful student-athletes to have in our program and they really set the bar for their group and for future groups. That’s why you’re in coaching, for guys like that.”

By junior year of high school, with Anderson on the mound and Huerter as the starting center fielder and star basketball player, the duo started to garner attention, not only for themselves but for the Clifton Park community as well. Anderson committed to Vanderbilt in December of 2014 and started to receive future MLB draft buzz. Huerter led the basketball team to a state championship in 2015 and committed to Maryland to play basketball the following September.

“Honestly it was a lot of fun, for the two years that we kind of blew up, during our junior and senior years,” Huerter said. “It was one of those things that every day, someone (from the media) was there. I think we definitely brought a good buzz to the school.”

The attention grew to be so great, that a local news station followed the team during their 2016 season. Behind Anderson’s deadly arm and Huerter’s defensive leadership, the team won the state championship, capping off two impressive high school athletic careers.

Christodulu described Anderson and Huerter as “quiet assassins” throughout the media process, crediting their inherent make-up and tight knit families for their humility.

“For how they handled themselves, they also included not only the school but also the community in their experiences, which was spectacular,” Christodulu said. “They were so easy to support because they included everyone in their process.”

The state championship proved to be the last time the two would play baseball together, but little changed in their relationship over the next few years.

Their individual success continued to grow as Anderson was drafted with the third overall pick in the 2016 MLB Draft into the Braves organization. The selection sent him first to North Point, Florida, while Huerter enrolled at Maryland as a four-star shooting guard.

The relationship between the friends stayed strong. The pair kept in touch as Anderson’s career led him around the southeast, before finally ending 2018 in with the Double-A Mississippi Braves. In his stint for the club, Anderson posted an impressive 2.49 ERA in 24 starts.

At the same time, Huerter was thriving in College Park, Maryland. After scoring 14.8 points and averaging five rebounds per game, the sophomore declared for the 2018 NBA Draft.

The Hawks fell right in the middle of his draft range and selected him with the 19th overall pick. All the while, an old friend followed along.

“As the draft was going on, I was following closely,” Anderson said. “People were telling me that he might even go a little higher, so I think that Hawks were lucky to grab him up. He’s loved it and has taken off and ran with the chances he’s gotten, so I’m definitely happy for him.”

Now in his second year with Hawks, Huerter established himself as a piece in the team’s young core. He averages 11.6 points per game and has started to take on the responsibility of being the team’s secondary playmaker.

For Anderson, the upcoming 2020 season could be career-altering. After receiving his second invitation to Braves spring training, the 21-year old has a chance to compete for the fifth spot in the team’s starting rotation.

Already, the young duo has dreamed about getting the chance to be together, playing for professional sports teams in Atlanta.

“It would honestly be surreal, just looking at the path that we’ve each taken to get here,” Huerter said. “(For Ian) to have the opportunity to pitch in the playoffs, or pitch in meaningful games, would obviously be games that I would go to and be right there for him for. With (the Hawks) and our youth movement and hopefully getting better. ... He’ll be able to see a lot of that too. It could potentially be a lot of fun.”