Before he was Richmond’s all-time leader in 3-point field goals, before he was a McDonald’s All-American nominee, before he took his high school basketball team to the state championship game, Kendall Anthony was a high school kid going on a date.
To prepare, he asked his grandfather Romeo Stewart for money, and Stewart complied.
But riding in his grandfather’s car on the way to dinner, Anthony noticed a man on the side of the street. The man appeared homeless and was holding a sign asking for support.
“Stop,” Anthony said to his grandfather.
“Stop for what?” Stewart asked.
Anthony decided to give the homeless man some of the money that was intended for his date.
“That’s the type of person he is,” Stewart says after telling the story. “If he can help you, he will help you.”
"A guy who's as committed to winning and being a great player as anyone I’ve ever seen."
Anthony is selfless. He does volunteer work, has a strong, Christian faith and shows unwavering loyalty to his family, friends and teammates. But he doesn’t talk about that side of himself. He prefers to stay in the gym and shoot, and when he does talk to those he isn’t close to, he prefers to speak about basketball. Even then the focus hardly remains on him – I challenge you to find a post-game press conference when he doesn’t mention his teammates multiple times.
This unselfish, team-first demeanor has forced Anthony’s basketball legacy to revolve solely around his play. He doesn’t draw national attention for himself unless he’s making clutch shots in big games.
It’s uncertain whether Anthony’s playing career will extend beyond the Robins Center. Not only does he seem to fly well under the radar, he’s also just 5-foot-8-inches tall – not the stereotypical NBA player. His height will be a major hurdle for him. As will coming from Richmond. It’s not exactly Kentucky or Duke.
But these factors haven’t stopped him so far. He’s found outstanding success and stood out even within the storied history of Richmond basketball. And he’s only getting better. He took control of the biggest stage he’s played on during his senior season, scoring 20 second-half points to lead the Spiders to a road win over No. 14 Virginia Commonwealth University Rams. He led his team to an 89-63 blowout over Davidson and broke Richmond’s career 3-point record that same night. He’s averaging about 17 points per game and 36 minutes, both testaments to his talent and desire to be on the court at all times.
Anthony lets his play do the talking, as he always has. The combination of his work ethic, excellent shooting and quickness could lift him over the height and popularity hurdles and into a professional career. But he hasn’t always been the stellar point guard he is today – and he certainly didn’t come all this way on his own.
“He'd slip out there in the rain shooting that ball.”
Kendall Anthony was born and raised in Jackson, Tennessee. Through his childhood he was raised primarily by his mother, Karen Phelps, and her parents, the Stewarts.
From as far back as his mother and grandfather can remember, Anthony has loved basketball. Since he could walk, he would seek out a ball each time he was in a store and dribble it around. When he went to his grandparents’ house, he would shoot a ball into a big popcorn can because that was the most accessible hoop.
Though basketball was a part of Anthony’s life from an early age, his mother and grandparents more heavily emphasized religion and education while raising him and his younger sister, Kara.
From an early age, Anthony was involved with his church in Jackson, ushering and participating in different programs. Even there he found ways to play basketball, competing in the church’s 3-point contest every year, his mother said.
Phelps and her father saw Anthony’s passion early and began providing him opportunities to play and learn basketball when he was about seven years old. His mother got him involved in YMCA leagues during elementary school, and brought him with her when she worked at the YMCA part-time. His grandfather bought a hoop for the driveway. “He’d get out there rain, shine, sleet or snow,” Stewart said. “He’d slip out there in the rain shooting that ball.”
All the while, alongside basketball, Anthony was learning how to embrace his Christian faith thanks in large part to his grandfather. “They had to go to church,” Stewart said. “We didn’t send them, we carried them. We stayed there with them and talked to them about what was right and what was wrong.”
Stewart also made sure that basketball didn’t interfere with his grandchildren’s education. After school each day, Anthony and his sister would head to their grandparents’ house, where they did their homework.
“Before they would do anything, they had to sit down and get their homework done,” Stewart said. “We told them that’s the only thing that’s really going to count in life, to get your education.”
As Anthony continued through elementary school, his passion for basketball continued to grow and his mother continued to help him improve his game by providing him with learning opportunities.
She remembers buying him a tape of Michael Jordan highlights that he would watch and study repeatedly. He wanted to be like Jordan, and even got called a “Michael Jordan wannabe” by a classmate.
The studying paid higher dividends, as Anthony’s talent in middle school caught the attention of his eventual high school coach Dexter Williams. “I hadn’t seen a middle school kid score like that,” Williams said.
Once Anthony made it to Liberty Technology Magnet High School, he stopped growing. He had been about the same height as his classmates until then, but when he reached high school, a new and unexpected challenge arose. “It was just something that didn’t go my way,” Anthony said. “Once you get to high school you start to see, ‘Hey, I’m not growing anymore.’”
But he was in the hands of Williams, who would help to shape him into a fierce competitor and teach him the necessary attributes for overcoming his short stature. Williams was purposefully tough on Anthony, because he saw a talented kid who could use a lesson in discipline and work ethic.
“I know there’s probably a lot of times when Kendall didn’t like me very well,” Williams said. “But I think now, looking back, I think he probably appreciated it.”
Anthony credits Williams with teaching him the intangibles: work ethic and the mentality of a winner. “Nothing was ever given in high school,” Anthony said. “You had to earn everything. It was pretty rough.”
The hard work paid off. Anthony found success in high school, leading his team to the Tennessee state championship game his senior year and being named the runner up for the Mr. Basketball Tennessee award.
His accolade-filled senior season drew the attention of a number of college coaches, though none had the prestige of Coach K at Duke or Jim Boeheim at Syracuse. Richmond head coach Chris Mooney admired Anthony’s competitiveness and composure, and decided that those attributes, as well as his rare shooting ability, warranted a scholarship.
“He was immediately a big offensive weapon for us.”
The Robins Center was electric, full of screaming fans dressed in red rooting for their Spiders in a 2013 edition of the “Black and Blue Classic,” the school’s biannual game against VCU.
But the Spiders were down by six points and there were only 22 seconds left on the clock. Not the most favorable odds – especially against a 19th-ranked VCU team.
That’s when Anthony became a star. He was fouled on a 3-point attempt and made all three free throws. On the next possession, he pulled up for a jump shot well behind the 3-point line and made it with 15 seconds left to bring his team within one point.
Then his teammate and close friend Darien Brothers finished the job, making an even longer shot than Anthony’s to push the game into overtime. By this time, the Robins Center was as loud as it’s been in years, and the Spiders had too much momentum to go down. Richmond defeated No. 19 VCU in overtime, 86-74, fans rushed the court and Anthony and his teammates had a memory that would stick with them for years to come.
(Full highlights from Richmond’s 2013 victory over VCU can be found here.)
Anthony called that game, which occurred during his sophomore year, the most memorable of his career at Richmond. But it didn’t take that long after joining the Spiders for him to make an impact – Anthony had been a valuable scorer long before his performance against VCU.
“He was immediately a big offensive weapon for us,” Mooney said. “Probably almost too much, in terms of like we were fairly dependent on him to score as a freshman.”
Anthony continued to shine as a scorer during his sophomore year, scoring a career-high 31 points against Air Force and averaging 11.5 points per game. He improved during his junior season, scoring about 16 points per game.
With all of the success Anthony has on the court, coupled with his quiet personality, it’s easy to forget that there’s much more to his life than basketball. Throughout his first three years at Richmond, Anthony made countless shots, but he also made friendships with his teammates, and those friendships far outweigh any shot for Anthony.
His closest friend since coming to Richmond has been Cedrick Lindsay, who speaks as highly of Anthony as anyone. Lindsay calls him one of the hardest working, funniest and most loyal people he’s ever met.
“He’s like my little brother,” Lindsay said. He also made it clear that basketball is not Anthony’s top priority – God, family, friends and education all come first.
"I think some of his best days might be ahead of him."
Anthony is notoriously hardworking—as Mooney and any Richmond teammate will attest—and he dedicates much of his time to improving as a basketball player, but his priorities extend beyond the game. His professors say he is articulate and thoughtful in the classroom. He does volunteer work during the summer. He travels to Jackson when he has the opportunity and speaks with high school players. He dedicates one day during each of his short trips home to spend with his mother, and another day with his grandparents. And he goes to church every Sunday when he is home in Tennessee.
Anthony will finish his last season of Richmond basketball in March and will graduate from the university in May. His legacy will likely lie well beyond his 14.2 points per game, his 39 percent 3-point shooting or his 5-foot-8-inch stature.
“A guy who’s as committed to winning and being a great player as anyone I’ve ever seen,” Mooney said, commenting on how he believes Anthony should be remembered.
Anthony has done about as much as a 5-foot-8 point guard can do to give himself an opportunity to extend his basketball career past Richmond. Both Lindsay and Williams said they thought he had the talent to play professionally, whether it be in the NBA or in an overseas professional league.
Until then, Anthony will spend just about every day in the gym perfecting his craft. But he will continue to be defined as much more than just a basketball player.
“I think he genuinely cares for people,” Williams said. “I just think Kendall has a love for people and a love for life. That’s special right there. The scary thing about it is, I think some of his best days might be ahead of him.”