The Wednesday afternoon ceremony marking Kristi Anderson’s official move from high school basketball to college basketball was modest yet festive. A dozen or two people — teammates, teachers, coaches and family members — gathered in the Commons at East High, where Anderson, flanked by balloons and flowers, signed a letter of intent.
Often the letter-of-intent ceremonies that garner attention are for athletes headed to big-time colleges to play Division I sports. Anderson is headed to Southwest Oregon Community College, a two-year school in Coos Bay, Oregon, and she worked every bit as hard for her scholarship as the five-star prospect who winds up at UConn or Stanford.
A 5-foot-8 shooting guard who was an all-Cook Inlet Conference selection this season, Anderson started playing Boys & Girls basketball as a third-grader. She loved the game so much she spent much of her youth shooting baskets.
“I’m outside five or six hours just shooting, and being disciplined while I shoot,” she said.
She stays in the same spot until she makes five baskets, then she moves to another spot. By the time she’s done, she said, she has covered a whole lot of ground while putting up 1,000 to 1,500 shots.
“It keeps me focused,” she said. “My mom had to beg me to come inside.”
Love of the game inspires Anderson to spend hours improving her shot, but so does something else. She is an Alaska Native, and she wants her success to inspire others.
“For Alaska Natives, we do live a hard life, and I want to show people you can do it. You just have to put in the work,” she said. “And I want to make my family proud.”
Anderson is the youngest of four children and the first to go to college. Her mom, Marcia Anderson, is an Alutiiq from Kodiak who works as a public health educator, and her dad, Edwin Anderson, is an Inupiaq from Naknek who works as a commercial fisherman and played high school basketball for Bristol Bay back in the day.
Marcia Anderson remembers winter days when the family lived in Kenai and Kristi was a little girl spending her free time shooting baskets with her older brother, Edwin Jr.
“There would be glare ice in the driveway and they would be playing basketball and I’d say, ‘You guys, you have to get off that or you’re gonna kill yourself.’ I told my husband to go to the river and get some gravel. We might as well sand everything,” she said.
Years later, she believes her daughter’s ascent to college basketball is consequential for Alaska Natives.
“It’s absolutely significant,” she said. “There’s a lot of struggles and hurdles we have to overcome to be successful just because of our history. ... It’s important to show you can put in that effort, that you can be a role model and we can be productive people not only for the Native community but the community as a whole.”
East High coach Laura Ingham thinks it’s a big deal too.
“It’s huge for females, and it’s even bigger for the Native community,” she said. “When I play in the women’s league I play against Native women, and they’re good. They don’t get the props like they should. If I was a Native girl, I’d be watching her and saying, yes, I can do this. They need to see their people represented.
“They need to see they can compete against the best of the best.”
Ingham said Anderson is the hardest-working player she’s had in four seasons as the Thunderbirds coach. “Any time I had an open gym, she was in it,” she said.
And Anderson is always the first to raise her hand when Ingham plans volunteer activities.
When Ingham asked players to help referee at a Special Olympics tournament last year, Anderson jumped at the chance. She liked it, she was good at it, and now she works part-time as a referee.
And, as you might expect, she works hard at it. Last weekend, she officiated 17 games.