West Orange, N.J., is the home of 5-foot-9 senior point guard Chris Andrews and the newly anointed state champions, the Seton Hall Prep Pirates. Andrews considers himself a pure point guard — he may not score a lot of points, but he handles the ball well and racks up the assists. He said his energy on the court helps him to compensate for his relatively small stature.
“As a player, I’m definitely most proud of the aggression and the intensity I bring to the game,” Andrews said from his home in New Jersey. “I think I play a lot harder than most people do. I get a lot of rebounds that I shouldn’t, considering my size.”
Next year, when he dons the Eli blue, that is exactly what Yale head coach James Jones expects from him.
“He’s a play-maker,” Jones said. “He’s not a guy that’s going to go out and score 20 points. He’s going to make everyone around him better, and that’s his job. He’s going to fight for a starting spot. He has a great court sense and he’s a winner — all he has done over the last three years is win basketball games.”
At Seton Hall Prep, one of the best athletic high schools in the country, Andrews made the leap to a starting spot on junior varsity his freshman year, skipping over the freshman squad. Coach Bob Farrell said he recognized Andrews’ potential from his first practice over four years ago.
“Once I saw him play with the freshman team, I knew there was no limit to how he could play,” Farrell said. “He moved up to junior varsity as a freshman because in the tryouts for freshman he was clearly better than anyone else we had.”
Andrews played off the varsity bench as a sophomore and started his junior and senior seasons. In his last campaign, he led the Pirates to the New Jersey state championship in a come-from-behind 63-60 victory over St. Patrick’s High School.
“It felt wonderful when we actually won,” Andrews said. “But it was a lot of hard work. We overcame a lot of adversity. Our team changed a lot. Our starting shooting guard transferred before the season, and two people quit when we went into the playoffs, so we went in with a six-man rotation.”
Andrews averaged 6.6 assists per game through the playoff run and 5.8 assists per game for the season. His team dropped only one game all year long. He also contributed with 6.3 points per game. But it is his steady command of the floor — both offensively and defensively — that makes him such an attractive player to Jones.
“He’s probably one of the most mature kids I’ve ever met,” Jones said. “He’s a great person to talk to, a great leader. That’s obviously something that we think highly of here, especially from the point guard spot.”
He earned Second Team All-State for his work on the court this season.
“He’s a kid who made Second Team All-State here in New Jersey, and he did it while averaging six points a game,” Farrell said. “I think people recognized how important he was to our team. His ability to lead — to run offense and play defense — and even rebound for his size, I think it’s incredible that he’s gotten the respect that most people who don’t score a lot of points never get.”
Andrews said he has been playing basketball since the first grade, but he thinks his skills and his maturity really took off in the sixth grade when he started competing in Amateur Athletic Union tournaments around the country, competing against some of the best young talent in the nation.
“When I think about playing AAU — I’m kind of used to playing in front of big crowds against a high level of competition,” Andrews said. “I don’t think I’m going to face that talent in the Ivy League. The experience will definitely help me.”
Andrews said he has grown both as a player and a leader over the years.
“I developed completely,” he said. “I got a lot stronger. My decision-making is a lot better. I defend the ball better. I shoot better than I did last year. I think I’m just more of a team leader, more vocal than I was in the first three years [of high school].”
The Elis need a vocal leader to replace graduating point guard Alex Gamboa ’05, who captained the Elis this season.
From Andrews’ perspective, Yale will be the perfect place to play basketball and get his degree.
“Basically I was looking for the best academic school I could go to while playing at the highest level of basketball that I could,” Andrews said. “I wanted to play, and I wanted to go to school close to home.”
Andrews has visited campus twice, once on the weekend of Midnight Madness last fall when the Elis practiced for the first time. The Bulldogs finished in third place in the Ivy League and looked on as the University of Pennsylvania took the Ivy title and competed in the NCAA Tournament, falling in the first round to Boston College. For Andrews, the Ivy championship and a tourney birth would be the ultimate achievement.
“I hope to go to the NCAA Tournament; that’s a huge goal of mine,” he said. “I’d just like to help the team win any way possible.”