John’s Journal: New DeLaSalle Coach Meets High Expectations
After 24 Years As An Assistant, Todd Anderson Takes Over Program
Posted: Wednesday, February 1, 2023 - 3:12 PM
When DeLaSalle High School was looking for a new head boys basketball coach before this season began, Islanders senior Nasir Whitlock knew whom he wanted to see get the job.
Whitlock, a senior who has signed with Lehigh University and scored a school-record 52 points in a win at Hopkins last week, hoped longtime assistant coach Todd Anderson would be promoted.
“One hundred percent,” Whitlock said Tuesday night after the Islanders defeated visiting Cooper 80-53 to improve to 14-4 under their new coach.
Anderson, however, is not new to the program. The 48-year-old spent half his life – yes, 24 years – as an Islanders assistant coach. He’s leading one of the most successful programs in Minnesota history as the 15th head coach of a program that played its first season in 1921.
DeLaSalle owns 12 state championships. Current University of Minnesota assistant coach Dave Thorson (who hired Anderson) led the Islanders for 23 years, winning nine state titles and six in a row before leaving in 2017 for the college ranks. He was replaced by former Islanders player Travis Bledsoe, who coached there for five years, took all five teams to the state tournament and won one championship.
Bledsoe was hired as head men’s coach at Anoka-Ramsey Community College last summer, leaving the DeLaSalle job open.
“It was all pretty sudden,” said DeLaSalle activities director Keelie Sorensen. “We knew it was going to be a big hire. The first thought was always Todd.”
Anderson works outside the school, and Sorensen said she wondered, “would he be ready to make it work with his daytime job and two kids at home? I knew he wanted to become a head coach. The stars had to align and the cards had to fall into place.”
All those details were worked out, and the Islanders are in the form that past teams were famous for. They play tough defense, they run the court with abandon and move the ball on offense.
Anderson, a native of Audubon who played college basketball at Minnesota Morris, is filled with gratitude.
“Part of what's made this deal so special for me is the people,” he said. “Coach Thorson made me the coach that I am today. I’m still working on that but he's made me a better person, because he showed me a culture that changed people's lives. And at the end of the day, that is way more important than how the ball bounces. So I'm indebted to him.
“What I found is that it started out being about basketball. But it's so far from basketball at this point, that it literally is about the people, the kids, and helping young people just become their best self. And that's got nothing to do with basketball.”
Sorensen said hiring Anderson was almost a no-brainer.
“I had parents reaching out and saying, ‘Hey, is Todd the guy?’ And Travis said, ‘Todd’s your guy.’
“He’s been such a tremendous part of DeLaSalle basketball for so long. The amount of work Todd has put in with our boys and how he’s there for the kids, even as an assistant, is phenomenal. It’s almost something I’ve never seen before. Being a head coach brings a whole different set of responsibilities, and you don’t know it until you’re in it.”
This far into the season, Anderson is accustomed to the administrative duties and other aspects of being a head coach. But that doesn’t mean he takes anything for granted.
“I want to make sure that I'm serving these guys in the right way,” he said. “I want to be prepared, and there's nothing worse than finishing a game and looking back and saying, ‘You know, I made mistakes.’ So I guess if anything, I'm a double-, triple-, quadruple-check kind of guy.”
Whitlock leads the team with a scoring average of 28 points. Next is Isreal Moses V at 14 points; he has signed to play football at Kansas.
Whitlock said Anderson sets a strong example.
“You're not going to work harder than him, especially as a player,” he said. “He’s here long before you get here for practice. He’s fair to everybody and he wants us to be successful.”
The tradition and expectations surrounding DeLaSalle boys basketball can appear intimidating, but Anderson said some things matter more than the scoreboard.
“We’ve talked about it and it’s not about winning and losing, it's about the process,” he said. “If you just love the process, adhere to the culture and the expectations, the scoreboard will generally take care of itself. It's not about winning or losing. It's ‘Are we progressing every day, every month, and who are we come February and March?’ That's what matters.’
“I'm so proud of these guys. And it's fun. It's like we all keep each other in check. I told them, ‘You're accountable to me, you're accountable to each other, but I'm accountable to you.’ So we're all doing this together.”
--MSHSL media specialist John Millea has been the leading voice of Minnesota high school activities for decades. Follow him on Twitter @MSHSLjohn and listen to "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts. Contact John at firstname.lastname@example.org