Leif Anderson's efficient passing and shooting this season have made him a staple of the team's offense. // Oliver Hamlin
By Alex Barnes
There are few qualities in sports more important than an athlete’s competitive nature, and to coaches, teammates and family members alike, nobody embodies that nature quite like Leif Anderson.
The Sehome High School graduate and Bellingham native made his way to Western as a junior at the start of the 2017-2018 season, transferring from Whatcom Community College after playing 59 games over two seasons as a guard for the Orcas.
Anderson’s mother, Kim Loop, described him as a very well-mannered kid growing up, whose favorite pastimes included spending time with friends, playing sports and accompanying his father on duck-feeding trips at nearby Lake Whatcom.
Anderson picked up sports early, around 5 years old, and tried his hand at baseball, flag football and tennis before he got to high school and started to take basketball more seriously. In fact, it was a surprise to his mother that he ended up pursuing basketball.
“I thought [his sport] was baseball. We even bumped him a few grades … because he was pretty good as a Tee-Ball player,” Loop said laughingly. “I remember one day Leif came up to me and said, ‘Mama, why can’t those boys play right?’”
During summers, Loop said her son’s time was often split between baseball and basketball, and when tournaments lined up with each other, Anderson’s instructions were clear: “I’d tell him ‘Pack all of your clothes’ because we would only have an hour here or an hour there to get from game to game,” Loop said.
Eventually, Anderson said that his competitiveness and love for the game were the reasons he gravitated more toward basketball, along with the message from his parents to do what he enjoyed the most.
Anderson said he loved growing up in Bellingham but, according to him, the decision to stay and continue his education and playing career here was only made after he received a lack of offers from colleges interested in his play after high school.
“I really didn’t want to stay in Bellingham,” Anderson said. “I always wanted to leave, but I wanted to play basketball … so I went to Whatcom.”
Another key factor in Anderson’s decision to stay in the Pacific Northwest, he said, was the opportunity to play for former Whatcom head coach David Dunham, who was also very eager to coach a player of Anderson’s quality and character.
“I loved his competitiveness, [and that] he plays with a little bit of a chip on his shoulder,” Dunham said. “I love the fact that no matter what, he just plays hard. When he was going against players who other people thought were better, he never backed down.”
That competitiveness can be traced back to Anderson’s childhood and the time he spent playing different games in the backyard with his dad, and two half-brothers, who are 18 and 28 years older than Anderson. Anderson’s mother, Kim Loop, revealed that his goal as a kid was always to beat his dad in a game of horse.
“His dad would always win and say, ‘I’m the champion!’ and Leif would get so mad that he’d storm off back inside the house,” Loop said.
Dunham said that when Anderson arrived at Whatcom, there was already a brotherly chemistry put in place by the older and more established players which he bought into immediately, allowing him to learn how to conduct himself on and off the court from the older players.
“[The older players] talking to Leif led to success,” Dunham said. “It led to our team having success, it led to Leif having success. That success builds confidence, and that’s where he excelled.”
Anderson hit the ground running at Whatcom, averaging 9.6 points over 33 games for the Orcas in his first season. His steady contributions were a big factor in the run that saw Whatcom reach the Northwest Athletic Conference Championship game during the 2015-2016 season.
The opportunity to play and the lessons learned from teammates in his first season allowed Anderson to have an improved second season at Whatcom, even after Dunham left to accept the role of assistant head coach for the men’s basketball team at Western.
“The following year I came up to Western, but Leif was able to take that confidence that he built the year before and continue to have success moving forward,” Dunham said.
Anderson did push on in his second season at Whatcom, averaging 15.7 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game in his second season for the Orcas as they got back to the playoffs.
Anderson’s on-court improvement led him to believe he would receive offers to play for Division II schools his junior year, but once again the opportunity he was looking for didn’t seem to show up.
“I thought, ‘Oh, I’ll get a little more offers,’ but sometimes I don’t really pass the eye test as a normal hooper,” Anderson said. “I don’t think I got the same respect that some guys did … and I didn’t really want to go to Western [because] I thought, ‘They don’t really want me, I want to go somewhere else and destroy them.’”
As it turned out, the coaching staff at Western was interested in Anderson, and after several meetings with head coach Tony Dominguez and Dunham, he was offered a walk-on spot on the team.
“We talked a lot about it and both felt like Leif would be a great addition because he is a team player who can really shoot the ball,” Dunham said. “We thought that would benefit us here at Western.”
Anderson redshirted for his first year at Western, which allowed him to get comfortable, learn the team’s system and get stronger in the weight room so he would be ready to play when he was called on the following season.
“I worked really hard in practice, never complained, and they gave me a little position, and that’s put me in the position that I’m in now,” Anderson said.
The work that Anderson put in during that redshirt season has payed off for him in a big way. Now starting for the team, Anderson is averaging 8.2 points, 2.6 assists and 2.3 rebounds per game for the Vikings, hitting a very efficient 49.2 percent of his shots from the field. Anderson is also averaging 43.6 percent shooting from 3-point range and has made 44 3-pointers this season. But to him, the individual stats have never been more important than how the team performs.
“I don’t think I’m really big into stats, I feel like I really want to win and do whatever it takes for the team to win,” Anderson said. “If it’s one night I put up 20 points and we win that’s great, or if it’s another night and I put up two points and we win, I’m going to be [just as] happy.”
That team-first mentality is exactly what Anderson’s coaches and teammates say makes him the special player that he is.
“Everybody says that they love the team more than themself, but it’s another thing to really mean it,” senior center Logan Schilder said. “Leif’s one of those guys who could go for 30 [points], but if we lose by one he’s not going to be happy.”
Off the court, Anderson carries the same competitive edge in his day-to-day activities. His love for math and numbers led him to become a business administration major with a focus in finance, and he said that the goal is to become a financial analyst for a professional sports organization.
Anderson plans to get his feet wet in the finance industry this summer through a banking internship. In 10 years, Anderson sees himself coaching either basketball or baseball at the highschool or college level. But above all else, the goal is happiness for himself and his family.
“Wherever I’m at, just be happy and not worry about finances or anything like that,” Anderson said. “I want to be with someone who allows me to grow… and it would be pretty sweet if I could buy my mom or dad a house one day.”