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When Kevin Huerter and a top Atlanta Braves prospect won a baseball championship

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Huerter had connections to Atlanta before he was drafted in June.

Courtesy of Kevin Huerter

ATLANTA — Kevin Huerter is less than a month away from making his professional debut in Madison Square Garden as a rookie wing for the Atlanta Hawks — but the game won’t be the first time he’s been in the public eye in the state of New York.

Huerter is a graduate of Shenendehowa High School, which is in the suburbs of Albany, New York. His four-year career ended in a legendary string of events by emerging as one of the top basketball prospects in the country, winning the state basketball championship his junior year, committing to the University of Maryland, receiving an invite to play with the Team USA U18 squad in 2016 and being a pivotal part of Shenendehowa baseball state championship team his senior year, all before he began playing his first season at Maryland.

“Honestly, it was a lot of fun,” Huerter said. “Our school at the time had a lot of buzz around it. It seemed like every news story, everyone just kind of wanted to know what was happening at our high school.”

A camera crew from a local news station followed the school’s baseball team during the 2016 state championship run to not only document Huerter’s journey but the other high-profile athletes on the team as well.

Twin brothers Ian and Ben Anderson were both selected in that year’s MLB Draft the same weekend as the state championship. Ben was picked up in the 26th round by the Toronto Blue Jays when he ultimately decided to go to Binghamton University to pitch. Ian was selected with the No. 3 overall pick and remains one of the top prospects in one of the strongest farm systems in the league with the Atlanta Braves.

“They could not go anywhere in the community or on campus without people knowing that they were around,” Shenendehowa head baseball coach Greg Christodulu said. “The microscope was on them very early throughout their high school experience. They handled it extremely well. Another student-athlete, other guys out there, being under the microscope, it gets very intense. I’m not sure if everybody could’ve handled it the way they did. They did a great job with keeping things in perspective and probably most importantly staying in the moment. They did not let everything outside of their focus distract them.”

Huerter and Ian Anderson grew up together in Clinton Park, New York. The two have always had a friendly rivalry playing sports against one another. In summer baseball leagues from ages seven to 11, the two always played on different teams to make sure the talent in the league was distributed evenly.

Although Huerter and Ian Anderson didn’t go to the same elementary school, the two knew of one another from their early battles on the diamond. When they became old enough, Huerter and the Anderson twins always played on the same teams, where Huerter and the Anderson’s father coached them.

“It seemed like [during] summers for a good five or six years, we’ve always seen each other every single day,” Huerter said.

The trio grew up and Huerter continued to play summer baseball, even as he received more attention from basketball, to help the team’s corps reach its full potential and win a title in baseball, Christodulu added.

Huerter was the team’s starting center fielder and his six-foot-seven-inch build and athleticism proved to be a great asset to the team, according to Ian Anderson.

“He could go get it. He could catch it out there,” Ian said. “I think it was the first start of my senior year, he robbed a home run in center field. That was a pretty crazy catch, though. I was definitely happy he was out there for that.”

Photographer: Michael Kelly, The Daily Gazette

Ian Anderson is the No. 39 ranked minor league prospect in all of baseball right now, according to MLB.com. The 20-year-old joins the list of 22-year-old Touki Toussaint, 21-year-old Mike Soroka, 22-year-old Kyle Wright and 21-year-old Kolby Allard as the prodigy pitching prospects in the Braves organization. Huerter promised his friend that he will show up to every home game he’s on the mound once his name gets called up.

“I try not to put any more pressure on myself,” Ian Anderson said. “There are always expectations that come along with it anyway so you try not to add more to that but it’s been awesome seeing all the guys my age, even a year older, making their debuts this year … it makes you work a little harder, definitely, to get up there and see all of your hard work pay off as well.”

Ian Anderson was with the High A Florida Fire Frogs on the night of the 2018 NBA Draft. Immediately after the game, he was locked into his phone as his dad was giving him live updates of the night’s events from Huerter’s gathering at The Edison Club in Clifton Park.

As the night went on at the draft party, Huerter had the realization.

“I didn’t think about it honestly until a couple of picks before the Hawks,” Huerter said. “It hit me, I was like, ‘oh my God.’ I leaned over and said to my dad, ‘can you imagine if I go to Atlanta, where Ian is?’”

When the Hawks selected the sophomore guard from Maryland, Ian asked an important question through a text to his childhood friend.

“Where are we getting a house?”

Ian said that his ultimate dream scenario would be if he and Huerter both helped the young Braves and Hawks reach championship status for the city. While the Braves seem to be in prime position to become contenders sooner rather than later, the Hawks are a little earlier in the rebuilding process.

Huerter was one of three Hawks’ first-round draft picks in a year where the franchise found itself in the lottery for the first time since 2007, when he was just eight years old. He’s now playing with former Team USA U18 teammate Trae Young and Villanova champion Omari Spellman.

“Playing with each other has definitely been fun,” Huerter said. “First and foremost, all three of us have the ability to space the floor so it’s tough for people to help off of us and I think that gets a lot of guys open. Especially on the court, we’re still figuring out the best ways to play with each other, but it’s coming along. You have three guys, all young, all new to a city, all rookies going through the same thing with rookie experiences, so it’s definitely been great having each other alongside.”

Huerter’s first NBA Training Camp begins next week and his journey in a different region of the United States kicks off as well. Whether it’s his regular season debut with family, whose kitchen wall has a warm poster reading “I don’t have a life, my children play basketball,” watching from the stands in MSG, or his childhood friend supporting him courtside at State Farm Arena during his offseasons, Huerter has enough support that will perhaps help him feel a little more at home in Atlanta.