Coaches maintain that every championship team has its playmakers, but it is often an unsung teammate who binds everyone together.
For Folsom High School, the floor leader is Jordan Ford, the reigning Bee Player of the Year whose facilitating prowess sets the tone. The energizer is fellow junior guard Jared Wall, who doesn’t hesitate to put his body – or an opponent’s body – in harm’s way in pursuit of a loose ball.
Alec Andrews is the glue, a versatile junior guard whose attitude and effort helped propel the Bulldogs to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I championship last Saturday and into tonight’s CIF Northern California Open Division contest against El Cerrito at Vista del Lago High. A 4.5 grade-point average student, Andrews has overcome lifelong health obstacles. But nothing stalls his penchant to achieve.
“He’s our Swiss Army Knife, does everything for us – ball handling, defense, shooting, leadership – and he’s our inspiration for what he’s overcome,” Folsom coach Mike Wall said. “We’re not here without Alec Andrews.”
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At age 8, Andrews learned he was allergic to wheat and dairy. It was a tough dietary sentence for any active child invited to birthday parties or postgame gatherings surrounded by pizza, cake and treats.
After Folsom won the NorCal Division II title last spring, Andrews suffered a serious knee injury in an AAU tournament in Los Angeles. The diagnosis included microfractures of the tibial plateau and a partial tear of a knee ligament. He embarked on six months of rehabilitation and physical therapy. He didn’t touch a ball for six months. In August, the slightly built 6-foot-2 Andrews reported to his mother, Theresa, a registered nurse, that he had lost eight pounds in a week, without trying. Lab work at Sutter Memorial Hospital revealed that Andrews was a Type I diabetic, an autoimmune disease. He took that in stride, too.
“The whole time, I think of kids who have it a lot worse than I do, so I’m OK with it,” Andrews said in typical good spirits. “When I first went to the hospital to get my insulin on track with all of these hospital workers, the nurses, the social worker, and there was all this pity. It was like my life was over. It’s not over. It’s not cancer. I’m not dying. I’m fine. I just have to be a little more careful with more checking on what I eat than some others.”
Andrews mastered glucose testing, carb counting and insulin injections while maintaining uncommon energy to take on a full load of Advanced Placement courses in calculus, chemistry and Spanish. He didn’t slow down in games, either. He sets screens. He directs the defense. He makes three-point shots.
Folsom players say they admire Andrews, even envy him, in some respects. Earning some of the best grades on campus, Andrews tutors teammates in calculus. He counsels others who also have dietary restrictions. Teammate Colin Russell jokes that Andrews has struck gold, from the perfect grades, to a basketball-playing girlfriend (Tori Harris), to a smooth jump shot.
“Alec and I have been the best of friends since we were about 5 years old, and he’s overcome a ton but never quits,” Jared Wall said.. “He’s amazing. He’s literally the toughest guy and the smartest guy I know.”
Andrews says he attack academics in the same manner he does a defense or his diabetes. His goal is to be Folsom’s valedictorian for the class of 2016, like his sister Alexis was a year ago. She’s now at Arizona.
“I definitely hold a higher standard for myself, expect more,” Andrews said. “And I compete with guys in AP classes just like I do in games. I want to win.”
The team’s scorekeeper, Theresa Andrews, is so into games that she’s known to jump and yelp after a big play. She is moved to tears in admiration of her son.
“I’m so nervous as a fan watching,” she said. “People ask me how Alec is feeling, and I say that he never shows anything. Nothing bothers him.”
Said Wall, the coach: “He’s our unsung hero-guy. He’s special. As a player, we win a game by one or two points, and sometimes it comes down to a play he made, reminding someone to be in position to make a play. Those are the type of things a coach sees.”
Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD.