Born in the mecca: Anthony Bonner’s background rooted in basketball tradition

Austin White

The birth of basketball occurred in 1891 after Dr. James Naismith drafted the first rules to the game in Springfield, Mass. Popularity of the game spread through YMCAs around the country and ultimately led to Naismith going to Lawrence, Kan. to coach the Kansas University basketball team in 1898.

Fast forward 120 years to today and Lawrence has become one of the few Meccas of the sport of basketball. Phog Allen Fieldhouse is a must-see for any fan of college basketball as the mystique from years of success and countless NBA players fills the air within the 16,300 capacity stadium.

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Bonner dribbles
Sophomore guard Anthony Bonner moves the ball down the court into UNLV territory on Jan. 20 at Moby Arena on Jan. 20 at Moby Arena. The Rams fell to the Rebels 79-74. The Rams are now 10-11 on the season. (Elliott Jerge | Collegian)

Being born in this mecca, playing basketball seems like the obvious choice for any athlete growing up in Lawrence. For Colorado State redshirt sophomore guard Anthony Bonner, there was always plenty of options, but basketball did always came to the forefront thanks to his father’s influence.

“From a young age I always had a ball in my hands,” Bonner said. “I was the ball boy on my dad’s club traveling teams. He really got me into it because he started coaching and after that, me and him just stayed in the gym and kept working.”

Bonner is the youngest of the family’s three kids and being involved with athletics became something that every son or daughter joined into. His older sister Quentin was a dancer while his father, Sebastian, played football at KU.

Still, his parents left every door open for Bonner as he got a taste of everything from his family. The city itself does not fit the stereotypical idea of Kansas, which is boring flat land and tornados. As his high school head coach Mike Lewis described, Lawrence offers many other opportunities for young adults and children, some that do not even involve sports.

“There are a lot of kids who like to play basketball and they like the Jayhawks,” Lewis said. “In Lawrence as a community, we have a lot of kids who are involved in lots of things. It’s a community where there are lots of options…everything from music to sports to art to performing in plays and productions. There is just a lot for kids to do and be a part of.”

Bonner kept close to the court though, whether it was playing outside or playing video games.

“The weather is comparable to Colorado, you can never really predict what it’s going to do,” Bonner said. “I was always outside a lot as a kid playing basketball and that’s pretty much all there is to do with that and play video games. That was 75 percent of my life growing up.”

At the end of the day, basketball did prevail for Bonner and that was cemented from multiple trips to the Allen Fieldhouse. Many memories came to the mind of Bonner when asked about which one was his favorite as the countless classics there helped inspire Bonner to one day be a college player.

“That made me love basketball, growing up around that culture where it was invented and all the history,” Bonner said. “You can’t really beat an experience at Allen Fieldhouse so that probably helped shape a lot of my love for basketball.”

“My favorite memory is when Mario Chalmers hit the miracle shot against Memphis in the 2008 national championship,” Bonner said. “I was in fifth grade I believe and everyone was down on Massachusetts St. in downtown Lawrence and that was an experience I’ll never forget.”

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Three years later, he joined the basketball team at Lawrence High School where his athleticism stood out to Lewis from day one. Over the course of Bonner’s four years, Lewis saw leadership grow within Bonner which helped the Lions to a conference championship and a state runner-up finish in Bonner’s senior year.

“What stands out is that he was a leader,” Lewis said. “He made other players around him better. He blossomed physically, he continued to get stronger and more athletic as each year went by and he had a great IQ for the game and knew how to win.”

Anthony Bonner goes up for a layup against Fresno State on Jan. 6. The Rams lost 82-79 in overtime. (Javon Harris | Collegian)

The next phase would be finding a fitting college to take his talents to as Bonner ultimately decided on CSU. Luckily for Bonner, a former LHS graduate already made the trek to Fort Collins, Colo. in guard Dorian Green. The Bonner and Green family knew each other well so the discussion around CSU was an easy one to have.

“The conversations between Dorian and Anthony and their families along with our conversations of what his options were and what he saw was the best fit,” Lewis said on the impact of himself and Green getting Bonner to CSU. “I really thought Anthony was going to be in great hands (at CSU).”

Along with that help from Lewis and Green, Bonner put pen to paper and moved away from the Mecca into a college town that has never really had too much to celebrate around basketball. But that did not matter for Bonner who felt like CSU offered him the best deal and made him feel welcome as they recruited him from his sophomore year at LHS.

However, the love for the Jayhawks has not diminished despite Bonner down-playing his fandom. Teammate Prentiss Nixon described how Bonner loves to talk trash to the guys about KU, specifically that championship shot by Chalmers.

“He talks crazy to me all the time,” Nixon said. “He talks about that Mario Chalmers jump shot…every week, I’m tired of hearing about it but what can I say about it?”

Nixon, a Chicago kid like Derrick Rose who was on the losing end of the Chalmers shot, can tolerate the smack talk because of the performance he has seen from Bonner on the court. The calming presence Bonner brings is something Nixon believes the team needs.

“He doesn’t force anything, he kind of just lets the game come to him,” Nixon said. “I think he just takes what the defense gives him and it’s good to see that because we need that on this team, somebody who stays positive and takes what has been given.”

Due to the ankle injury to Nixon and broken hand of guard J.D. Paige, Bonner recently made his way into the starting lineup to help fill the whole at the guard position. The team is relying on him and fellow guard Raquan Mitchell to help lead the front court of a CSU squad that features only one senior.

In his first game starting after the injury to Paige, Bonner came out firing against the New Mexico Lobos, nailing both of his 3-pointers in the first half to give him six points. He went cold in the second half as he failed to score another point and ended up with three turnovers in the Rams’ 80-65 loss.

Since then, he has averaged 33 minutes a game in the Rams’ last three matchups, including all 50 minutes of the Rams double-overtime loss at home to the rival Wyoming Cowboys. He had 18 points in that game, but more impressively put up 13 points in just 22 minutes of action against the Mountain West’s top team, the Nevada Wolfpack,the next time out.

With Nixon making his way back from his injury and Paige set to return sometime within the next two weeks, playing time for Bonner will be in question. A potential transition in coaches could also affect his time depending on the type of impression he has made on interim head coach Steve Barnes.

anthony bonner with the basketball
Anthony Bonner works the ball around during the Rams’ double-overtime loss to Wyoming on Wednesday night during the Border War. (Joe Oakman | Collegian)

The love for the game will never diminish for Bonner no matter what the immediate future holds. He has always been focused on playing and never doubted his abilities or his path growing up chanting “Rock Chalk.”

“All my coaches, especially my dad, just taught me it’s not always going to be good, not always going to be having fun with it,” Bonner said. “If you push through, it’s all a part of the process. I just stay true to the game, always work hard, always love it and you get through the rough patches.”

Bonner still has two years of eligibility to write his name into the record books of CSU. But even so, his future at CSU was built by the limestone outcrop upon Mount Oread, and that rock chalk beginning can never be washed away.

Collegian sports reporter Austin White can be reached by email at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @ajwrules44