WATERLOO — Focus. One word is capable of separating athletes with talent from becoming talented athletes.

It’s a trait that has allowed Carondis Harris-Anderson to elevate his game along with Waterloo West’s basketball program.

Prior to being named Waterloo West’s head coach, Cliff Berinobis can still recall the first time he met Harris-Anderson. The eighth-grader from Central Middle School attended one of the coach’s clinics and Berinobis could see the desire to learn in his eyes.

“He was always paying attention,” Berinobis said. “He wanted it. His character, his integrity, how he treated people. He looked you in the eyes.

“A lot of that is a credit to his mom and his family. His brother is a huge part of his life and his mom is a huge part of his life.”

Harris-Anderson is quick to mention his mom, Carol, as major role model. She works for the American Red Cross, setting a strong example for her son.

“There’s something about her that just makes me want to do everything hard and focused in,” Harris-Anderson said. “She’s a hard worker. She sacrifices all the time to make sure I have the things that I need.”

Harris-Anderson’s continued determination to grow has been evident in his stats and his team’s success this season. The 6-foot-3 Wahawk junior has scored over 20 points in West’s past four games for a 6-3 team that has already matched last season’s win total. He also leads the Wahawks with 6.7 rebounds and averages two assists to go with over a steal and one blocked shot per game.

That’s major growth from the 8.6 points he averaged a year ago. Two seasons of varsity basketball as an underclassman tested the current Wahawk leader.

“Those seasons helped me to face adversity,” Harris-Anderson said. “It showed me that there’s going to be ups and downs.”

“He didn’t have a stellar season last year, but he continued to work,” Berinobis added. “He kept working. This year’s he blossomed into a leader on the floor and he’s a leader off the floor.”

West football standouts Carlton Todd and Devon Moore, who missed all last season with a knee injury, have helped Harris-Anderson develop as a leader by bringing a winning attitude from the gridiron onto the basketball court. The Wahawks have also received major contributions from underclassmen like freshmen Nick Pepin, Isaiah Johnson and Jaden Keller, in addition to sophomore Tyreek Green.

“He loves playing with that group of kids,” Berinobis said of Harris-Anderson. “It’s been a positive experience for him this year and he’s blossomed from it.”

Harris-Anderson refuses to let his younger teammates become content with the status quo.

“They’re going to have growing pains, there’s going to be days when they don’t want to play, but they have to stay with it,” Harris-Anderson said. “I try to let them know that age in high school does not matter. At the end of the day, we still have the same goal.”

Harris-Anderson also credits his coaches and teammates within the Martin Brothers AAU program for his development.

“They have a way of pushing me and we all push each other,” he said. “It’s helped me to become a better leader by being around other leaders.”

Driven to play collegiate basketball, Harris-Anderson says he worked to turn his weaknesses into strengths. In turn, he’s developed a strong all-around game.

“He can score in the paint, he can score off the dribble-drive,” Berinobis said. “Everybody has tried to do different things to us and he still feels comfortable.

“(On defense) this kid will get in the stance. He’s long and he truly likes playing defense.”

Harris-Anderson has played every position on offense and defended every position throughout the course of this season. Embracing defense, he has learned it can make life easier on the offensive end.

“If you take confidence away from a player then they won’t be able to play,” Harris-Anderson said. “You can get their game totally off. Make them super uncomfortable. Some players don’t like that pressure.”

Berinobis has no doubt the West junior will be able to help a college basketball program. His determination and focus are likely to translate into another jump from his junior to senior season.

“There isn’t a college coach that’s going to take a chance on this kid, because it’s not a chance,” Berinobis said. “He’s going to work hard and do everything he can to get an opportunity to play. He wants to play college basketball bad.”

Assessing his desire to play college basketball, Harris-Anderson remains hungry, “I need to become a better shooter, better defender, better rebounder. I can improve on everything.”