Strong Rebound

After a brilliant career on the basketball court, Mo Anderson left Western months before graduation. But he was far from done.
Frances Badgett

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Every morning for six years, Morris Anderson got up at 5 a.m. to work at a warehouse in Federal Way. After a physically demanding eight-hour day, he would stop in to see his wife Jessica and daughter Jordan, then drive to Bellingham to play basketball with the semipro Bellingham Slam.

On those long, dark drives from Federal Way to Bellingham and back, Anderson had hours of quiet, contemplative time to think about his life, about his love for his wife and daughter, about his daughter’s future, about adversity he had faced and the kind of future he wanted to build for himself.

And during that time, he also thought about going back to Western.

Anderson, a 6-foot, 3-inch guard, first came to Western on a scholarship in 2008, recruited by former Men’s Basketball Coach Brad Jackson after a brilliant career at Federal Way High School and Highline College. His impact was immediate as he was named the 2008-2009 Great Northwest Athletic Conference Newcomer of the Year. He led the Vikings to a 21-5 record and their first GNAC championship in eight years.

Anderson returned to the Vikings his senior year and led them to the semi-finals of the NCAA II West Regional Tournament in March 2010. Among Western basketball fans, the 23-year-old known as “Mo” was a favorite, one to watch.

But there was more to life than basketball for Anderson. The rigor of academics and the cost of education were hard to balance with the responsibilities of family life and fatherhood. Feeling overwhelmed, he dropped out of Western, took up the warehouse job, and sifted through some hard times to figure out who he wanted to be.

“At the time, he could have played pro basketball overseas, but he wanted to stay in Washington, keep his family together and raise his daughter,” says Basketball Coach Tony Dominguez, ’94, B.A., communication.

While working at the warehouse Anderson and two friends started a sports mentoring non-profit called PURE Athletic Training and Mentoring. The group now has two coaches and three AAU-affiliated basketball teams, two boys and one girls. Leading young people to victory, coaching them in academic success, and developing young players suits Anderson.

He had a nagging feeling, though, that he should finish college.

“I kept telling all these young people I was mentoring to go to college and get a degree,” Anderson says, “and one day I realized that I needed to set the example.”

A push from Team Dominguez

When Anderson first arrived at Western, Dominguez, then an assistant coach, was like a big brother. Even after Anderson left Western, Dominguez kept up with him.

Tony and Kristi Dominguez, ’94, BAE and ’98, M.Ed., an assistant superintendent in the Bellingham School District, had Anderson to dinner and encouraged him to return to Western to finish his degree and get a job better suited to his natural abilities as a teacher and mentor of young people. Between the Dominguezes’ persuasion and Anderson’s own dawning realization that he should finish school, in 2020, Anderson decided it was time.

“It would have been sad to see him leave permanently without a degree,” says Tony Dominguez, who became head basketball coach in 2012. “At Western, our hearts are with these kids. We don’t just want them to win, we want them to succeed.”

Anderson says of Dominguez, “He stayed on me to finish. He is one of the reasons I got it done. My wife Jessica was really excited I was going back.”

It had been 10 years since Anderson’s original graduation date, but he qualified for a scholarship established to help students finish school and earn their degree. “I am so thankful the donors were willing to help me succeed,” Anderson says. Those donors are Carol and David Robinson, longtime supporters of Western’s basketball program who were impressed with Anderson.

“He will be an impactful teacher and has already shown himself to be a leader by giving back to the community,” the Robinsons say. “Mo is a young man with great values who understands the importance of education.” Anderson completed 21 credits online during the pandemic while continuing to work and coach basketball. He received his degree in multidisciplinary studies in 2021.

“I have to set a good example for my daughter,” Anderson says. “Staying in school is important.”

Now a paraeducator and coach in the Federal Way School District, Anderson continues to mentor young athletes through his nonprofit and coaches girls’ basketball at Decatur High School. Among the athletes he coaches is his daughter, Jordan, 16.

As for what’s next?

“I’m working on persuading him to get full teaching certification,” says Tony Dominguez.

In 2020, Washington state streamlined the path to full teacher certification for paraeducators just like Anderson. “I know I should do it,” Anderson says. “I am seriously considering it.”

Frances Badgett is assistant director of communications for Western Washington University Advancement.

A man leaps to dunk a basketball with crowded bleachers behind him.
Among Western basketball fans, the 23-year-old known as “Mo” was a favorite, one to watch.