Amundsens basketball passion culminating in special season

CLOVIS, Calif. – Around the Central Valley, the Amundsen name is synonymous with the game of basketball, and the family’s connection to the sport goes back pretty far.

“My dad’s dad, I know he played.” says Connor Amundsen. “He was in the Deaf League, he had 60 points in a game before. He’s actually in the Deaf League Hall of Fame.”

That love for the game has been passed down through the next two generations of Amundsens, many of whom have played and coached at the high school level here in the Central Valley, including Tony Amundsen, a former college basketball star at Chabot College and Pacific, who later played professionally for a few years in Europe.

Tony has followed his playing career with a very successful career as a coach here in the Valley, where most notably, he won three Central Section titles as the head coach at Bullard High School. He is now at Clovis North, and this season, according to maxpreps.com, the 23-6 Broncos just finished the regular-season ranked No. 3 in the Central Section, and No. 21 in the state.

“We’re a very skilled team,” says Amundsen. “We’re very good with the ball.”

Especially two players who play point guard for the Broncos – Tony’s sons Connor and McKae, who have had a basketball in their hands for as long as they can remember.

“From early on, I remember getting on my knees, and playing on the little Tikes hoops with my boys, and they both just loved it,” says Amundsen.

“Ever since I was little,” adds Connor, a senior who is averaging 19.4 points and 5.8 assists per game this season, and recently became Clovis North’s all-time leader in both those categories, despite missing his entire junior season with a shoulder injury. “I would be writing up workouts for myself and goals and stuff, ever since I was like five year’s old.”

“Our parents wouldn’t be out there or anything,” says McKae, a sophomore who averages 12.5 points and 3.4 steals per game for the Broncos. “We’d just have chairs set up doing drills, and everywhere we’d go, we’d bring our basketball shoes and a ball.”

Tony is 6-foot-2, but his height might be the only thing that did not get passed down to the boys.

Connor is around 5-foot-10, and McKae is even smaller than that.

“I’m 5-8, 5-9 on a good day, 5-9 with shoes I’d say,” says a smiling McKae.

“We always joke that we got all the good genes from my mom, that’s why we’re quick and everything,” says Connor. “All my cousins are all tall too, my sister’s six feet tall, so everyone got the height except me and McKae. But it’s good, we got the quickness and athleticism, so we’re happy that we got that part.”

One other important thing was developed all on their own – a tremendous work ethic, which laid the groundwork for them both becoming tremendous shooters.

Connor makes 47.8 percent, and McKae 44.4 percent, from beyond the three-point arc.

And they are even better at the free throw line, where Connor makes 85.7 percent of his free ones, and McKae 88 percent.

Their tremendous shooting takes after their father, who shot over 40 percent from beyond the arc in his two years at Pacific, including a Big West-leading 47 percent as a junior.

But for anybody who has seen the brothers play, even more impressive than the shooting is the incredible dribbling.

McKae even used to put on shows for his classmates in elementary school, which showed off his Steph Curry-like handles.

“They both have a string attached to the ball, and they’re just superior ballhandlers,” shared Tony, who says the boys were always self-motivated to put in the work required to develop these skills.

The brothers say they are very close, and are used to being teammates, since there were times when McKae would play up onto Connor’s team in AAU.

But they are also really competitive at the same time, and are often matched up against each other in drills at practice.

Which reminds them of their early days facing off on the court, when they would play 1-on-1.

“Don’t wanna get into too much detail about some of the scrapping that we had, but there would definitely be fights sometimes,” says McKae, who concedes he never beat his older brother in a best-of-seven, 1-on-1 series until recent times.

“Connor has always been a little bit older, always had the advantage,” says Tony. “But I also think that made McKae a lot tougher, and helped him along the way as well.”

Because growing up, if older brother was doing something, little brother would follow.

“I literally spent a whole entire year working on my pullup jumper, after I saw him doing that all the time,” says McKae.

Which, at times, has led to some confusion for Connor.

“I’ll see a clip and I’ll be like, ‘is that me or McKae?'” says Connor. “Sometimes, we look really alike in our plays and stuff, we have the same hair.”

Tony says the boys are a pleasure to coach, and the boys say having their father as their coach is an asset.

“It’s intense during practice and games,” says Connor. “But he has trust in us, and I always have trust in whatever he tells us. It’s intense, but it’s also really good, because we get to break down the games and practices together.”

With a dynamic like this, basketball talk is always there, but they try to balance that out with other father-son time as well.

“I try to be a coach here, but a dad at home,” said Tony after a recent practice.

“We picked up golf this summer,” says McKae.

“He’s a great dad,” says Connor. “We watch movies at home, we’ll relax, he’ll barbecue, we’ll go out by the pool, normal dad things. He’s been really good at teaching us life lessons through basketball, he’s a super good dad for sure.”

Of course, the perfect ending to this family story would be a first-ever, top-Division, Central Section championship for the Broncos.

Time will tell on that, but win or lose, this ‘special’ season, where three Amundsens are contributing to a ‘special’ run, will likely be remembered by this ‘special’ family forever.

“I think it’s hit my wife probably a little more than me,” says Tony, whose Broncos are the top seed in the Division I Central Section playoffs which get underway this week. “She’s gotten emotional a couple times, I probably won’t get too emotional until it’s actually over.”

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