Photo courtesy of Rutgers University Athletics.
By David Cordova
In the state of Florida, the level of talent on the basketball court is at an all-time high. In a state in which football is usually king, the hardwood is also a great way to check out future talents on their way to success.
There is one baller from the Sunshine State that has already made an impact with his game nationally on the court and continues to do so on the college level. The player in question is none other than Rutgers University point guard Corey Sanders.
The 6-foot-2 guard from Lakeland, Florida has been known for his dynamic scoring ability and his level of athleticism, which has made him one of the best players in the Big Ten Conference.
Sanders credits his upbringing in Polk County and his loved as a reason that he goes so hard in the games. “What motivates me to be successful in this game is really my grandmother, I do all this for her,” says Sanders. “And I just want to be able to take care of her and the rest of my family, so that’s my motivation right there, and also to make it to the League.”
On his start in basketball: “I’ve been playing basketball since I was two and my grandmother put me in regular basketball when I was five, so I just kept going with it.”
Lakeland, Florida is a town in which the population is more than 100,000 people. Being from a small town, you always have to represent it well when you’re on the court, and so far Sanders has done that. On being from there, he said, “It’s hard, the environment is hard, there’s a lot of drugs, gang activity and you just have to find a way out and basketball was my way out. A lot of people use sports as a way out of their environment and that’s what I did.”
Sanders style of play resembles a playground-type of game in which he breaks a player down with a crossover dribble, and he is also known for going to the rim with prowess. When asked about his style of play, he said: “I just play off of my instincts, I never really had no training growing up and playing basketball, it was all off of instincts and I try to perfect anything I can perfect when I’m on the court working out on my own, but most of it is based off of instinct.”
Sanders started out at Kathleen High School in Bradenton, Florida, where as a junior, he averaged 16.8 points, four assists and four rebounds per game. As a senior, he transferred to prep powerhouse West Oaks Academy in Orlando, Florida, where transcended his game against better competition and averaged 18 points, five assists and three steals and led them to a 32-5 record and a Sunshine Independent Athletic Association title. He was also rated as No. 62 in the ESPN Top 100 for the Class of 2015.
On his senior year at West Oaks, Sanders says: “I went there my senior year and it was all love, we won the state championship, my first state championship I ever had, so West Oaks will always stay with me. They put my banner in the gym, so it’s a good connection between me & West Oaks.”
Then on September 4th, 2014, Sanders made his commitment to Rutgers. When asked for his reasons on committing to the Scarlet Knights, he said, “Well, looking into it, I knew that Myles Mack was leaving and that the ball would be in my hands right away and I’m in New Jersey, so that’s the Mecca of everything and it’s so much exposure. And then playing in the Big Ten, it’s probably the best conference to play in, talent-wise, so I just wanted to be in those ranks with those guys.”
His first season at Rutgers was a statement year, as he tore up the Big Ten with plenty of dunks and crossovers. Although he wasn’t selected to the Big Ten All-Rookie Team, he averaged 15.9 points and 4.3 assists per game. One of the biggest moments of last season, on February 3rd, 2016, when he hit a buzzer-beating shot against Illinois to send the game into double overtime. Although the Scarlet Knights lost the game, he still had an amazing game, scoring 39 points, and added 12 assists and 8 rebounds.
When asked about his freshman season, Sanders replied, “I feel like my freshman year was good, we didn’t get the wins that we wanted, and hopefully we can get the wins this year. It was a good year for me, but they didn’t want to put me in there [on the Big Ten Conference All-Rookie Team] so that added the fuel to the fire.”
After the season, Sanders tested NBA Draft waters by trying out for some teams, but then made the smart decision to return to Rutgers for his sophomore season, which has paid huge dividends, as he is leading the Scarlet Knights in scoring with 12.5 points per game, to go along with 3.6 assists and 3.5 rebounds.
After a tumultuous 7-25 season under former head coach Eddie Jordan, the Scarlet Knights have made a huge turnaround under new head coach Steve Piekell, posting an 11-1 record in their first twelve games of the season.
As of the writing of this article, their overall record is 12-9, but their conference record in the Big Ten is 1-7, with their lone win against Nebraska on January 21st. But although the Scarlet Knights are down, they are not out, as there are still plenty of games ahead of them until the Big Ten Tournament, which is slated to take place March 8th-12th at the Verizon Center, in Washington, D.C.
In order for the Scarlet Knights to make it there, it will rely on Sanders’ leadership to help the machine run smoothly. With better play from this point forward, there is no doubt that they will be able to make a lot of noise in the next month.
The kid from Florida has been representing the Sunshine State well up in the Garden State. Since his junior year of high school, Sanders’ story has been chronicled by Home Team Hoops videographer Ryan Currie in the series, “Decisions,” which has followed him from his humble beginnings in Lakeland to where he is now, which is wowing crowds at the RAC.
Aside from basketball, he also does rap music, going under the moniker, 1KPG. You can hear most of his songs on Soundcloud and also check out one of his videos on YouTube, especially the visual for the song, “How It Happen,” which has received more than 200,000 views.
One thing is certain, Corey Sanders is a jack of all trades, especially on the court and on the microphone. No matter what he does in his future, it is certain that it will be a bright one. But for right now, he is focused on continuing to lead Rutgers to an even deeper berth in the postseason. “I’m a Rutgers basketball player right now, that’s all it is, that’s all I’m looking forward to, winning basketball games.”
Highlights of Corey Sanders:
Courtesy of Hoop Journey.
Courtesy of JMBV.
Courtesy of Home Team Hoops.
Courtesy of 8Eye Media.
Courtesy of Home Team Hoops.
Courtesy of Elite Mixtapes.
Courtesy of CityLeagueHoopsTV.
Courtesy of ESPN.
Courtesy of Home Team Hoops.