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Young and the Restless: Sanders Suits Up
In January, Basketball Times, a publication covering collegiate basketball for over 25 years, ranked Liberty's 2008 recruiting class at No. 48 in the nation.
The Basketball Times ranked its Top 50, and Liberty joined No. 26 Xavier, No. 31 Rhode Island, No. 36 Fresno State, No. 36 New Mexico, No. 36 St. Louis, No. 41 Dayton, No. 50 Hofstra and No. 50 Gonzaga as the only schools that are not a part of a BCS football power conference.
After the Basketball Times Top 50 list came out, Liberty added Sanders and Bill Weaver to its incoming class, which would have given the Flames a higher place in the Top 50. Sanders decommitted from a verbal agreement with Conference USA member Rice to attend Liberty, while Weaver did the same at Brown.
The honored recruiting class is now on campus and LibertyFlames.com is going to highlight each freshman in this new seven-part series.
Sanders (Sugar Land, Texas), a 6-3 guard, led his home school team, the HCYA Warriors to a 40-3 record against some of the top 5A and prep schools in the Houston area. Sanders is from the same home school program that Lady Flames' Rachel McLeod played for. During his senior campaign, Sanders was second on the team in scoring (15.5 ppg) and led his squad in assists (11.4 apg), rebounds (9.2 rpg) and steals (3.3 spg). The Warriors played in seven tournaments during Sanders' senior year, with the Sugar Land, Texas native taking home MVP honors in six of them.
Sanders is the younger brother of Thomas Sanders, the Gardner-Webb standout who was an AP Honorable Mention All-American, Mid-Major All-American and Atlantic Sun Player of the Year. Sanders led the Bulldogs with 21 points and 10 rebounds in their upset of No. 20 Kentucky, inside Rupp Arena. During the 2007-08 season the elder Sanders ranked third in the nation in double-doubles and led the nation in rebounding for all players 6-5 and shorter (10.8 rpg).
Sanders verbally committed to Rice prior to the spring signing period, but withdrew his verbal when the Owls fired Willis Wilson at the conclusion of the season. Sanders was pursued by new Rice head coach Ben Braun, but opted for Liberty over the Owls, in addition to a short list of other schools like Auburn, South Alabama, Northern Iowa and Wichita State.
Ritchie McKay's Quote Upon Signing Jesse Sanders
"We are excited to add a person of Jesse's character and ability to the Liberty program," said McKay. "He is a tremendous young person who will immediately add a lot of value to the basketball program and Liberty University."
Sitting Down with Jesse Sanders
Why did you decide to attend Liberty?
I wanted to attend a Christian university and Liberty excited me because it was a Division I Christian university with a Christian coaching staff. That is very rare. In addition I really loved the Liberty environment when I came for my visit.
What was it about Coach McKay that made you want to come and play for him?
Coach McKay struck me as a guy with high character, but also a winner. He sets high goals and is willing to work hard to reach those goals. That was exciting to me.
You previously committed to Rice, but when they had a coaching change last spring you reopened the recruiting process, including looking at Rice as an option. What was it about Liberty that enticed you away from the Owls?
I had made it clear when I first committed to Rice that I was committing to a coaching staff and not necessarily Rice. When Rice made the change to its coaching staff, everything changed for me. I didn't want to burn any bridges by decommitting immediately from Rice. I reentered the recruiting process to see where the best place for me would be. When I took my visit to Liberty, the difference between Rice and here was Coach McKay and the staff he had. I felt like with the group of guys coming in and the type of coach that Coach McKay is, we could do some great things.
What does it feel like to be a part of a Top 50 recruiting class?
It's real exciting and it is great coming into something that is on the rise. People have a lot of expectations for this program. With the group of guys who were already here, and they are a great group of guys, along with this new group, I think we can do some great things.
You spent some time on campus this summer going to school and playing pickup games with most of the team. This is the first time you guys have all been together. How did you feel the team jelled?
It was really great being around everyone this summer. It was a crazy schedule and we were all going through it together building camaraderie. It was an awesome bonding experience. It was a really good experience building chemistry and getting to know each other through the late night studying and early morning workouts.
How important is chemistry?
Chemistry is a huge part of a team's success. If we don't like each other it will affect how we play. That is a high point about this team, because the whole team hangs out together and we do things together on and off the court. I think that is really important part of what a team should be.
Thus far, how has the Liberty experience been for you?
My experience has been great. I have enjoyed the basketball side of it. It's a very uplifting environment. All the guys are working hard and pushing each other.
In your short time in Lynchburg, have you found a favorite hangout yet?
I can't say I have been off campus much, we are pretty busy. I love grabbing a meal out, going down to Walmart. I really can't name a place yet, because I don't have much free time. My bed right now, I guess.
You were home schooled in high school. How has the transition from home schooling to a campus of over 10,000 students been?
The biggest transition has been the time commitment. Being at home, I was on my own schedule and accountable to myself. Up here its bam, bam, bam, they keep you busy. I really have enjoyed being immersed with all the students as part of campus life. It's a great fit for me.
Who is the one player on the team that could make the smoothest transition into a musical career after basketball and what genre of music would they perform?
I don't know if I can pick just one, because there are a few. Anthony Smith could sing R&B, he can do it all. He is always singing and dancing, even in the midst of pilates workouts. Smitty really gets into it. Also my man Seth Curry has gone country. I think he could make it big on the Nashville scene!
Behind the Young and the Restless Schedule
Aug. 21 – Seth Curry
Aug. 28 – Brolin Floyd
Sept. 4 – Carter McMasters
Sept. 11 – Jesse Sanders
Sept. 18 – Austin Smith
Sept. 25 – Johnny Stephene
Oct. 2 – Bill Weaver