Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Looks like Sanders is leaving

Although at one time I used to argue with my basketball junkie friends who insisted Larry Sanders will not return to VCU for his senior season, I've come over to their side.

At the beginning of the season, even half way through it, I was telling those friends Sanders might not be a typical jock, who is only focused on his main sport. I pointed to clues that might back that view up, things like his interest in art.

But in the last six or seven weeks what I've seen has changed my mind. No, I don't just mean that I've looked at a few mock NBA draft web sites, although I have. Sanders is projected to be somewhere between a No. 15 and No. 20. Of course, the scuttlebutt around the Siegel Center has been that Sanders will leave.

Still, what has convinced me has been watching Sanders.

Both on the court and in the media room during interviews after games, Sanders has seemed distracted at times, even conflicted. Then, in a flash he has been his old self, enjoying the moment. The flashes haven't lasted long. Certainly not as long as his coach, Shaka Smart, might have wished for ... and then there are Sanders' teammates, who must have imagined VCU could be a Sweet Sixteen-level outfit this season.

They had that potential, but it got away from them.

Instead, VCU lost its last game of the regular season and in the CAA tournament's semi-finals. The Rams dropped past the second-tier NIT into the CBI.

The CBI probably isn't resting on a tier. Maybe in the basement ... on the floor.

Last night after beating Saint Louis (68-56), Sanders was asked about motivation, whether the Rams care about the CBI all that much. He admitted, "We came up short a lot this season." Then Sanders smiled and said he'd never finished off a basketball season with a win, but he'd like to try it.

His teammate Joey Rodriguez asserted, "To us, this [winning a tournament] is a big deal."

Asked about playing the next game (Wed. night) in St.Louis and how poorly the Rams have played on the road, at times this season, Sanders spoke warmly of the Siegel Center's atmosphere. He reminisced about interacting with fans and said how much the crowds fired him up. He spoke of it being "a VCU tradition."

Then Sanders said, "I'm going to truly miss it ... er, ah, until next year."

Joey raised a playful eyebrow during the pause in his teammate's sentence. Then he grinned when Sanders added, "until next year."

Some in the room obviously caught it. Others probably not. No one pursued the angle.

"It's kind of fitting for us to finish it on the road," Rodriguez summed up.

So, it seems Sanders wants to finish his college basketball career with a win, with a championship, Brand X, or not. Joey wants to prove to his coach, to his teammates and to himself, that VCU can win on the road. It certainly would underline the point that VCU was not treated well by the NIT selection committee.

Smart said, "This is a great chance for us, as a team, to grow."

So, while winning the CBI was hardly a goal for Sanders, Rodriguez or Smart back in November, it is now. Each of them has his reasons. Winning that championship could be satisfying, no matter what people outside the VCU family think of the tournament's lack of status.

Then for the second year in a row, it looks like VCU will have a player drafted in the NBA's first round. That's hardly a bad thing.

Update: "Rams' Sanders will enter NBA draft"

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