December 24, 2013 10:36:18 AM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
First-time watchers of the New Hope High School girls basketball team, don't be alarmed. There is nothing wrong with D.J. Sanders.
For those fans who have watched Sanders come up through the ranks, it's natural for them to see Sanders all over the place. Whether it's rebounding a ball on the defensive end and racing down the court to lay it up on the other end or bouncing up again and again and again in pursuit of an offensive rebound or a steal, Sanders is constant motion on the basketball court.
Call it frenetic. Call it frantic. New Hope coach Laura Lee Holman calls it something else.
"I think you can see her motor (in basketball)," Holman said. "Where softball doesn't really allow that outlet -- she might get a chance to run around the bases real fast -- but I think her athletic ability is really magnified in basketball, and just how competitive she is. She just doesn't get tired -- or she doesn't let me know she gets tired. The defense and running the floor, you get to see her athletic ability on a bigger stage.
"In softball, you can see, whoo, she hits the ball really hard and man, she can throw it really hard. But if you come to a basketball game and you see her run down these courts just like a mad woman, it really, really exemplifies her athletic ability."
Sanders scored 29 points, grabbed eight rebounds, and had five steals in a 63-17 victory against Caledonia on Tuesday. She came back Saturday and delivered a 34-point, 11-rebound, four-steal performance in a victory against Noxubee County.
For her accomplishments, Sanders is The Dispatch's Prep Player of the Week.
Holman said Sanders has taken her play to a higher level on a more consistent basis in practice. That kind of commitment in practice enabled Sanders to take over the game against Noxubee County. She said that performance was crucial and gave the other players a chance to find their rhythm.
"I have really upped the heat in practice, and she has been one of those who has responded really well," Holman said. "It is overflowing to some of her teammates, as well, which is always what you want in a team leader, which is somebody who can show the way and have a couple who decided to follow her, as well."
Holman believes setting the standard in practice is essential this season to help New Hope eliminate the "almost" from its mind-set. She said she doesn't want the players to have any excuses for coming up short in any area, and she wants the players to push themselves so they are going hard and need to be taken out of the game. Holman said Sanders has embraced that concept and the preseason evaluation she received. As a result, she said Sanders has worked hard to improve parts of her game that will help the team later in the season.
Sanders said she has tried to be consistent and to play in games like she does in practice. She also admits, though, she can do better and that there is room for improvement.
The same can be said for the team, which is why Holman's focus on eliminating "almost" is so important. A year ago, New Hope lost to Lanier 62-59 in overtime in the semifinals of the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Class 5A North State tournament at Canton High to cap a 25-5 season. Sanders is one of eight seniors focused on doing whatever she can to help the Lady Trojans take the next step.
"I am trying harder and trying to do more," Sanders said. "It has a lot to do with the fact that this is looking like my last season playing basketball, and I want to finish it playing well and doing good and leaving an example for people who come after me, so I am trying to do more than I did last year."
Sanders has signed a National Letter of Intent to play softball at Louisiana-Lafayette, but she admitted Monday she would like to play basketball and softball in college. She feels she received a better offer to play softball at ULL, but she said she didn't think it would be possible to play both sports there. She said the overlapping nature of the sports' seasons contributed to her thinking it wouldn't be possible to play basketball and softball in college.
When asked if she feels like a "crazy woman" when she plays basketball, Sanders laughs and concedes it might look like that, but she quickly adds, "That is how I am supposed to be. That is how defense is supposed to be."
Sanders isn't going to change anything at this point. After all, her motor helps her get into passing lanes on the Lady Trojans' press to deflect passes and to make steals. That boundless energy allows her to compete with bigger bodies in the paint to get offensive rebounds. The total package makes Sanders a source of unlimited production. Whether it is points, assists, rebounds, steals, or blocked shots, Sanders can do everything -- and most often at the same time. Through it all, Sanders has stayed humble
"I am doing pretty good," Sanders said. "I guess I just have been trying to give a lot of effort and a lot of hustle rather than scoring a lot of points. I have just tried to make myself go hard every game and play well rather than score."
That might sound crazy coming from some players, but it fits perfectly when Sanders says it. You only have to watch her play to tell it is the truth.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.