Dec. 23, 2012
STANFORD, Calif.- Christian Sanders wasn't sure how much playing time he would log for Stanford this year, but knew his tight-knit family would be supportive.
The 6-4, 185-pound true freshman from Houston, Texas, has good genes. His father, Brad, played four years of college hoops at Kansas (1975-79) and was team captain his senior year.
"I had a plan to come in here and be ready to help, but I wasn't exactly sure what it would be like," said the polite and soft-spoken Sanders, who has appeared in all 12 games at shooting guard for the Cardinal, earning four starts. "I'm pleased and thrilled."
A self-described gym rat who helped lead St. Thomas High School to a state championship as a junior, Sanders gives much of his credit to his father.
"He knows the game so well," Sanders said. "I feel lucky to have him as my dad. He's helped me out so much in life and in the sport. That came from us in the gym, working and talking about situations."
His dad is appreciative, but thinks his son deserve all the credit.
"That's awfully generous, which is more a statement of Christian and his personality," he said. "One of my joys in life was having the opportunity to interact with him in that environment because of my background. He's the one who put in the hard work. I'm just there to support him."
Brad and Christian have only gone head-to-head once on the court. Not surprisingly, it didn't go well for Christian and his older brother, Bo.
"It was my seventh grade year on an outdoor court," said Sanders. "My brother and I played against him, every man for himself. And my dad dominated us. He played like Pistol Pete."
Said Brad, "I think it was about then that I figured out I better not play him again."
Sanders was born in Kansas, but the family had just moved to Houston, where his father buys, sells and trades energy commodities. It was a challenging time, but the family stuck together.
"We didn't have any friends, so we did everything together," Sanders said. "We attended a local high school and I would actually sneak into the window and open the gym door for us."
Sanders' biggest fan is his 27-year-old sister, Casey. She was born with a brain tumor and lives at home with her parents.
"She's the happiest person I have ever met," he said. "Every day. She loves movies, especially the show `I Love Lucy.' And she loves basketball. Everything that I won in high school, I've given to her. She brings my state championship ring to every Stanford game."
Johnny Dawkins, The Anne and Tony Joseph Director of Men's Basketball, describes Sanders as a heady, mature player who is comfortable in what he can do.
"I think that's because he has such a good I.Q. for the game and such a good skill set," said Dawkins. "I think when you come in with good skills and a good sense of the game, you're confident when you go out there, and I think he's shown that."
Brad cited two break-out occurrences in his son's career that catapulted to big-time college basketball.
"One was the summer between eighth and ninth grade, when he actually grew," he said. "He was small for age prior to that, but he was fundamentally really good and very competitive. But you never knew if the size thing would kick in and it did. When that happened, I knew he had a chance.
"The second was when he played with an AAU summer team (Houston Defenders) with the Harrison twins, who are going to Kentucky, the summer before his senior year. They were ranked No. 1 nationally and that was quite an accomplishment. When you watched him play with that caliber of people, you just knew he was capable."
At St. Thomas, teammates relied on Sanders to produce big numbers, and he did, averaging nearly 25.0 points a game last year. At Stanford, his role has changed and he's contributing four points per contest.
"The last couple of years of my high school career, I became a scorer," he said. "I needed to for our team. But when I got here, you realize everyone can score. Here, it's all about winning. Here, you do what's necessary for the five guys on the court to win."
Which is why he has earned early playing time. Sanders scored 11 points against Belmont on Nov. 18 and nine against Seattle on Nov. 28.
"He's definitely a capable scorer, but he's a basketball player," said Dawkins. "He's a guy who makes guys around him better. He can hit the open shot, get to the basket and finish, and find somebody. He's going to give you whatever the team needs."
"Christian's strength is he wants to be part of a winning program, so he puts winning first and team first," he said. "If it makes sense for him to be the reason they win, then he's willing to do that. But it's all about winning. He's skilled enough to contribute where it's needed in a team concept. As a basketball dad, I'm very proud of that."
After taking official recruiting visits to Colorado and Maryland, Sanders received a home visit from Dawkins and made an early commitment to Stanford. He hasn't looked back.
"It's beautiful," he said. "Especially the weather and the scenery. But it's the people. It's really a great place."
It didn't take long for Sanders to realize that every Stanford student is gifted in some way.
"I've actually met a couple of freshmen who started a little start-up business with their brothers," said Sanders. "And they're already making quite a bit of money.
"Also, I sit at breakfast, and two or three of the kids I'm sitting with aced the SAT. So you're around brilliant people all the time."
Sanders is trying to make his mark at Stanford on the basketball court.
"We're excited about Christian," Dawkins said. "He's done a really good job and I think he can help us as he continues to grow into his role and gets comfortable with that we're doing. I think he's going to be a big asset to our program."
- by Mark Soltau
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