All good stories begin with the main character who has hurdles to overcome during their early life, as they continue to build towards their end goal. For Corey Sanders, obstacles became a part of his story back in high school; his path has been riddled with them ever since.
“I went to 6 (high schools) in a matter of two years. I think it was all about just trying to find my right fit.”
Moving between schools so much is considered a brave move, re-learning new teams playing styles, the schemes, and plugging seamlessly into a roster are no easy tasks. Corey’s monumental challenges were all worth it, as he strived to find a team which allowed his talents to shine brightest. All of Corey’s sacrifices and hard work eventually paid off during his senior year as he led West Oaks High School to the 2015 Sunshine Independent Athletic Association State Championship.
While experiencing a turbulent time throughout his high school career, Corey was finding sustained success while playing AAU basketball for the Showtime Ballers. While playing in the AAU, Corey would reunite with former McKeel Academy teammate and now NBA player Dwayne Bacon, striking a friendship that still stands strong today.
“We (Sanders and Bacon) played varsity together in 8th to 10th grade. We played on Showtime Ballers for a long time together too.”
High-School eventually came to an end for Corey, as it does for all of us. Corey’s natural progression into a college ballplayer led him to sign with Rutgers, where he competed at the NCAA division one level. Corey’s first Season at Rutgers was a successful one from an individual standpoint. Corey averaged 33.4 minutes per game, grabbed 3.3 boards, dropped 4.3 dimes, and got 15.9 points per game, all of which were on shooting splits of 42.3 percent from the field, 31.5 percent from deep and 71.3 percent from the line.
Building up for his second collegiate season, Corey was again faced with a new challenge, as Steve Pikiell replaced his first-year coach during the summer.
“When I got my 2nd coach at Rutgers, he challenged to be a defensive presence on the floor. I was always a good defender, but he just challenged me to do more.”
No surprise then that Corey’s second year in college was his least productive, with a new defensive-minded scheme to adjust to, his numbers took a hit across the board. Due to the dip in production, Corey Sanders decided against declaring for the NBA draft, instead opting to return to Rutgers for his junior year.
Corey Sander’s junior year saw him recapture the form that allowed him to inflict his will on opponents during his freshman year—finishing the season with 15.2 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.1 assists on 40.1 percent shooting from the field, 22.4 percent shooting from deep and 70.8 percent from the line.
Here’s where the story really starts! Upon completing his junior year at college, Corey declared for the NBA draft and began working towards a goal he’d been chasing his entire life.
“After my junior year, I went out to California, and I trained with a lot of NBA guys. So I felt like that whole process got me ready.”
When speaking with Corey, it’s quickly apparent that his college experience helped him grow as a leader and a player, preparing him for what was to come next.
“Most people don’t understand that it’s hard to lead a team, especially when you’re not winning. When you’re not winning, it’s tough to try to lead guys, but I tried to give my best all three years.”
“It all (College) got me ready for the next level, whether it’s the NBA or overseas.”
Alas, the NBA draft, came and went without Corey Sanders being called from the podium; instead, he officially woke up the next morning an unrestricted free agent. What followed next was another dagger to Corey’s hopes of turning professional within the United States.
“I already knew that I wasn’t going to get drafted… what I was down about was not getting a call for Summer League.”
Eventually, Corey Sanders ability as a ballplayer caught the eye of the Rio Grande Valley Vipers of the NBA G-League, Corey had made it, he was officially a professional hooper. Since then, Corey has moved around a little as he continued to improve and seek out a team that fits his style. Each season has seen Corey Sanders move up into a better level of competition, and he’s seen a regular increase in the pay that comes with playing at higher levels.
“I’m just trying to grind and hopefully come up with a better deal than the previous year. That’s what I look forward to is just one-upping the last year and hopefully getting back to where I want to be, which is the NBA or the G-League.”
Before the COVID-19 pandemic cut short basketball seasons across the globe, Portugal was learning what the Corey Sanders experience meant to the fans.
“I came into the season late, so I wanted to make sure I found what I could do for the team before I started exploring and opening up my game. Because coming in, they (Oliveirense) were already a team that won a championship two times in a row. So I was trying to come in and find my role.”
And find his role he did, in just seven games with Oliveirense, Sanders was making his presence felt, scoring 10.3 PPG, with 5.1 APG and 4 RPBG Sanders was contributing at a high level in his new surroundings. Corey was very complimentary of the European leagues when asked about his experiences in there, and the difference in style of play and disparity in talent.
“There’s more talent (in the G-League). I feel like there are better players. But I think it’s harder to play overseas. It’s kinda (sic) harder to play overseas than it is to play in the G-League or NBA.”
Corey returned to the United States far sooner than he would have liked with his season cut short courtesy of the current pandemic. While returning to American soil allowed Corey to get back in the gym with elite-level talent, it most certainly took the gloss off what was becoming an impressive show in Portugal. However, Corey Sanders doesn’t allow adversity to salt his game. Instead, Sanders finds the positive in every setback; in this instance, that meant getting back to work with NBA level talent.
“I try to get in the gym with a lot of NBA guys. I’m in the gym with a good 3 or 4 pros every summer. I have been around guys like Marreese Speights, Tyshawn Taylor, Barry Brown Jr. recently, getting some runs in.”
At the time of this interview, Corey wasn’t aware where he would be taking his talents to next, which allowed us to take a more in-depth look into his thought process in terms of improvement.
“I feel like my game is not even close to where it can be, so I’ve just been trying to add everything to my game. I want to improve my catch and shoot, shooting off the dribble, playing off PnR, shooting off PnR and get better overall.”
A player like Corey, who’s trajectory has always pointed towards an NBA roster spot, his ability to roll with the punches while making the best of each situation speaks volumes to his professionalism.
“I feel like if you go out there and work hard and play hard, everything else will take care of itself. And that’s kinda (sic) what I’ve been living by.”
“This is something that I’ve been dedicated to for my whole life, so I’m gonna (sic) make it work, and I’m just gonna (sic) keep grinding until I can’t do it anymore.”
With a humble mentality and furious drive to continually improve, it was exciting content when Corey Sanders began to advise who he models his game after.
“I feel like I’m a Kemba Walker type of player. He’s very shifty, can make plays for others, can score the ball, and he’s a warrior, he’s a fighter, doesn’t back down from anybody. I feel like that’d be a great comparison.”
There was always a realistic and humble response when Corey was asked what his most important improvement should be as he continues to expand his game.
“My biggest concern is probably just shooting the three-ball consistently.”
To round out the interview, Corey Sanders provided a clear insight into the mindset that had allowed him to grow into a humble yet hungry point guard working his way up through the European ranks.
“Don’t let what happens at first mess up your grind or mess up what you wanna (sic) do with your life because not everything is gonna (sic) come to you overnight — it’ll come with work.”
“Don’t give up on what you wanna (sic) do if it doesn’t come right away. And that’s for anything; it doesn’t have to be for sports or basketball, that’s in life.”
One thing’s for sure, with Corey’s attitude towards continued growth, his prestige as a former division one point guard and ability to affect the game in several ways, the NBA will surely come calling, if not now, then sometime very soon.