our-plus years ago, a soft-spoken, home-schooled, genetically gifted teen on Florida's Atlantic coast began playing organized basketball.
Monday night, that young man broke two of
's records. Oh, and just for kicks, tied another.
Hoopheads know Robinson chapter and verse. Naval Academy,
, original Dream Team. Next month, the Basketball Hall of Fame will announce his impending induction.
Not to portray Larry Sanders as the next Robinson, or to cast his likeness in bronze. That would be impulsive and unfair.
This is not: Sanders, a 6-foot-10 Virginia Commonwealth University sophomore, has extraordinary potential and could be a breakout presence in the
VCU earned its NCAA bid Monday by poleaxing
71-50 in the Colonial Athletic Association championship game at Richmond Coliseum. Senior guard Eric Maynor, the two-time conference player of the year, scored 25 points and collected tournament MVP honors.
But Maynor, who made an array of fades, floaters and 3-pointers, knew who merited top billing. Gazing at Sanders' stats, he marveled, "That's crazy. It's amazing what he did tonight."
Or, as Rams coach Anthony Grant said, "Wow!"
What Sanders did was score 18 points, collar 20 rebounds and block seven shots. What Sanders did was erase any semblance of interior offense from George Mason.
Darryl Monroe and Louis Birdsong, the Patriots' undersized starting forwards, combined for six points and two rebounds on 1-of-9 shooting. This from two staples who average 17.6 points and 11.6 rebounds between them.
When Mason went more athletic with 6-9 freshman Mike Morrison, Sanders rejected his dunk attempt at the rim — Morrison later returned the favor. Sanders altered several other shots, and his mere presence — Sanders' wingspan is an astonishing 7 feet, 7 inches — dissuaded the Patriots from attempting others.
Mason shot a season-low 30.5 percent, and guard Dre Smith (23 points) was the only Patriot to score more than five points.
"He basically created a psychological barrier for us," Mason coach Jim Larranaga said of Sanders.
The Patriots are not alone. VCU's last five opponents have averaged 49 points, and none scored more than 53.
During that stretch, all Rams victories by the way, Sanders has blocked 17 shots and snared 57 rebounds.
Sanders' 20 rebounds Monday broke the tournament record of 19, shared by Robinson and three others. His tournament total of 40 surpassed Robinson's previous mark of 39, established in 1986. And his seven blocks matched Robinson's standard.
"Never had any (stat line) that looked like that," Sanders said. "My whole mind-set going into the game was to get every rebound."
Sanders led the CAA in blocks (2.6 per game) during the regular season and ranked third in rebounding (8.0). He averaged a modest 11 points a game.
Not Monday. Sanders shot 7-of-12 from the field and 4-of-4 from the foul line. He dunked three times, posted up, appeared comfortable making a 15-footer from the left baseline and got lucky with an excuse-me bank from the right elbow.
Sanders' SportsCenter moment came when he dunked in transition off a perfect lob from Maynor (game-high eight assists) midway through the second half. But the buzzkill officiating crew waved off the bucket for a phantom charge on Maynor.
Pretty good stuff for someone who didn't take up organized basketball until the 10th grade in Fort Pierce, Fla.
"If he stays out of foul trouble," Maynor said, "y'all ain't seen anything yet."
Ah, there's the rub. Frisky colt that he is, Sanders is prone to fouls. He committed only two Monday, but he's fouled out eight times this season.
Not coincidentally, VCU is 1-7 in those games. That makes the Rams 23-2 when Sanders doesn't foul out.
Talk about an accurate barometer. If Sanders avoids fouls and Maynor, VCU's career leader in points and assists, continues his sterling play, the Rams are going to make life miserable for some lofty seed in the NCAA tournament.
Much as they did in 2007, when Maynor's jumper with 1.8 seconds remaining sent Duke packing in the first round.
"We're not done yet," Maynor said.
The same can be said for Sanders. Add some muscle to that 220-pound frame? Refine his natural talents and learn more subtle skills? There's no telling.
"He hasn't scratched the surface," Grant said.
"I see something special in him," Maynor said.
Hopefully Sanders sees it in himself.