Champ of the chants

Sanders emerged as a BC fan favorite

Larry Sanders
“I have more of a comfort level out there. I’m just trying to learn as much as I can. If I keep my mind-set focused on that, I won’t get bogged down.”

Maybe next season there will be a “Squad 8” section at the Bradley Center.

After the Milwaukee Bucks traded Andrew Bogut to the Golden State Warriors on March 14 along with Stephen Jackson in exchange for Monta Ellis and Ekpe Udoh, the BC’s boisterous ones seemed to adopt Larry Sanders as their new favorite son.

The 6 foot, 11 inch, 235-pound Sanders, selected by Milwaukee with the 15th overall pick in the 2010 National Basketball Association Draft, has won over those fans and many others with his energizing play and the potential he has shown as a mayhem maker in the lane.

One of Sanders’ finest hours as a Buck came during Milwaukee’s 116-94 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers at the Bradley Center on April 7. He threw down a career-high five dunks, made seven of eight shots, scored a season-high 14 points, snared seven rebounds and blocked two shots, bringing chants of “Lar-ry! Lar-ry!” from the artists formerly known as “Squad 6.”

Sanders and his teammates were directing their focus on making the playoffs at the time, but he admitted that his 17-minute stint and the results it produced gave him a rush.

“It’s exciting at this time of the year trying to get the playoffs,” Sanders said afterward. “Being able to be out there, play well and get the fans going, it’s really exciting.”

Sanders enthusiastically accepted a bump in minutes he received during the month of April. He averaged 16.4 minutes per outing, up substantially from the 8.4 he received during March.

“Things like that you really can’t control,” Sanders said. “The only things you can control are your attitude and how you approach different situations. I was fortunate to have great vets – different guys – just kind of staying in my ear and telling me to focus, work hard and keep pushing.

“My faith in God makes the biggest difference. I just stay prayerful, stay hopeful, and good things will happen.”

Sanders dedicated himself to improving his game during the 2011 offseason and the ensuing lockout, training at the IMG Academies and Impact facilities in Florida with a number of fellow NBA players, including his close friend and teammate at Virginia Commonwealth University, Eric Maynor of the Oklahoma City Thunder.

 “I tried to reflect on last season and kind of critique myself,” Sanders said. “I tried to work on everything I needed to. I think that helped build my confidence. It helped me feel more comfortable out on the floor, be able to move and play at my own pace.

“I’m really tried to improve every aspect of my game. I want to expand my game and add skills. I just want to keep getting better. The offseason is when champions are made. You have to put in the work over the summer.”

Sanders also worked on his mind-set.

“That's not something you can really train for physically; it’s more of a mental thing,” Sanders said. “That came from watching film and trying to focus on mental lapses I had during games. It was a matter of being out of position, or leaving my feet too early on pump fakes, or causing fouls.

Minutes were hard to come by for Sanders during the first couple of months of his second pro campaign, but he capitalized when they did come his way.

Had achieved his only double-double of the season with 13 points and 12 rebounds in a 93-90 loss to the Orlando Magic on Feb. 20 at the Bradley Center, holding his ground for many of his 28 minutes against All-Star center Dwight Howard.

Sanders put together a nine-point, 11-rebound, three-block effort in a 119-114 victory over New York on March 9 and came up with 12 points, four rebounds and five blocks in 90-85 loss to Philadelphia on April 25 in the team’s home finale.

“It’s been more about going out there and learning from playing,” Sanders said. “It’s not the overwhelming feeling like it was last year.

“I have more of a comfort level out there. I’m just trying to learn as much as I can. If I keep my mind-set focused on that, I won’t get bogged down.”

Sanders enjoyed the brand of basketball the Bucks played following the All-Star break, dramatically climbing the charts to third in the NBA in assists per game (23.5) and fifth in points per game (99.0). They ranked 30th in the league in both of those categories during the 2010-11 season.

“Unselfishness has definitely made the biggest difference in this team,” Sanders said. “We’ve also been helping each other on the defensive end. It has allowed us to raise our intensity. Guys have come in off the bench and picked us up on the glass and sparked our team.

 “It says a lot about the guys on our team. We have a lot of good players. At any given time, any number of players are ready to step up.”

Sanders also embraced more frequent opportunities to be on the court with Udoh as the season wore on. “I love it, man,” Sanders said. “Anytime we’re out there together, I’ve got his back and he’s got mine. We’ve become a duo down there. We’ll just keep working on that and see how it goes.”