Tugging on Superman’s cape

February 27, 2012 11:25 am CST

Sanders achieves double-double vs. Magic’s Howard

Larry Sanders
“Dwight is a real funny guy,” Sanders said. “He’s always saying something funny. He makes it fun to play out there.”
Five years ago, Larry Sanders was a senior at Port St. Lucie High School.

He played basketball, but he hadn’t even begun to scratch the surface of his potential in the sport, having played his first organized game just two years earlier.

If someone had told Sanders back then that in five years, he would be in the National Basketball Association, matched up against Dwight Howard of the Orlando Magic – and living to tell about it – what do you think he might have said?

“I probably would have told them, ‘Get out of here! You don’t know what you’re talking about, man!'” Sanders said.

Sanders, though, made some believers on the night of Feb. 20 when he logged 28 minutes against Orlando’s weapon of mass destruction and tag-teamed with rookie Jon Leuer to “hold” Howard to 28 points and 16 rebounds.

He also came up with season highs of 13 points and 12 rebounds – his first double-double of 2011-12 -- and played a prominent role in keeping the Bucks in a position to win before the Magic perfomed an escape act and flew away with a 93-90 victory.

Sanders and Leuer were pressed into extended duty with starting center Andrew Bogut out indefinitely with a broken ankle and Bogut’s fill-in, Drew Gooden, sidelined with a wrist injury.

Whether they would admit it on the record or not, a lot of NBA players thrust into Sanders’ shoes – and probably even some veteran starters – would not relish the assignment of taking on Howard.

The 6-foot-11, 235-pound Sanders, though, accepted the challenge enthusiastically and talked about his approach to playing against the 6-11, 265 Howard.

“I get myself amped up – I think we all do – and try to rise to the occasion especially when we’re guarding him,” Sanders said. “I tried to jump out and make the guards hesitate a little bit and not come in clean. You know you’ll have Dwight diving in there pretty hard in the post. You can’t wind up on the wrong side when they swing the ball. You have to stay low enough where you can still harass them.”

Sanders admitted that Superman poses challenges that no other player in the NBA does.

“You can’t compare anybody else to him,” Sanders said. “I get excited every time I get the chance to go against Dwight, though. I just try to hang my hat on my defense and rise to the occasion.

“I think every game gives you confidence, but this one in particular does because, you know, he’s the best center in the world. I guess if you can guard Dwight, you can guard a lot of the other players in the league, so it does give you a sense of confidence.”

Sanders enjoys competing against Howard for another reason.

“Dwight is a real funny guy,” Sanders said. “He’s always saying something funny. He makes it fun to play out there.”

Sanders likes to enjoy himself when he’s on the basketball court, too, but the second-year pro is serious about making himself the best player he can be.

He didn’t let his summer months go to waste, even with the likelihood of an NBA lockout growing with each passing day.

"I spent time down at IMG with Derek Caracter (of the Los Angeles Lakers) and Glen Davis (of the Magic) and a couple other guys,” Sanders said. “I also worked out with Jared Jeffries (of the New York Knicks) at Impact in Sarasota. I went out to Vegas and played with a lot of Memphis guys there. I also went to VCU (Virginia Commonwealth University, his alma mater) and worked out with Eric Maynor (of the Oklahoma City Thunder) and those guys. That was fun. It was good just to be around a team and in that atmosphere."

Sanders didn’t simply play pick-up basketball, though.

“I did a lot of things,” he said. “I tried to reflect on last season and kind of critique myself. 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.”

He has also tried to apply himself to the mindwork that is such a vital facet of the game.

“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.

“I had to try to stay focused. I think that comes with being in the NBA.”

Sanders believes he benefitted from the work he put in during the summer and the ensuing lockout, and he entered his second pro camp feeling much more acclimated than he did in his first.

“It was tough last year as a rookie coming in and not knowing what to expect,” he said. “I'm a little more comfortable this year.”

Even when he’s tugging on Superman’s cape.