After a two-year hiatus from basketball, Larry Sanders is making a triumphant return to the NBA. On Monday morning, the former Milwaukee Bucks defensive stalwart put pen to paper on a contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers, though he'll resume his career first with the Canton Charge of the D-League as he works himself back into playing shape.
Sanders' story is as fascinating as it worrisome. The 6-foot-11 big man negotiated a buyout from the Bucks in 2015 to focus on finding himself and dealing with anxiety and depression. He dealt with mental health issues throughout his NBA career, but Sanders blossomed on the court. During his best season in 2013, he posted a line of 9.8 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game. What makes those numbers even more impressive is that by his own admission, Sanders was downright awful at basketball until the later stages of high school.
"My freshman year, I just wasn't good. I was lanky. I wasn't used to my body, uncoordinated," Sanders told STACK. "I would bounce the ball off my foot, things like that."
Sanders said he was 6-foot-6 by his sophomore year at Port St. Lucie (Florida) High School, but he still couldn't dunk. He eventually wound up playing varsity in his junior year, and by the time he arrived at VCU for college, he was the devastating defensive force that he flashed in the NBA. But it took time to get there, including accidentally scoring on the wrong basket in high school.
"I didn't know [teams switched sides] at the half," Sanders said with a laugh. "So as soon as the half started, I ran down like I was on a fast break and laid the ball up, and I scored on the wrong basket."
Sanders almost repeated that gaffe when he reached the NBA. In a game against the Philadelphia 76ers, he lined up for a jump ball at the free-throw line near the Bucks' basket after getting tied up with an opponent. After bouncing around between players, Sanders grabbed the ball, turned toward his own basket and started to go up for a layup. Milwaukee's bench went berserk, yelling "No!" Sanders quickly realized his mistake. He stopped himself before going airborne and passed the ball to the point guard. Crisis averted.
Once the playoffs arrive, Sanders should be able to improve the Cavs' interior defense, albeit in limited minutes. Let's just hope he swats shots away from his own basket instead of helping them in.
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