Thursday, June 07, 2007

Player Profile: #15 Thomas Sander

In the aftermath of Davidson's first round NCAA tournament loss to Maryland, sportswriters around the country waxed on and on about how great Davidson played, but, in the end Stephen Curry ran out of gas. More insightful writers came closer to Davidson's problem by saying that Davidson's frontcourt lacked the power and size to compete with the big boys for 40 minutes.

I knew what the fundamental problem was when I saw Thomas Sander get off the bus in Davidson 10 hours later. He was visibly in pain and still nursing his back. It took me a long time to remember that Sander had taken a bone-crushing charge from a Maryland big man in the first minutes of the game and took his time to get up.

Sander finished the game shooting 1-8 from the field and only scored 4 points. Davidson's frontcourt might have been outmanned, but a healthy Sander might have turned a 12-point loss into a close game where Davidson would not have had to foul in the waning seconds.

Thomas is the stereotypical heavy lifter. He does the hard jobs like taking charges, sealing off the big guys for his driving guards, and positioning himself for rebounds. Last season, Sander averaged 13.2 points per game and 6.4 rebounds per game.

I got to know Thomas a little bit after our freshman year and I found that he was a really relaxed and likable guy. I seriously thought that Sander would not be able to intimidate a fly, wherever he was. Over the course of his sophomore and junior seasons, Sander completely proved me wrong on the second count (he's still very amiable off the court).

If you follow the course of action away from the ball and after the whistle, you'd see that Sander is always trying to get into his opponent's heads. Whether it's an extra shove when a shot is released, refusing to back down when a larger opponent tries to set up his interior positioning, or immediately jumping up after taking yet another charge, Sander can frustrate his opponents to no end. It is for that reason that Thomas always seems to find himself on the other end of an opponent's emotional snap.

Sander was involved in a mid-court staredown against Ohio State's Matt Sylvester in the first half of the 2006 NCAA Tournament game. Sander received a technical foul for being on the receiving end of punches thrown by a frustrated Wofford team at Belk Arena in 2006. Sander also received an intentionally dirty punch to the gut from UNC-Greensboro big man Kyle Hines as the Spartans saw their hopes of an upset disappear with every Sander free throw in December 2006.

This isn't to say that Sander is a dirty player. But, there's just something about Davidson forwards that frustrate the good sense out of their opponents. They do all of the small things correctly and they are able to be extremely physical without going over the line. Davidson's big men are somewhat comparable to players like J.J. Redick in that they represent extremely talented, smart players that continually beat their opponents off the line. While I wouldn't say that Sander is the most hated player in the Southern Conference, there is no love lost between him and opposing players and fans.

But for all of the talk of Sander's toughness and frustrating nature, the team captain will have to add another element to his game in order for Davidson to be nationally successful in his senior season. Sander can't just rely on the paint trash to find his points and his rebounds. Sander has to improve his speed and enduracne for Davidson's new transition philosophy. Sander will have to be a vocal leader for rising sophomores like Rossiter and Nelms who will be needed for some crucial minutes when the starters get in foul trouble. Finally, he still needs to develop a consistent shot with his back to the basket. If he can do all those things, we can stop stereotyping Thomas with limiting terms like tough, scrappy, and hard-working. He will just be dang good.

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