With the 2016-17 set to begin, women’s basketball head coach Shaun Sanderson said he’s ready for the year.
“We’re pretty excited to get going,” Sanderson said.
This isn’t the first time Sanderson has gotten himself and his team ready for an upcoming season, and certainly won’t be the last.
Sanderson will be leading the Lady Wolves for the 12th straight season, with the first three spent as an assistant.
Prior to coaching the Lady Wolves, Sanderson spent time coaching at Joliet Township and at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
However, his journey to taking the head job at JJC began years before his first coaching position.
He was born and raised in Chicago, Ill. and attended Dunbar Vocational High School on the city’s south side.
While there, Sanderson played in the outfield of the school’s baseball team and experienced the importance of kindness first hand.
During his senior season, Sanderson broke his leg and was assisted by his coach to get to school every morning.
“My mom wasn’t in a position to get me to school,” Sanderson said. “That planted a seed with both me and my family to make it a priority to help people.”
The work ethic he developed came at an early age too.
“We never really had the best,” Sanderson said. “But my mom and dad worked and I’ve adapted to that. I like to put some of that influence onto my team as well.”
Many of these challenges that Sanderson described made him a better man and ultimately a better coach.
“I am sympathetic to a player’s situation,” Sanderson said. “But at the same time, I don’t want that to be an excuse. Each day is going to be hard, but one of our mottos is ‘you play the way you live your life.’”
When it came time for college, Sanderson attended Central State University in Ohio and was a member of the school’s baseball team.
Once again, he was positioned in the outfield. However, he saw time everywhere in the field, even pitching at one point during his collegiate career.
“Whatever was needed, I did it,” Sanderson said. “I’m about winning. If I don’t know how to do it, I’m going to try it. If someone tells me I can’t, then I’ll prove that I can.”
Sanderson began his career in coaching at the humblest of levels in a rather unlikely way.
The first time he coached women’s basketball was at the park-district level, while he assisted his cousin Brenda West. He said he used each player’s ability to the fullest for the best results.
“They weren’t expected to win,” Sanderson said. “But I put them (the players) together and we managed to win the championship. That drew my interest into coaching women’s basketball.”
Sanderson went on to volunteer at UIC where he met his mentor, Tim Eatman, who is currently at Rutgers University.
Under the guidance of Eatman, Sanderson then went on to JTHS and later took an assistant job at JJC.
“I didn’t think I was ready,” Sanderson said. “But my mentor (Eatmen) told me ‘you better take that job and learn on the job.’ So that’s what I did and every year, I’ve grown.”
Sanderson said he loves being at JJC and that the job works perfectly for him and his family.
Over the years, his job at JJC has given him many moments as a coach. He said his favorite moments include seeing his players graduate.
“It’s always been nice to see the players move on,” Sanderson said. “It’s sad to see them go, but it’s special to me when I get to see them succeed.”
Sanderson regularly follows his former players whenever they perform on the four-year level.
“For players to come in, that you never would expect to earn four-year degrees, now they’re pursuing their master’s degrees. That’s what we strive for,” Sanderson said.
Looking back onto specific memories Sanderson has, he said one of his most memorable moments was back during the 2010-11 season.
The Lady Wolves began the season 0-10, but went on to finish the season with 18 wins and a 7th place finish in the national tournament.
“People thought we were out of it,” Sanderson said. “That was a great experience.
Nearing a decade as the head coach of the Lady Wolves, Sanderson said the compiled seasons have given him a better perspective and understanding on how to motivate his team.
Entering the beginning stages of the preseason, Sanderson held an event at the JJC gymnasium, which gave his players a chance to have their pictures taken and local media a chance to get early access.
“Growing up as a kid, you always try to put yourself in that superstar element,” Sanderson said. “I just try to recreate the moment. There’s always that thought where ‘this might be the last time you’re playing basketball.’ So I like to make it all count.”
Sanderson and his Lady Wolves will look to make the season a special one, and it should be that way for years to come.
The Lady Wolves will see their first regular-season action on the court in a road game at Lake County College on Thursday, Nov. 3.
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