VCU legend Larry Sanders has decided to make his long-anticipated NBA return after the former Ram signed with the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers last week.
Sanders, who donned the prestigious Black and Gold from 2007-10, last played for the Milwaukee Bucks during the 2014-15 NBA season.
In Feb. 2015, Sanders unceremoniously walked away from basketball for what he said were “personal reasons” after being suspended for marijuana use for the second time in his NBA career. Shortly after being bought out by the Bucks, Sanders said he was fighting anxiety, depression and mood disorders and, later that month, entered a program at Rogers Memorial Hospital.
In his time away, Sanders has started his own business and has worked extensively with two of his passions — art and music. However, he said, after over two years away, he was ready to once again step out on the hardwood.
“I knew I needed space,” Sanders said in his first media appearance with the Cavaliers. “I knew I needed time away to focus on myself. I said when I left that if I was ready to come back, I would, and now is the time. I feel like I come back a little more mature, a little more stable, and just ready to perform.
“I’m enjoying myself,” he added. “I’m excited to get back in the game with such an amazing team. I’m grateful that this organization is giving me a second chance and has invested in me.”
In four-and-a-half seasons with the Bucks, Sanders established himself as one of the league’s premier shot-blockers, averaging nearly two blocks in less than 20 minutes-per-game.
In the 2012-13 season, Sanders was a serious contender for the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year Award after averaging 9.8 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.8 blocks on the season.
Cavs General Manager David Griffin said Sanders’ immense defensive potential is what drew the defending champions to the former Ram. However, he said the team is not expecting Sanders to return to his 2012-13 levels right away.
“He can be game-changing,” Griffin said. “But, that was a long time ago, so we need to just work through where we are today.”
Sanders’ contract is a one year deal with a team option to bring the 6-foot-11 big man back next season. Griffin said the team is looking more towards the future when it comes to Sanders, who will spend the next two weeks with the Cavs’ D-League affiliate, the Canton Charge, while he gets back in game shape.
Cleveland’s LeBron James said he is excited for the former VCU great’s return to the hardwood.
“For us as his brothers now, it was great to just see him back out there,” James said following Sanders’ first taste of in-game action Tuesday. “To have a two-year hiatus like he had and doing the things he needed to do to shore himself up to be a part of this league again, he was back where he belonged tonight.”
During his time with VCU, Sanders established himself as one of the most prolific big men in the program’s history. During his final year as a Ram, he averaged 14.4 points, 9.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game. He is tied for third all-time in double-doubles at VCU with 28 and sits 33rd in career points, scoring 1,044 over the course of his three-year collegiate career.
Sanders is now the fourth former Ram to grace the NBA hardwood this season, as he joins fan-favorites Briante Weber, Troy Daniels and Treveon Graham among the league’s prestigious ranks.
Nick Versaw, Staff Writer