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Daily Journal
     April 2, 2020      #78-93 KDJ
 
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Former McNamara star Sanders concludes basketball

By Cody Smith
csmith@daily-journal.com


During Khadaizha Sanders’ basketball career, she has accomplished more than most people ever could dream of on the court. Growing up with a toy hoop, Sanders first picked up a ball when she was 4. Her love for sports began then as she grew up as a multi-sport athlete playing track, volleyball, baseball and, of course, basketball.

But it was basketball that stole the heart of the 2015 Bishop McNamara graduate.

“I pretty much knew basketball was going to be my career path once I got to eighth grade,” Sanders said. “Once I was getting ready to head to high school, I had pretty much played all the sports, and I knew what I wanted most, what I was better at and what my passion was — and that was basketball.”

All her time spent dedicated to basketball finally began paying off in high school when she made the decision to only focus on hoops. In Sanders’ four years spent with the Irish, she earned first-team All-State honors from both the Illinois Associated Press and Illinois Basketball Coaches Association three times and was also the Daily Journal Player of the Year three times, with many other accolades. She holds the school records at Bishop McNamara for career points (2,373), career assists (604) and career steals (364).

“A lot of girls I coached were similar, but I guess what stood above the rest for Sanders was her skills,” former Bishop McNamara’s girls basketball coach John Rutter said. “She was hands down the best basketball player in the state of Illinois, in my opinion, her senior year.”

In her senior year, Sanders led the girls basketball program to its first ever state championship in Class 2A after leading the area in scoring, averaging 21. 2 points per game in 2014-15. Her dominant season helped the Irish finish 30-4, which led to numerous scholarship offers from various major universities.

It was Rutgers and legendary coach C. Vivian Stringer who ultimately won out, as they secured the explosive point guard instead of rival Big 10 schools such as Wisconsin and Michigan State.

The next step for Sanders was to figure out how to transition to college basketball. After spending the majority of her high school years as a basketball superstar, she had to quickly learn she was no longer in a league above everyone else as she was at McNamara.

The former 56th ranked prospect in the espnW HoopGurlz Top 100 for the 2015 class, had to learn to come off the bench her freshman season at Rutgers. It was a feeling she was not used to after being the star of the show day in and day out for the Irish

“It was tough because I had not been challenged like that before,” Sanders said. “That was probably the first time where I was really pushed to my limit.

“It is always hard for a freshman to coming in, playing the point guard position, and it’s never going to be easy.”

Nonetheless, after getting her first season under her belt, Sanders became more and more comfortable within her program. This newly sparked confidence allowed her to finally get her chance as a regular starter her sophomore season.

She started 86 out of 90 games during her final three seasons with the Scarlet Knights, including starting all 31 games for Rutgers in her final season of eligibility as a graduate student this past winter after missing what would have been her senior season in 2018-19 because of injury. During her final season as a Red Knight, Sanders averaged a career-high 9.5 points per game and 4.2 assists per game.

“I’ve been through a lot at Rutgers, pretty much seen just about everything — the good and the bad,” Sanders said. “I had some pretty good seasons, some bad seasons, but overall, I would not trade it for anything. I love my family that I have there at Rutgers and the connections I have built there.”

Sanders built many relationships during her time playing hoops at Rutgers, bonds that will last long past sharing the court together.

“I still stay in contact with my senior teammates from when I was a freshman and sophomore,” Sanders said. “They are long graduated, and I’ve still kept in contact with them to this date.

“I was able to be apart of a sisterhood, a sacred sisterhood that a lot of people could respect and could look at and say that it was special.”

Similar to many student-athletes, Sanders’ final season was cut short because of the COVID-19 virus. The Scarlet Knights were scheduled to be a part of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament in March before it was canceled.

“The experience overall was good,” Sanders said. “I didn’t like the way it ended with this whole virus thing. It was just kind of a big shock not to be able to play in the NCAA Tournament this year.

“Just having the season kind of cut short was really sad and devastating, but I’m thankful and appreciative of all the time I had at Rutgers. I’m grateful to have been able to wear their jersey.”

Similar to many others across the globe, Sanders’ next step in life is on hold. She planned to workout in the WNBA combine ahead of its draft, but it has been canceled for the time being. Sanders wants to get an opportunity to play professional hoops for at least a short period of time.

“I do want to play professionally for a little while,” Sanders said. “I don’t know if I’m quite ready to start playing right now, but my passion is coaching. I know that that is what I want to do.”

Perhaps Sanders will become a basketball coach in the near future, although she has not made a decision on whether or not she wants to coach on the men’s side or the women’s.

Now that Sanders’ college career is behind her she has had time to look back at all her time spent playing basketball and reflected on what the game taught her.

“I would say that the one thing I can definitely take from playing this game is that adversity is going to come at some point in time, and you just got to attack it,” Sanders said. “When that adversity comes, you can’t give up, and you got to be mentally tough and keep your head on straight.”

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