At Big Ten Media Day on Thursday, I was fortunate to speak with Rutgers basketball star Corey Sanders. He returns for his sophomore season on the banks after finishing in the top ten in the conference last year in scoring, assists, and steals. Of all the players returning to the Big Ten this season, only Malcolm Hill of Illinois and Peter Jok of Iowa scored more than Corey did the previous year. Surprisingly, he was not among the ten players named to the preseason All-Big Ten team. Regardless, his return to Rutgers this season was a huge lift for the program.
It was a lot of fun to speak with Corey and find out how he is approaching this season. He has embraced the new coaching staff and all the changes that have occurred within the program the past six months. Sanders seemed genuinely excited about this season and highly motivated to improve on what was an impressive freshman campaign. The adversity he dealt with last season has only made him stronger and more motivated. I asked him about the lack of recognition he has received from the conference, what he has learned from the new coaching staff, as well as his thoughts on the many new players on the team this season. Read about it all here.
In terms of the changes within the program in the last year, what has been the biggest challenge for you personally, in terms of developing your game and dealing with all the changes that have happened?
Really hasn’t been a challenge. At first I was kind of upset about the coaching change, but then I just realized that’s what we needed as a team. I’ve just bought into the system and trust everything coach Pikiell and the other coaches have been telling me.
What do you think you have improved on the most since last season, in terms of a certain aspect of your game?
I would say everything, but really, shooting the ball. I feel like I became a really good shooter over the summer and it’s been showing in practice. I’ve also been trying to work on my defense a lot. We are really big on defense this year. Those are the two things I’ve been working on the most.
Now that Nigel Johnson will be playing with you this year, I know you two have a really good rapport, how excited are you to play with him?
I’m so excited. Last year, we went at it in practice everyday. This year, we are still going at it in practice. He is my roommate this year and this is all we have been talking about. Day by day, we are getting closer and closer to tipping the ball off and I’m very excited to see what we are going to do together.
In terms of your season last year and coming into this year with not getting any conference honors, does that motivate you at all?
Of course, I tried to do everything I could last year to show everybody I was one of the best players in the Big Ten. I felt like my numbers showed that, but we didn’t win, so you aren’t going to get any love when you don’t win. I’m fine with that and I’ve always been the type to take it and run with it. I just want to come back and prove myself.
There is obviously a lot of roster turnover and you have a lot of newcomers this year. Who on the roster that is new to the program has impressed you the most so far this preseason?
I would say our big men, C.J Gettys the transfer and Candido (Sa). Really everybody new has impressed me though. Everyone has just bought into the system, worked hard and showed they can play ball and belong in the Big Ten. So I’m excited for everybody.
How does that affect team chemistry, in terms of having so many newcomers at once?
Everybody is just working together. We have gelled perfectly, there haven’t been any fights or anything like that. We understand that in order for us to be a great team, everybody has to buy in. I feel like everybody has done that.
Do you take any different approach, obviously you are in the preseason now, but then heading into the non-conference versus conference schedule, in terms of working on certain things? Or right now is it all just brand new because of the coaching staff?
Everything is brand new. I kind of feel like a freshman. Even though I played last year, buying into the new coaching system and the new staff, you just have to learn a lot of new things. I am almost like a freshman this year.
Anything in particular that you’ve taken away or been helped on by assistant coach Brandin Knight?
Oh yeah! Me and coach Knight always have individual workouts and we get up on Sundays and go get shots up for 45 minutes. Just something to get our blood flowing and just work on my game. I feel like Brandin Knight is one of the best coaches I’ve had around me. He really works with our guards to make sure everything is tight, our handles, our shooting, our defense. I just feel like he was a great addition to our team.
And a more serious question, how much game does Vinny Vetrone have on the court?
Aahh, Vinny has all the game! Yesterday, we were doing a zone offense and he was on one of the scout teams and my boy pulled up for three and showed he’s still got it out there. That’s my man. I really appreciate Vinny and coach Shoes, they’re like a family to me, a brother and a father, so I’m glad to have them aboard.
Note: Vinny is a team manager and the son of Greg “Shoes” Vetrone, the Director of Player Development for the program.
Thanks to Corey for taking the time to speak with me and giving Rutgers fans insight on how he is approaching his sophomore season. We are all excited to see him back at the RAC in a Rutgers uniform this season. Only 26 days until the 2016-2017 season tips off!