That was close. Just as it seemed that Corey Sanders was about to turn pro, he is now officially back...again. After waiting to make a decision right up until Wednesday’s deadline, Corey Sanders announced Tuesday night through the men’s basketball social media account that he is in fact returning to Rutgers for his junior season. It was late March when Sanders announced he would test the waters for a second consecutive year ahead of the NBA Draft. By not hiring an agent, it gave Sanders the opportunity to be evaluated by NBA officials, while keeping the option open to return to college. However, he worked out for the Sacramento Kings on Monday and told reporters afterwards that he “was leaning towards coming out” for the NBA Draft. While that would have been a doomsday scenario for the program on the court next season, Sanders ultimately decided to withdraw from the draft and head back to school. Rutgers basketball fans should be truly thankful and can now rejoice in his return.
Corey Sanders earned Honorable Mention All-Big Ten honors from both the media and coaches this past season, when he averaged 12.8 points, 3.2 assists, 3.2 rebounds, and 1.2 steals during his sophomore campaign. He led Rutgers in points, assists, and steals for the second consecutive season and ranked among the conference leaders in all three categories once again. Sanders needs just 147 more points in his career to reach the 1,000 point plateau and has a good chance to rank in the top 20 all-time on the program’s scoring list after next season. He is a virtual lock to finish in top 10 all-time with assists and steals as well.
From the press release issued Wednesday afternoon, head coach Steve Pikiell had this to say about Corey’s return:
“The evaluation process was a valuable learning experience for Corey and we are excited about his return,” said Rutgers head coach Steve Pikiell. “Corey made great strides as a sophomore and we fully expect him to use the feedback he received to develop further and have a great junior season. Corey will play an integral role as we continue to build both the present and future of Rutgers Basketball.”
While Sanders saw his scoring average decrease last season from his freshman campaign, when he had scored 15.9 points a game, it was due to head coach Steve Pikiell demanding Sanders become a more complete player. Corey bought in and his overall game improved. He played more within the offense, improved his shot selection, and was much better on the defensive end. However, there are still plenty of areas that Sanders can improve upon.
He needs to add to his skill set by developing a stronger left hand off the dribble, develop a mid-range jump shot, become a true, lock down defender, improve his passing, as well as become more consistent on a night in, night out basis. Rutgers struggled mightily in the last five minutes of Big Ten contests last season and if Sanders wants to become a true end of the game assassin, something that he has shown flashes of being at times, he needs to become a more balanced and complete player.
Sanders was out in California training away from the program in recent weeks, something he did last year as well. He should be back with the team working out on a regular basis very soon. Rutgers seems to have always been on his mind, as he represented the Scarlet Knights while training outside of the program.
Sanders will immediately return to his role of best player on the team and this ensures that Rutgers will have an experienced backcourt for next season, as co-captain Mike Williams enters his senior year. The potential growth of Issa Thiam and arrival of incoming freshman Geo Baker should have fans intrigued, despite the loss of Nigel Johnson.
With Sanders’ return now official, the coaching staff can continue to work to fill the one remaining scholarship for next season. With class of 2017 big man Myles Johnson committing, it’s fair to wonder whether the staff are still considering UConn transfer Vance Jackson, who recently visited. While he would need to sit out next season, he would be a major talent added to the program, if he chose Rutgers. Of course, the need to add impact players for next season, which could be Sanders’ last with Rutgers, is urgent. The staff is likely prioritizing finding a shooter on the grad transfer market. With hundreds of grad transfers available, proceeding with caution and finding the right fit has been the right approach so far for the staff. Remember, they landed CJ Gettys on the grad transfer market last August.
The wait continues on filling out the roster for next season, but for now, fans can exhale due to knowing that Corey Sanders will wear Scarlet for at least one more go around. Let’s hope his next season is his best so far, for both him and the team. Welcome back #3!