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SOS: The Summer of Sanders Returns
Tuesday, February 25, 2014, 06:36:18 PM

Well this is a column I wasn’t sure I’d ever have the chance to write again. I am very grateful that I do. This time last week I was at my parents’ house in Houston, just shy of three months after being told by the Sydney Kings I was being released from my contract. I had no idea I would be back in this beautiful country just a few days later to resume what we started last year.

It has been a bizarre three months. I have done a lot of soul-searching and self-assessment and I am sure the whole experience has made me a better and stronger person.

Thankfully, I have had a very easy life so far. I have been blessed with a great family, good health and a good education. But that was the first time I have ever been fired or cut from a team. It was a blow to my ego. I was kind of wondering, what was I not doing? Why did I get cut? It really took me back to the core of asking myself why am I doing what I do? It confirmed for me that the desire I have to play basketball is very, very strong. So in that process of getting cut, being humbled, being brought back down, that desire to improve was fueled all the more. So I think it was a big challenge for me to take that negative and try and turn it into a positive.

It’s true, I was one of the last in the playing group to know I might be released. In a funny sort of way I can blame myself for that. I’m not great with social media. I’m not big on Twitter or Facebook. I’m trying to get better. But a lot of people told me later on that they had seen stuff on social media about Sam Young coming to the Kings. I hadn’t seen it coming.

So then I got a call asking me to have a meeting with Shane Heal. He told me the news. He did a great job of taking me through the reasons. It wasn’t a bad break. It wasn’t about what I wasn’t doing. It was about what Sam could do. So I had to process it.

Shane was great about it. It can’t have been easy on him either. And he was very insistent about leaving the door open. And for me that was hard to think about. Here I was taking this blow of oh gosh, where am I going to go, where am I going to live, am I allowed to play? A hundred things were running through my mind.

The hardest part of it all was having to break the news to my wife and having to tell her that we were going home. It was tough to go through and looking back on it now three months on, I think it’s certainly made Courtney and I a lot closer because of it.

I’ve thought back on that meeting with Shane a lot. I would replay training sessions in my mind. Games. Certain moves. Certain shots. I found myself thinking dang, I shouldn’t have made that shot. I watched a lot of film. I watched each and every game I played for the Kings just trying to learn and trying to improve. It was all about trying to take the frustration and turn it into a positive.

The first month of being home was really all about staying sharp. Working out in the gym. Being ready to go. My agent was confident something would come up quickly. There were a few opportunities that my agent didn’t think were a good fit. We decided it was better to wait.

I had to re-focus my thinking though. What are we going to do? Are we going to stay in Houston where we had been? Are we going to go and visit my wife’s family? So what we decided is we would go and visit my College town in Lynchburg, Virginia. So we stayed up there for about three weeks. I ran with my old College team. Worked out with my little brother. They have a great program up there.

Then my agent told me to get back to Houston urgently as he had a team for me to play with in Europe. That fell through as well so I had to change my thinking yet again. I was working out every morning with my brother and a guy who has just signed to play in the SEABL. Between us we must have played 500 games of one on one since I got home.

I’m not good at sitting still and being unoccupied. So I was just trying to fill my time being productive. I was umpiring 8th grade girls softball. I refereed little kids. My brother has a photo booth business so I did some of that. I did some part-time secretarial work for my Dad. I was doing whatever I could to stay busy.

Then things took a sudden change last week. It was 11:15 at night and my wife and I were getting ready to go to bed. I thought what the heck, I’ll check the email. And there were three emails from different people at the Kings. And I thought, well this is strange.

They were all quite cryptic. As in, what are you up to? What’s your situation? I had to get a new phone number when I went home as my plan had expired. Email was the only way they could try and reach me!

So then of course my mind starts racing. I had no idea what was happening. I didn’t know what the situation was with Charles or Sam. So I email back straight away. And I’m wired. I can’t go to bed any more. My wife is like, what’s going on? I’m thinking the best but I was also fighting it in my head because I'd already had a few setbacks with previous deals. I didn’t want to get worked up and present myself for disappointment. I didn’t even know if I was allowed to come back into the competition.

Problem was, the team was on their way to Cairns. So I'm sitting there refreshing my email every five seconds waiting for a reply. And it never came! I’m thinking, why aren’t they responding? I start doing the math and I worked out they wouldn’t be getting into Cairns until 3am or something. That was tough to wait it out!

The next day the paperwork was done and the deal was locked in. My wife was amazing through it all. She's still a full-time student and is in her last semester doing five upper-level business classes. And it’s finals time. We'd just had a very busy week with family so she hadn’t been able to get much of her school work done.

So from the time that email came through she busted out the books and goes into study mode. She got a full week’s worth of work done in 32 hours. I was taking meals up to her in between trying to pack. She was telling me what she wanted me to take and I don’t pack anywhere near as well as her. I was butchering it. She’s really been a trooper through this whole thing.

The downside to coming back is the situation Charles is in. We’re now living in the apartment where Charles lived. Sam is in my old apartment! We spent so much time there. It’s tough.

Charles and I would car pool to practice and there were nights where all of us would just chill out watching TV or spend hours being entertained by his beautiful little daughter. But I guess the excitement to be back overwhelms other feelings right now.

It will be a lot easier when I have the chance to talk to Charles to see how he’s doing. We have had this incredible feeling of déjà vu coming back. When we walked through Sydney Airport flashbacks of arriving the first time came flooding back immediately.

On the court at practice, it’s not totally different but it’s definitely not the same as when I left. When you bring a guy like Sam Young in who has so many tools, obviously things change. So the key for me is to get on board with the offence as quick as possible. I have a pretty good handle on AJ’s game. I know how Ben Madgen, James Harvey and Kevin White play.

But now I am doing a crash course in Sam Young’s game. In Cody Ellis’ game too. And I am putting that together by Sunday. That’s vital. We have six games left in a very short amount of time. This time there is no eight-game pre-season to work things out. And it’s crucial. We’re right in the hunt and I’m so thankful to be back. It’s go time. I was brought back to do a job and I’m so excited to be out here with the guys.

It really is a sense of relief because one of the frustrations with being released was I had so much invested, so much work, so much passion, so many relationships built into this team. And then being pulled away mid-season was so hard for me because I was like, I want to fight with these guys. I want to win with these guys. I respect these guys so much. I like this program.

So to now be allowed to come back into that I thank the Lord for it because it really is something I didn’t think I was going to have a chance to do. To be able to come back in this play-off push and help be a part of it really is incredible.