“There’s a lot of high fashion and I’m really into fashion right now,” said Sanders during a recent interview.
Unfortunately, at 6-foot-7, Sanders can only admire the fashions there. In a country where the average male height is 5-7, most stores don’t have clothing on the rack in his size.
Sanders’ unusual stature isn’t the largest thing about his experience in Japan, though. He’s there to live the fulfillment of a pretty big dream – playing professional basketball. Sanders has been playing basketball for as long as he can remember. He’s been breaking records and earning honors for almost as long.
A standout player at Hickory Flat High School, averaged 29 points per game and 14.7 rebounds per game his senior year. He scored a career-best 62 points in one game, breaking state records, and was named first team All-State as a junior and senior.
At Northwest Mississippi Community College and Lamar University, he continued to stand out.
Sanders is no newcomer to playing professional basketball, either. He began his professional career in 2008, when he signed with a professional basketball team in Spain. Since then, he has played for the Southeast Texas Mavericks and the Jacksonville Giants. Now, he’s continuing to live his dream in Tokyo, playing for the Tukuba Daytricks.
And he’s playing well. Sanders had a game-high 30 points and 16 rebounds in Monday’s 80-76 loss to the Hitachi Cable Bulldogs. In the latest update, he’s second in scoring in the Japan Basketball League 2 with a 21.4 scoring average and leads the league in rebounding at 16.9 per game.
He’s also second in the league in field goal percentage (.691), third in blocked shots (1.28), third in dunks (1.1) and sixth in steals (1.6).
Despite Monday’s loss, his team leads the JBL2 Eastern Division with a 13-5 record.
Sanders was an Eastern Division Player of the Month in October.
The best thing about his latest venture, he said, is getting to see the world. “I’m doing something I never thought I’d be doing,” he said. “Especially coming from the small town of Hickory Flat.”
In Japan, he says the game moves faster and is played at a high tempo, but is essentially the same. “Basketball is basketball – I’ve been doing that since I can remember,” he laughs.
Basketball may be the same in Japan, but little else is. For Sanders, some of the biggest adjustments have been adjusting to the food and the language. He’s taking classes to learn Japanese and has a translator for work.
He knows a few basic words at this point and is finding ways to compensate. For example, when ordering food, most places have photographs on the menu.
The most difficult part, though, is being away from the people he loves who are still in America.
“I’m surely blessed to be in this situation – I’ve come a long way,” he said. “I never thought I’d make it this far, just excited about being a professional basketball player.”
In Japan, as Sanders adjusts to a new way of life, he named one person as absolutely indispensable – his translator, Arimoto J. Hasegawa. “If it weren’t for him, I’d be back in the States. He’s phenomenal, does a good job and I appreciate him so much,” Sanders said. “He makes life for me in Japan really easy.”
His girlfriend, Lauren Holdorff, is a big part of his support system, too. “She keeps me motivated and helps me with my dreams,” he said. “She’s more than I could ever ask for.”