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Men’s Basketball

Recruiting Breakdown: Tony Sanders Jr.

| Monday, April 20, 2020

Notre Dame men’s basketball’s 2020 recruiting class has now doubled after picking up commitments from three-star forward Tony Sanders Jr. on Apr. 3 and Santa Clara transfer Trey Wertz on Apr. 11. Head coach Mike Brey held a press conference via Zoom on Wednesday, where he talked about each player’s recruitment and the skillset they bring to the Notre Dame roster.


Tony Sanders Jr.

A 6-foot-7, 190-pound prospect out of Gulliver Prep in Miami, FL., Sanders is the 223rd-ranked player nationally per 247Sports.com. He’s also listed as the 44th-ranked small forward nationally and the 20th-ranked player in the state of Florida.

He averaged 20.6 points and 7.2 rebounds per game during his senior campaign, and he pulled down more than 500 boards and came 34 points shy of 2000 for his career. Head coach Mike Brey discussed Sanders’ recruitment as he committed soon after receiving an offer from the Irish on Mar. 31.

“[Gulliver Prep head coach] Gary Decesare and I go back 25 years in the profession,” Brey said. “…And Gary has always wanted us to have, our program, to have one of his guys. … And Gary texted me about Tony in January and Hump got on it; [Irish assistant coach] Ryan Humphrey did a great job with it.”

As for how Sanders will fit at Notre Dame, Brey had a comparison to a former Irish player, one that he also made for fellow 2020 commit Elijah Taylor of Imhotep Institute Charter in Philadelphia, PA.

“Gary compares him to Ty Nash, and that’s quite a compliment, you know; a 6-foot-7 guy who just knows how to play and is good with the ball. I just think he’s gonna be a great four-year investment for us.”

As for how likely Brey’s prediction is, let’s get into the breakdown.


“[He has a] feel for the game, athletic ability, knows how to play”

Give Mike Brey credit for going out and getting an athlete, because that’s something the Irish have really lacked. As opposed to a guy like fellow 2020 recruit Matt Zona, Sanders’s game is predicated on his athletic ability and he’s at his best in the open floor.

I would say that Brey is also accurate in describing Sanders’ feel for the game. You can just tell by watching him that he’s a basketball player and Brey credits a lot of that to the development he received at Gulliver Prep.

“[He has a] feel for the game, athletic ability, knows how to play, and I’m really excited to have one of Gary DeCaesar’s guys because he has been well trained as a high school player,” Brey said.

Sanders certainly has a very good skillset for a high school player, and his mechanics are pretty sound. That said, he needs a lot of work before he’s ready to take the floor against premier ACC competition.

It’s a good thing that Sanders isn’t coming in in a year like 2018 where Notre Dame’s freshman were forced to play right away, because I don’t think he is developed enough in terms of skill or physicality. You can see in the clip (travel) below how he’s capable of knocking down shots off the dribble, but it isn’t necessarily the strong suit of his game.

He’s relying more on his height and athleticism to get his shot off, and from what I’ve seen he relies a little too much on raw talent.

Sorry Tony, but we’re going to have look at some less flattering clips now.

Like the sidestep jumper he made earlier, you can see that Sanders’ speed, particularly in trying to separate from his defender and get his shot off, is not on an elite level. Furthermore, he doesn’t exactly have springs for legs either…

Like I said, he relies too much on his God-given ability, and if we’re being honest, his jumping ability isn’t that elite. If taking it into the trees doesn’t work almost 100% of the time for you in high school (and this one team gave him frequent fits down low), it’s going to be a rough go of it against the likes of Virginia and North Carolina.

As of right now, he reminds me of Keldon Johnson from the University of Kentucky a couple of years ago. For those unfamiliar, Johnson stood at 6-foot-6 and 211 pounds in college, and while he was a highly rated recruit with a great motor, he was very streaky in college. If his shot was falling, he could play with the best, but he was inconsistent due to his mechanics. Also, his athleticism didn’t translate to easy scores in the paint.

Sanders isn’t going to be able to get away with what he did in high school, which makes it all the more unfortunate that he doesn’t have a full summer to get in the weight room and practice gym.



All that said, I like Sanders’ upside. the word to describe him is “RAW.”

I honestly think that Taylor or Zona could be more of an impact player off the bat than Sanders could, despite the fact that he is rated higher than both of them. Power-5 college basketball calls for specialization in skills, as opposed to being a jack of all trades, master of none. Taylor’s got a great motor and athleticism, plus an extra couple of inches on Sanders to boot, and Zona has a smoother jumper, which puts them at an advantage.

However, with time, Sanders could become a better player than both of them. He’s got natural gifts that can’t be taught. He’s not game-ready like Keldon Johnson was right out of high school, but if he is a four-year investment as Brey said, he could develop into a 3rd — or even 2nd-team All-ACC caliber player.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Hayden Adams

Hayden is the former sports editor of The Observer. When he's not working toward his four majors (physics and film, television & theatre) and three minors (journalism, ethics & democracy), you can probably find him hopelessly trying to save his beloved Zahm House from being wiped out. He plans to attend law school at a TBD location after graduation.

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