No longer a mystery
Greg Sanders is no longer a mystery.
I spoke with the former St. Bonaventure standout for 20 minutes Wednesday night. Sanders’ memory betrays him from time to time and his speech is slurred from a stroke 11 years ago that ravaged the right side of his body.
But he was in good spirits during our conversation. He seemed happy.
“I do real estate and take pictures,” he said. “I have apartment buildings and houses. I buy them and rent them out. Real estate is doing really well for me.”
I wrote the other day that Sanders likely hadn’t returned to his alma mater in nearly 30 years, and that those closest to him during his days at St. Bonaventure had lost all touch.
One of the first things I asked him was if he remembered the last time he was on campus.
“I haven’t been there in a while,” he said. “My son, he’s autistic, so I spend a lot of time with him. He’s 11 years old.”
I asked if he kept in touch with any of his former SBU teammates.
“I talked to Jim,” Sanders said. “He called me today.”
He paused and stammered. He ran through the rolodex of his mind.
“What’s his name?” he asked embarrassingly. “The point guard. He’s coaching.”
“Yes,” he exclaimed. “He gave me Essie’s (Hollis) phone number. I’m going to call Essie tomorrow to see how he’s doing.
“I’m going to keep in touch with my guys.”
Sanders struggled to remember specific details of his past life and recalled others with vivid accuracy – such as the NIT championship game in 1977. He scored 40 points and hit a 25-foot jumper for the go-ahead points.
“My teammates were passing me the ball and they kept going in,” he said. “Coach was telling me, ‘Oh man, don’t take those shots. No, no, no.”
Of his winning shot, Sanders said: “I took it anyway, and when it went in he said ‘Yes, yes, yes.’
“That was the biggest moment.”
Sanders enjoyed many big moments at St. Bonaventure. He is the school’s all-time leading scorer with 2,238 points. He was the NIT MVP. He also led the Bonnies to the NCAA tournament in 1978.
Sanders admitted that he can’t recall how many points he scored at St. Bonaventure, but he is certain of one thing:
“Oh my gosh!” he shrieked when I asked how many points he would have had with a 3-point line. “Twice as many points as I had.”
Despite all his accomplishments on the court, Sanders is sort of a forgotten man in the history of St. Bonaventure basketball. When you glance upon the rafters at the Reilly Center, Sanders’ No. 53 is missing. His number isn’t retired with the rest of the program’s legends – including two former teammates.
I asked if he ever thought about that.
“Yes,” he said. “I would love to have that so I could come back up there and show my kids.”
Sanders is married with four children – three of them grown. He lives in Hyattsville, Md.
I asked if he is disheartened with not having his number retired. He said he doesn’t give it much thought: “I figure they will or they” won’t.
Sanders has no ill will toward his alma mater. “It was a pleasure playing for St. Bonaventure,” he said. “It was an honor.”
I told him that during the SBU-Saint Louis telecast on Sunday the NBC Sports Network aired a photo of Sanders holding the NIT championship trophy high above his head while the announcers chronicled St. Bonaventure’s basketball tradition.
“Oh, for real?” he beamed.
He then asked if I could help him find “a tape of the game when I was the MVP” to show his wife and father-in-law.
Sanders seemed destined for a career in the NBA following his star performance in the NIT. But a leg injury hampered him senior year, and Sanders freefell to the eighth round of the draft – selected by the New York Knicks.
Sanders said he was one of 200 men to try out for the Knicks, and that he made it to the final three before being cut. He never played in the NBA.
“But it’s all good,” he said with a hint of disappointment. “Everything is wonderful. Some things are meant to be, some things are not. You go on and make the best of it.”
Sanders has. He is proud of his accomplishments in and away from basketball. He seems most proud of the progress he’s made since his stroke.
“I’m walking about four miles a day,” he said. “I’m doing real good.”
He couldn’t walk or talk at first after the stroke, but Sanders was determined to recover. He was given an award for finishing rehab early.
Sanders also bowls and plays basketball these days – oftentimes against men half his age.
Can he still shoot it like he used to?
Still, remnants of the stroke remain. They will always be there.
“It effects my speech and my right arm,” he said. “My fingers can’t move freely. Everything else is fine.”
As our conversation wound down, Sanders said – what else – but the game of basketball was calling him away. His son was on the court, practicing with other autistic children.
He was gone again, yet no longer a mystery.