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Sanders Is On Way to Becoming a Hot Property

July 21, 1994|SEAN WATERS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Southern California housing market remains sluggish, but the value of an aspiring real estate agent and current Westchester High basketball player has skyrocketed.

Returning recently from two national basketball tournaments, Ben Sanders of Westchester received telephone messages from 15 Division I basketball coaches who are interested in the senior-to-be.

"I got home and I had messages from (Nevada Las Vegas), Oklahoma, UCLA, Arizona, Utah, Purdue and Kansas," Sanders said. "I couldn't believe it."

Sanders, a 6-foot-4 guard, and teammate Danny Walker played for a Southern California team at the Nike Sports Festival in Deerfield, Ill., and Great American Shootout in Dallas.

After competing for the first time against the nation's best prep players, Sanders received rave reviews from recruiting evaluators.

"Ben is a high major college prospect," said Bob Gibbons of the Lenoir, N.C.-based All-Star Sports Publications. "He should emerge from the summer as one of the top 50 players in his class."

Fortunately for Sanders, he was able to impress recruiters before suffering a sprained ankle Sunday in Westchester's 67-64 victory over Dominguez in the championship game of the Fairfax tournament.

The injury prevented him from playing this week for top-seeded Values for a Better America (VBA) in the Slam-N-Jam National Invitational at South and West Torrance high schools. He may be sidelined for the rest of the summer.

Sanders' ultimate dream is to play in the NBA, but he knows a college scholarship will also help him accomplish his second dream.

"I do see myself playing in the NBA," he said. "That's a dream. But if I don't make it, I want to do some real estate."

Sanders appeared to be a tough sell, playing in the shadows of his brother Jason, a sophomore at San Diego State, and Walker, who as a sophomore was The Times' 1994 Westside Player of the Year.

Historically, Westchester has produced several outstanding high school players, including Zan Mason, Sam Crawford, Kevin Floyd and James Gray.

Although he was selected to The Times' all-star team last season as a junior, Sanders' game lacked the polish of his predecessors.

"He's great talent, but a raw talent," Westchester Coach Ed Azzam said. "He is improving daily. He has a lot of skills, but he is a long way from being as good as he is going to be."

Capable of playing point or shooting guard, the 6-4 Sanders has a quick move to the basket. But he lacks consistency as a three-point shooter.

"He's little bit streaky as shooter because of the motion of the shot," Azzam said. "He's not consistent because of mechanics.

"James Gray was an awful shooter in high school, but right now he's one of best shooters around," he said. "It takes time and work."

In the past, Sanders did not spend long hours practicing.

"He's a kid who has interests other than playing basketball," Azzam said. "There's nothing wrong with that."

That changed in June when Sanders decided to work out five hours a day with his brother at Westchester.

"I needed to improve my outside shooting," said Sanders, who would jerk the ball when he shot. "I'm starting to stroke it now."

The workouts have already paid dividends for Sanders, who was selected to play for the Southern California all-star team.

In the quarterfinals, the Southern California team defeated Southeast Breeze, a team featuring the nation's top two players--6-foot-10 center Kevin Garnett of Mauldin, S.C. and 6-7 forward Ron Mercer of Madison, Tenn.--and later beat the Hartland Jammers in the championship game.

Sanders more than held his own. "That was the best I've ever seen him play," Walker said. "He was shooting the ball better, taking the ball to the (basket)."

Sanders plans to major in business in college and lists UNLV, Arizona State, Temple and Long Beach State among his top choices. He has a 2.5 grade-point average and scored 750 on the Scholastic Aptitude Test, which qualifies him for a scholarship.

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