Johnie Sanders’ time at Dickinson State is already supposed to be done.
Before the 2011-12 season, Sanders had committed to spend his final year of college basketball eligibility playing for the Blue Hawks. Then, he ran into eligibility issues that forced him to bail on DSU and return to Northwest Oklahoma State, where he had played his junior season.
When DSU head coach Ty Orton gave Sanders a second chance to be a Blue Hawk last spring, he jumped at the chance.
“I should have been here last year, but things happen for a reason,” Sanders said. “I’m here this year. I’m happy that coach Orton took me back under his wing.”
Orton is plenty happy himself.
Sanders is averaging a team-high 15 points and 4.3 rebounds per game while shooting 53 percent from the field in the Blue Hawks’ first three games.
Orton said Sanders’ may be at his most effective on the defensive end and that’s what makes him an a standout addition to DSU’s lineup.
“He’s athletic. He can go create some things,” Orton said. “His tenacity and his enthusiasm for defense is what really makes him an asset.”
Sanders and the Blue Hawks are back in action at 7 p.m. Friday when they host former Dakota Athletic Conference opponent Mayville State during the Sam Milanovich Classic at Scott Gymnasium.
Though it may seem like an odd practice, Orton has found success recruiting senior transfers in the vein of Sanders.
Casper Hesseldal, Tomaul Hawkins and Josh Henry all came to the Blue Hawks in their final season of eligibility and, like Sanders, each of them found success.
Like those players, Sanders established himself as a leader early on.
“He’s really brought leadership. He knows how to play,” DSU senior John Hanstad said. “He’s that guy who, at the end of the shot clock or anytime, we can just give it to him and he will make a play. That’s something that we don’t have a lot of so he really brings a lot to help us out.”
The biggest asset DSU got with Sanders was that he already knew quite a bit about how the Blue Hawks operated before he even set foot in Scott Gymnasium. He spent his first two seasons at Otero Junior College in La Junta, Colo., under head coach Houston Reed – who was a player there while Orton was an assistant coach. “When we would run drills, the first time, he was like, ‘I know this drill. Coach Reed used to do this drill,’” Orton said with a laugh. “I was like, ‘Where do you think he got the drill from?’ That’s kind of a benefit. He would pick it up quick. It’s like he’s been here for several years.”
Sanders said with the Blue Hawks only being three games into their season, there is still much work that has to be done and he knows from experience that his consistent play in the early part of the season may not last.
But that doesn’t seem to bother him.
He’s just happy to be on the court playing one final season of college basketball.
“This is my last year, so I’m going to go out with a bang,” Sanders said with a smile.