Quite frequently, fans watching Corey Sanders for the first time wonder why he isn't ranked higher than No. 91 nationally in the Class of 2015.
The answer is that he hasn't yet mastered consistent effectiveness or a style that's ready for structure, and of course even that logic is debatable.
As backstory, Sanders always bore the look of a high-major guard. As a rising junior, he was one of the more effective performers at the Elite 100 in the 2013 summer. He proved there that his physical tools place him among the blue-chip guards in his class.
He committed to Central Florida that September but backed off the pledge almost immediately, reopening his recruitment last October. The Florida native decided he wanted to court a more national list of schools, and he didn't make a second commitment until a year after issuing his first one.
But before he was ready to fully engage with that process, he headed back onto the court this past summer. Sanders put together a fine string of highlights from the prestigious NBPA Top 100 Camp, showcasing his versatility, quickness and scoring ability.
He ultimately attracted interest from Tennessee, UCF, USF and DePaul, while drawing an offer from Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights' ardent pursuit paid off, as Showtime Ballers coach Diana Neal told our Evan Daniels:
"They were the only school that offered and recruited him the hardest."
Sanders possesses big-time physical ability. He stands a solid 6-2, 180 pounds and will only continue to become stronger as he matures. He's very quick with the ball in his hands and an aggressive driver who excels at creating offense on the move.
Even when matched against stout competition at the NBPA Camp, Sanders shone as one of the best guys there in terms of size/athleticism ratio. He doesn't back down from a challenge and is especially effective finishing at full speed when he drives to his right.
|Sanders could become one of the Big Ten's most talented guards|
Not only that, Sanders actually is an above-average perimeter jump shooter. His accuracy ebbs substantially when contested, but with just a little time and space he confidently strokes threes.
And his defense may be where he enjoys his first taste of Big Ten success. Sanders slots in nearly perfectly into a college backcourt, as he's easily quick enough laterally to defend point guards while sufficiently tall and strong to handle most wings. Rutgers coach Eddie Jordan will love having such a versatile defender to create multiple defensive options to adjust to his opponents' looks.
The Big Ten features very slow-paced teams such as Wisconsin (No. 292 in Division I last season in terms of tempo) but also Iowa (No. 24), Purdue (No. 59) and Indiana (No. 63), squads that were very fast by major conference standards. Thus, Sanders' defensive expansiveness could earn him playing time at key moments, depending on how quickly he learns Jordan's system.
Decision-making always has stood out as Sanders' most glaring shortcoming. He sometimes forces very bad shots or very bad passes, and as such he's better as a PG/SG combo guard than he is a pure floor general. At the same time, he doesn't look comfortable off the ball and isn't the kind of player who projects to thrive working on the wings and maneuvering through off-ball screens.
He also can lose site of his team's primary objective and thus must tailor his aggression to fit Rutgers' goals on a second-to-second basis, rather than succumbing to the temptation of becoming wild and counterproductive. It's a correctible flaw but one that may require some patience from fans.
Beyond that, he has bounced around a little in terms of high schools. While not a factor in his evaluation per se, frequent movement can scare off college coaches wary of any academic or stability issues and may be partially why he was relatively lightly recruited.
Sanders' future at Rutgers will depend on timing. That's to say, he projects to be very good for the Scarlet Knights at some point, the primary question being when.
Because if he dedicates himself to getting the most from what he possesses, and adapts quickly to the transition from high school to college — physically, he has a great head start — then he could explode into an impact performer.
His ability could carry him all the way to top level, in fact, but one step at a time. Jordan and his assistants should receive multiple years from Sanders, and in the process they're likely to rack up wins as a result.