St. Andrew's (R.I.) coach Mike Hart expects Sanders, his standout junior, to follow in the footsteps of past superstars like Robertson and Nichols.
The 6-foot-4 ½ Sanders, a native of Pawtucket, R.I., will lead one of the top high school teams in the country this year. Sanders was at one time considered a one-dimensional long-range shooter, but he's added a penetration game to his arsenal and has emerged as one of the top players nationally in the Class of 2007.
``His work ethic has improved, but I'd still like to see him work even harder," Hart said. He's gotten much better, especially at taking the ball to the basket. What I want to see out of him are the intangibles – leadership, character and hustle."
Sanders will have some help.
The backcourt will feature speedy 5-foot-9, 150-pound junior Andrew Hanson and deadeye shooter Joe Accaoui (5-9, 150). Hanson, whose shot has improved dramatically from a year ago, runs the show and has picked up interest from the likes of Boston University, Manhattan, Kent State and George Mason. Accaoui, who Hart calls "the hardest-working kid I've ever coached", will make defenses pay if he's left alone and he's being evaluated by Holy Cross and Quinnipiac.
Junior Garrett Kissell (6-8, 250), who played at Springfield Cathedral High (Mass.) and gives the team a bruising inside presence, will slide into the spot vacated when Jon Kale departed for nearby Providence.
``He's still a mystery right now," Hart said of his new big man who has gotten looks from Brown and Providence thus far. "I like what I've seen so far – he's got good size and skills around the basket. But I'd like to see Jon-like work ethic out of him. He's a better player than Jon was his first year here, but Jon came a long way."
The final starting spot will likely go to 6-foot-4, 180-pound versatile forward Joe Ogugbela, who will be expected to do a little bit of everything this year.
``We're very excited because we have a lot of weapons," Hart said. "Especially offensively. Now we can finally play St. Andrew's basketball – press, trap, run and score. We have a lot of youth, but we'll be a very strong high school team. We're going to play the prep schools as tough as we can."
Hart and his players are hoping this year will be different.
``Our guard play should be very good this year," Accaoui said. "With Rakim, Andrew and myself. Then you add in Garrett up front and we should be tough to beat. I think we're a lot hungrier this year."
One player who should figure significantly into the rotation despite his age is 6-foot-6 freshman Dartaye Ruffin. The Dorchester, Mass., native is a defensive presence who runs the court well and just needs to improve his offensive skills in the next few years.
``He's going to be a heck of a player," Hart said. "Untapped potential. I think he'll be a lot like Torin Francis. He defends, runs the court well and his offense is developing. With him it'll be baby steps."
Other players who will vie for playing time off the bench include senior guards Elijah Lidonde (6-2, 160), Hilary Holder (6-1, 160), junior big man Max Bense (6-6, 230), sophomores Michael Culpo (6-1, 170) Elijah Brown (6-2, 170) and Manny Odugbela (6-2, 160) and freshman Michael Accaoui (5-8, 130) and Nyheem Sanders (6-1, 150).
``Last year we didn't really play St. Andrew's basketball," Rakim Sanders said. "We were more of a halfcourt team. This is the first year since Abdi (Lidonde) and Demetris that Coach Hart's going to play his style – run, press and get up and down the court."