TOC: Michael Sanchez Spotlight

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. --- Roy Williams may not be in Kansas anymore, but he still has strong ties to the area and his influence remains strong with high school standouts in the region. Such is the case with Michael Sanchez.

Sanchez, a 6-8 rising junior forward from Springdale (Ark.) High, was one of the stars of the 16-under division at the Tournament of Champions this weekend. After a sophomore season in which he earned all-state honors in the state's toughest – 5A – classification, Sanchez is having similar success on the AAU circuit, highlighted by Saturday night's 33-point performance against the Boo Williams squad.

The 16-year-old earned all-tournament honors at the end of the weekend, after leading his Arkansas Hawks team to the TOC championship game, and was in awe of playing in the Dean E. Smith Center.

"It adds an extra push to your game when you play in the Dean Dome," he said. "It's not like playing in some wimpy high school out in Arkansas. It's a sanctuary – a sanctuary of basketball."

But this wasn't his first time in Chapel Hill. The 16-year-old has made two prior unofficial visits to the campus.

"We've already been here a couple of times on unofficial visits with North Carolina and met with the coaching staff," said his mother, Kim. "We haven't come over for a game, but we've been here during the course of a summer. … [We'll come to a game] if we can make it happen. It's just a long drive – an 18-hour drive."

Kim Sanchez is the mother of quite a basketball family. She played at Arkansas, her father played at Maryland and her daughter, Michael's sister, is a sophomore on the Oklahoma hoops team.

She said Michael has a preexisting link with Roy Williams.

"He's got a connection to Roy Williams," she said. "My sister is the head coach for Kansas' women's softball. She has been there forever when Roy was there, and we've been to a bunch of the Kansas games when Roy was at Kansas, so Roy has known Michael since he was a little youngster growing up. And then Joe Holladay, the [UNC] assistant, was my high school's boys coach in Bartlesville, Okla.

"I'm from Bartlesville. My Dad played for Phillip's 66. He played at Maryland and was an All-American for two years and was a first-rounder in the pro draft, and ended up playing for Phillip's 66 and going overseas. We've got a really good connection at Carolina. Michael was always saying that Roy is one of his favorite coaches."

Michael's meeting with Roy Williams during one of his unofficial visits was unforgettable.

"It was awesome," he recalled. "I was in the hallway, and Roy Williams walked out of his office and called me by my first and last name. It felt pretty good."

While his mother says he has Carolina "high up there on his list," Sanchez also lists Kansas, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Wake Forest, Illinois, Arkansas, and Miami.

The Tar Heels haven't shown as much interest as some of the other schools on that list, at least not yet.

"They haven't shown me as much as everyone else has, but I'm still interested in them a lot," Sanchez said. "I watched them the whole way through the [NCAA] Tournament. … Any place that wants me with the tradition like this place has would be incredible."

As his mother noted, a school like Chapel Hill is quite a drive away, but distance isn't going to be a factor in the ultimate decision.

"Of course, we live in Fayetteville, [Ark.] so the Hogs and the Razorbacks are right there as well," she said. "But we have not drilled into that kid's head where we think he ought to go. He is open to where he wants to go. We could see just as many, probably more of them, because UNC is on television a whole lot more. Arkansas is the farthest school in the SEC. You think everything is on the eastern seaboard. We are not influencing his decision."

Sanchez's father, Bert, echoed those sentiments.

"We are trying to find someone who can take him to the next level beyond college," he said. "If that's what it takes to send him 1,000 miles away, that's what we want to do … [A school like UNC] would be awesome. What a great school."

At first look, Sanchez appears to be a power forward. But a year ago he was only 185 pounds, before hard work in the weight room added 35 pounds within the last year. And he has been trained to possess perimeter skills, creating the versatility that means he could eventually be able to play more of a combo-forward role.

"I played ball at Arkansas, a post player," Kim said. "But he's been brought up handling the ball. That's the biggest thing we tried to do with both of our kids. We didn't want to put him on the block just because he is the tallest kid. The game was changing even then. We could see it was changing and we knew he had to be versatile. He's grown up playing and loves it."


Describing Himself: "Versatile."
Favorite Player: "Nick Collison is my favorite player ever."

by Jeff Markman

Sanchez brings a lot to the table at the forward position. For starters, he has a great frame with a good bit of muscle on it already, so he easily passes the look test. He's a skilled offensive player and has ability both with his back to the basket and in a face up game. He also loves to draw contact and get to the free throw line, where he's a very reliable shooter. He shoots very well for a player his size, and overall, he gives off the initial impression of a very well-rounded post player.

And then he brings the ball up the court, and it's instantly apparent that there's more to this kid than meets the eye.

Sanchez is an excellent ball handler and an adept passer for a big man. Even though he looks the part of a power forward physically, his long term future may be on the wing, where he can maximize the effectiveness of his smooth jumper and ball skills. He could play either spot effectively, though, making him a true combo forward – one that can actually play either forward spot, rather than the tweener that typically receives the "combo forward" label.

On the other end of the court, Sanchez isn't likely to be found swatting opponents' shots into the third row (though he does block a shot or two), and his defensive game isn't quite the equal of his offense yet. However, he does move his feet well, understands defensive positioning, and rebounds well, so there's certainly the potential for him to become a standout player on both ends of the court.

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