Many people will say that a big breakfast is the way to start the day, but Lipscomb Bisons basketball coach Scott Sanderson long ago found a more important way to begin his morning.
At 8 a.m. Sanderson can usually be found in his office reading a well-worn brown Bible, a gift from Barry Brewer, a Lipscomb alumnus and an avid booster of the athletic program until his death.
Brewer gave the Bible to Sanderson on Dec. 10, 2002. Brewer lost a long struggle with cancer on Dec. 10, 2008.
“Barry was a great person and a great mentor,” Sanderson says. “His influence on me has been phenomenal.”
Verses that have a special meaning to Sanderson are highlighted in either yellow or orange. But there is one verse, Proverbs 18:24, which Brewer highlighted in green.
The verse in the New International Version reads, “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”
Sanderson finds time to read his Bible as early in the morning. He has found that the words mean more to him each time he opens the book.
“It is amazing how much more I’m at peace,” Sanderson says. “Do I have struggles? Absolutely. But I have something to rely on. I couldn’t make it without the Bible.”
He is trying to instill in his players the importance of taking 15 to 30 minutes of time in the early morning to read the Bible. He knows he can’t force them to do it, but he gives them laminated cards, sends scriptures through text messages and also sends newsletters to their parents.
“I want them to understand the value of doing that every morning,” Sanderson says. “Your day goes so much easier when you get up early and spend quality time with God reading the Bible.”
One of Sanderson’s spiritual influences is his wife, Ronda, the daughter of a Church of Christ preacher. Sanderson often asks her about scriptures.
“Her knowledge of the Bible is so deep,” Sanderson says. “Anytime I need a clarification of what a verse is saying I ask her.”
Another woman who has had a great influence on his spiritual life is his mother, Annette.
“We are through and through Church of Christ,” Sanderson said. “We are lifers.
“The best decision I ever made was in 1999 to come to Lipscomb. It will forever affect me.”
The Lipscomb situation
Sanderson, who attends Woodson’s Chapel Church of Christ, admits that being at Lipscomb has taken his spiritual life to a different level. The words he heard from Dr. Steve Flatt, then Lipscomb’s president; and longtime professor and administrator Dr. Carl McKelvey on his first day at work are still firmly planted in Sanderson’s mind.
“They told me if I stayed here at Lipscomb long enough that Lipscomb would affect me and that if I stayed here long enough I would affect Lipscomb,” Sanderson said. “Those words are still ringing in my ears.”
As he starts his 13th season as head basketball coach for the Bisons, he understands what Flatt and McKelvey were trying to tell him that first day.
“Did I understand what they were saying that day? Absolutely not,” Sanderson says. “The last several years those words have come alive in my head because of the opportunity I have to impact 18-to-23-year-old kids who come from different cultures and different backgrounds.
“It is a major responsibility that I embrace. It is not just me. My assistant coaches embrace it as well.”
Guiding lives off the court
Sanderson along with assistant coaches Jay Walton, Peter Froedden and Shaun Senters are all operating from the same play book when it comes to dealing with the growth of the basketball players.
“I try to coach my coaches as much as I can to help these young men,” Sanderson says. “The world our players are growing up in is completely different than the world we grew up in.
“There are so many more distractions. There are so much more that they can get involved with. To provide a solid voice on a day-to-day basis can influence them a lot.”
Coaching and teaching youngsters seldom produces a 100 percent success rate. Sanderson knows that not everyone is going to listen to the coaching staff about how to live their lives, but he is pleased with the results over the years.
“Our success rate is extremely high as far as character,” Sanderson says. “We have graduated every player in the past 12 years except for three and one of them is trying to graduate right now. That is a huge stat.
“What we try to do is to prepare them for the things they are going to face in life. I want to win basketball games. I would love to go to the NCAA Tournament. But if I can save somebody’s life then give me that over the NCAA Tournament any day.”
The basketball team spent one week in August in the Dominican Republic where they played basketball and also spent time with children and adults who are fighting poverty on a daily basis.
“We know in our hearts that we are trying to do what is right for each individual player,” Sanderson says. “What better way for our guys to be able to see and experience Lipscomb by being selfless and trying to give back.”
On the back wall of each locker is a player posing with a child from the Dominican Republic. Sanderson doesn’t want his players to forget the experience.
“I want it to be on the front of their brains that it is not about them,” Sanderson says. “We want them to think of other people. It is not about them.
“For most people their nature is to be selfish. I understand that because of my guide, the Bible. For so long when I was younger my guide was the playbook and things were distorted.”
Even when the coaches are talking the players are reminded of things spiritual. In the dressing room the walls are filled with key Bible verses and sayings.
“They are constant reminders, but at the same time I understand that not everybody receives the message the same way,” Sanderson says. “It’s about doing the next right thing. There are verses about character, trust, leadership and accountability.
“We have them for such a small window of four-to-five years. That’s it. They have been in the world 18 years before I get them. They are making a lot of decisions on their own and they need guidance.”
Sanderson and his coaches tell recruits from the beginning that if they don’t believe Lipscomb is the best place for them then they need to go somewhere else.
“They are making a basketball decision,” Sanderson says. “In our minds they are making a life decision academically, athletically, religiously and socially. I know that if they will stay here long enough and open their eyes and their ears and listen to what the people have to say on this campus they will benefit.”
Sanderson credits the vision of Lipscomb President Dr. L. Randolph Lowry III for providing a fertile spiritual ground.
“His leadership and his vision are unbelievable,” Sanderson said. “If our players stay here long enough and their roots grow deep in the ground they will be able to stand when the wind blows after they leave here.”