“The message I sent is that I hope their minds are refreshed and renewed and that they are ready to have a banner year,” Sanderson said.
Interest in the Bisons this summer is as hot as the pavement on Granny White Pike at noon under the August sun.
The Bisons tied for the Atlantic Sun Conference regular season championship last season and return all of their starters, including center Adnan Hodzic, the A-Sun Player of the Year.
Sanderson doesn’t mind dealing with the high expectations for his team.
“I would rather have high expectations than no expectations,” Sanderson said. “I think our team, although we have not met and we aren’t back in school yet, they all have high expectations of what we have the potential to accomplish this season.”
Sanderson doesn’t view the preseason hype as another form of pressure for his team.
“It’s the journey we are going through,” Sanderson said. “When they set foot on campus the 23rd of August it is going to be a process every day to try to get a little bit better. We can’t let the end result define who we are.”
Guard Josh Slater was named All-Atlantic Sun First Team last season. The Bisons bring back all of their top scorers.
“The beauty of it is we have all of the pieces,” Sanderson said. “It’s a matter of keeping everybody and catching some breaks along the way.”
Hodzic is the biggest piece of the puzzle and not just because of his 6-foot-8 size. He dominated last season as a scorer and rebounder. Sanderson has talked with Hodzic about his role on the team this season.
“Adnan will be the first to tell you that the reason he has had a lot of his success is because of his teammates,” Sanderson said. “That is why he is such an effective leader.”
All four of the teams that tied for first place in the regular season failed to win the A-Sun Tournament Championship and the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. ETSU prevailed to win the tournament championship.
“I think the depth of our league will be a lot like it was last year,” Sanderson said. “There were a lot of quality teams.
“That’s why I made our non-conference schedule as difficult as it is because every game in the conference is going to be extremely difficult. The journey is all fine and good, but in the Atlantic Sun it comes down to what you do in March.”
The Bisons will open the season at the University of North Carolina. They will also play Memphis, Baylor and Alabama on the road.
“It is not going to be easy,” Sanderson said. “We want to win every game, but at the end of the day we have some very difficult challenges on the schedule. That is what is going to help us in January and February against teams in our league.”
Sanderson is not going to point to an NCAA Tournament berth as the true end of the journey for his team this season. He doesn’t want to add pressure for his players by constantly emphasizing that goal.
“If we do the things daily from individual workouts to weight lifting to conditioning then hopefully come March that will take care of itself,” Sanderson said. “It is going to be a daily process.
“We can’t dwell in the past. We have to focus on today and what we can do today to make our team better. As a coach or player you can drown yourself in stuff that should have happened, could have happened or that you wanted to happen. All we can worry about is today.”
Written by Mark McGee, Senior Publisher/Director of Media Relations.