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Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
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Wednesday / September 19.
  • After spearheading dramatic Rutgers’ run, Corey Sanders will weigh future options

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    By MIKE McCURRY

    NEW YORK—Time and time again, Corey Sanders was aggressive and unstoppable in isolation situations this week.

    On the court, at least.

    He played a more passive role in a one-on-one scenario following Rutgers’ hard-fought 82-75 loss to Purdue in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals on Friday when asked if he would return for his senior season or elect to turn pro.

    “I’m just worried about right now in this moment with the guys,” Sanders told ZAGSBLOG. “I’m gonna go home with my family, we’ll go from there.”

    Sanders collected 23 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 assists against Purdue, capping off a terrific three days at Madison Square Garden. The junior guard also dropped 23 on Minnesota on Wednesday and 28 on Indiana on Thursday, giving him 74 points for the tournament and an unquantifiable number of new fans.

    Rutgers Nation need not accept Sanders’ unwillingness to commit to next season as a death sentence for the 2018-19 Scarlet Knights. After all, this would be the third straight offseason in which Sanders enters his name into the NBA Draft. A year ago, he tested the waters but only had one workout, with the Sacramento Kings.

    Keep in mind, however, that under the NBA’s new Collective Bargaining Agreement, Sanders would not be able to withdraw his name a third time. As in, if he does declare sometime over the next few weeks, his Rutgers career will officially be a wrap.

    For now, a Rutgers fan can dream. The pieces are in place for a realistic NIT run next season. Even Sanders acknowledges that.

    “We can build off this,” Sanders said. “The chemistry is there, the players are there, we just gotta keep grinding.”

    Rutgers will go down with a 15-19 overall record and a fourth last-place finish in the Big Ten in as many seasons, but there were some encouraging signs along the way: a win over Seton Hall; taking Purdue to the wire twice; and finishing the year on a high note—the clock at last struck midnight on the Scarlet Knights’ Cinderella aspirations, but not before winning multiple conference tournament games for the first time in 20 years.

    So, what does that make Rutgers going forward?

    “A program on the rise,” Sanders said. “Just don’t sleep on us. We’ve got a great head coach and we’ve got great players that are ready to learn and compete.”

    Head coach Steve Pikiell concurred.

    “So I think you’re getting a dose of what we can be at Rutgers,” Pikiell said. “I’m so excited about the future. I really am. And we’re going to get better and better. And you saw us on a stage today.”

    “But Rutgers, you know, I said to them, two years now we’ve gained some respect. And people don’t want to play us. My phone’s not ringing as much, and I think that’s a good thing.

    Sanders would be unlikely to hear his name called at the NBA Draft this June, but he will be getting a paycheck somewhere next winter.

    “G-League, I would think,” ESPN NBA Draft expert Jonathan Givony told Gannett New Jersey. “Maybe Europe, depending on his priorities.”

     

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