A raw 6’4" freshman when he began high school at Tottenville, there was little buzz surrounding Nakye Sanders, now a target of the St. John's Red Storm's 2015 recruiting efforts. He was an eager forward had not yet developed a full understanding of the game, according to his Tottenville High coach, John Woodman.
"As a 13 year old freshman, Nakye was immediately brought up to the varsity. He was a little hesitant at first but quickly fit right in. He has improved in every aspect of his game. Just to simply watch [the difference between] him run as a freshman and today is astonishing. He really lumbered as an awkward 13 year old," Tottenville coach John Woodman said to the Rumble, via email.
Sanders is the perfect example of a diamond in the rough. He does not play for a New York City high school powerhouse such as Lincoln, Christ the King, or Thomas Jefferson. But after a breakout season at Tottenville and a great showing on the AAU circuit, observers are starting to realize his potential.
During his junior year campaign at Tottenville, Sanders averaged 17 points and an astounding 19 rebounds per game. In addition, Sanders has looked impressive on the AAU circuit while playing for New Heights. In a loss against Team Scan, a top AAU team, Sanders put up a very respectable 14 points. In that game, Sanders was pitted against top prospect and St. John’s target, Omari Spellman.
He also received acclaim for his play at this summer's Reebok classic. College basketball insider Jon Rothstein tweeted out that Sanders was impressive:
Best MOTOR I saw at Reebok @BreakoutClassic? It may have been Nakye Sanders. 2015 PF owned every 50-50 ball. Epitomized relentlessness.
— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) July 10, 2014
And more, from last weekend's Under Armour Finals in Georgia, where the St. John's assistants were in attendance:
Nakye Sanders blasting down low. Super soft hands and a motor to follow. Giant length in 2015 #UAAFinals— Corey Evans (@coreyevans_10) July 17, 2014
Nakye Sanders with 11 of the 33 at half. Dominating the low block and weak side glass. Engine always there. Intensity never missing— Corey Evans (@coreyevans_10) July 17, 2014
"On the court Nakye controls the game with his rebounding and ability to block or alter shots," said Coach Woodman. "He is unbelievably consistent in his rebounding. Has already eclipsed the 1000 rebound mark in High School. Offensively, Nakye can make the 3 ball as well as post up. He presents a very difficult match up as he can play on the post against like size or smaller players and can easily step out to the 3 point line and blow past bigger slower players."
Nakye’s coach also raves about his leadership during practices and in the locker room. "His understanding of the game is also invaluable in practice," continued Woodman. "When other players might not always grasp a concept or movement, Nakye is the first person to step in and either further explain or jump into their spot to show them the proper way."
However, Sanders does have areas he needs to improve in. After shooting an unimpressive 65% from the line during his junior year, he must improve his free throw shooting.
Sanders has been garnering a lot of attention from many DI programs. He has received offers from St. John’s, Temple, Seton Hall, and Manhattan. VCU, Minnesota, and Nebraska have also shown interest.
Nakye is very close with his family which could mean good news for St. John’s.
"Nakye has a tremendous support system around him. He lives with his mother and stepfather. He has a younger brother Donte who is in the 7th grade," Woodman said.
Adding a player with Sanders’s skill set would be a plus for the St. John’s program. Sanders might be undersized, but his motor and his versatility can make up for what he lacks in height.
His coach is very optimistic of his chances of succeeded at the next level, and he believes that Nakye will be able to play multiple positions in college.
"He continues to work on his ball handling and that will determine how far away from the basket he can play," Woodman said. "At 6’8", 225 pounds and only 16 he is certainly still growing. With that growth should come the distinction as to where his future would be. He would probably excel as a hybrid or a small forward or power forward."
It is difficult to make comparisons, but when thinking of Sanders one player that comes to mind is former St. Joseph’s forward, Halil Kanacevic. Kanacevic, who also hails from Staten Island, was a Swiss Army Knife for St. Joe’s. He was able to rebound, pass, and even knock down the three ball.
Sanders still has a lot of work ahead of him to reach that level of effectiveness. However, his future is very bright.
New York City’s Public School Athletic League (PSAL) was once regarded as one of the most competitive high school basketball leagues in the country, producing stars such as Bernard King, Lenny Wilkens, and Stephon Marbury. The PSAL has lost some of its luster, with players choosing to play in the Catholic league, or outside of the confines of New York City.
However, every couple of years there are a few players who remind people why the league is so special. St. John’s and Steve Lavin hope to have found one of these players in Tottenville High School’s Nakye Sanders.
Sanders is #20 (we believe)