Blue and Gold Illustrated

June-July 2020

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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42 JUNE/JULY 2020 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED When Tony Sanders Jr. chose to wait until the spring of his senior year to commit, he envisioned a control- lable process in which a strong high school season at Miami Gulliver Prep brought forth a few more options. On that, he delivered, averaging 20.7 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.3 as- sists per game. He shot 42 percent from the floor and 34 percent on three-pointers. Some new suitors entered the picture, notably Notre Dame, which reached out early in the season and sent assistant Ryan Hum- phrey to watch a pair of his games. The Fighting Irish finally offered Sanders, a three-star wing, in March. He committed to Mike Brey April 3. That general outcome was more or less what he envisioned. The journey there, though, in- volved an unforeseen circumstance that ultimately required a leap of faith on both ends. Neither sees the decision as a risk, though the process was not exactly what Sanders had in mind when he decided to wait to commit. Sanders, like plenty of recruits who made late decisions and players who transferred schools, committed to a college without having stepped on campus. One of his new teammates, Santa Clara transfer guard Trey Wertz, did the same. It's not just a basketball trend. Notre Dame received a May 5 commitment from four-star corner- back Philip Riley, who has not yet visited. In a world where digital re- cruiting is the only allowable and safe action, players are finding comfort and a fit like Sanders did. "It was weird with how every- thing's going in the world, and I did want to get there and see it," Sanders said. "But the coaches made it work when they did the virtual Zoom visit, showed me the campus and facilities. I wasn't there, but it felt like I was." It goes both ways. "We're extremely comfortable," Brey said. "In this climate of recruit- ing right now, young people and their families are having to be more decisive about a decision. So are coaches and institutions." Sanders ultimately picked Notre Dame over Dayton, where he took an official visit in February for a game weekend. The Flyers' staff had been recruiting him for about a year. He had seen the campus, met the coaches in person and experienced a pulsing arena full of buzz around one of Dayton's best-ever seasons. Sanders also held offers from Florida State, Georgia Tech and South Caro- lina, among others. Yet none of that was enough to pre- vent him from picking Notre Dame sight unseen. "It was always instilled from the beginning that it's bigger than bas- ketball, and Notre Dame brings the academic piece that brings you ev- erything," Sanders said. "And you have the good basketball piece, too." Notre Dame had an ally in Sand- ers' coach at Gulliver, Gary DeCe- sare. He's a former assistant at De- Paul who shared the old Big East with Brey, and an ex-New York City high school coach whose school Brey recruited at his prior stops at Duke and Delaware. DeCesare first mentioned Sanders to Brey during the season. DeCesare saw him as an academic and basket- ball fit at Notre Dame and sensed his recruitment was still far from set- tled. Brey sent Humphrey to do in- person evaluations. Humphrey and Brey each put in the work building bonds with Sanders over phone calls and Zoom meetings. It was enough for Sanders and his parents to trust them. "That played a huge part," Sand- ers said. "I knew this was the right spot." Added DeCesare: "Mike liked what Tony had to say, Tony liked what Mike had to say. It's hard to talk to kids on phones because they're used to texting. And sometimes the answers you get are, 'Yeah, yeah.' One of Tony's best personality traits is he's articulate. When you get on the phone with him, it's not a two- minute conversation." DeCesare has sent about 60 players to Division I schools in 25-plus years as a high school coach, but Sanders and his 1,966 career points and more than 500 rebounds were a first. DeC- esare estimates no former player of his has come that close to scoring 2,000 career points. "A 6-foot-7 guy who just knows how to play and is good with the ball," Brey said of Sanders. "He's go- ing to be a great four-year investment for us. Feel for the game, athletic abil- ity, knows how to play." — Patrick Engel COMMITMENT PROFILE TONY SANDERS JR. Florida Wing Feels At Home With Notre Dame Despite Not Being Able To Visit Sanders, a three-star wing, committed and signed with Notre Dame in April — all without visiting campus. PHOTO COURTESY RIVALS.COM SCOUTING TONY SANDERS JR. "Tony has good size and versatility to him. He should fill out further as he gets older. He's valued for his shooting, is good out of the mid- range and is a confident half-court weapon. "He's a limited athlete who could evolve into a small-ball power forward, but he has a good feel for the game and can make the right pass against the opposing defense." — Rivals national recruiting analyst Corey Evans "The coaches made it work when they did the virtual Zoom visit, showed me the campus and facilities. I wasn't there, but it felt like I was." SANDERS ON THE COMFORT HE FELT WITH NOTRE DAME

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