University at Albany’s Gia Sanders took the road less traveled by.
Unlike her father, Greg, who became St. Bonaventure’s all-time leading scorer with 2,238 points from 1974-78 and once scored 46 points in a 1977 game against
Detroit, Gia Sanders is a defensive stopper who can shut down opponents with a blocked shot or a steal.
Although she’s not a prolific scorer, the 6-foot senior guard/forward from Bowie, Md., is the one of the main reasons for the Great Danes’ surprising success this season. UAbany is 9-4 in the America East Conference, and the Great Danes are hoping to make some noise in the upcoming league tournament.
While most players dream of draining long jumpers or driving through the lane, Sanders’ main focus has always been defense.
In Saturday’s victory over Stony Brook, she became the program’s all-time leader in blocked shots with 147. She paces the Great Danes in that department with 38 rejections, but she also has a team-leading 46 steals.
“Since I’ve been here, I’ve always felt that defense is the key to winning,” said Sanders. “Without
defense, we wouldn’t have the kind of winning record that we have. My whole game is centered around
“My offense comes from my defense. I get my motivation, my energy and my confidence from my defense. Offense is not controllable. You can always control your defense.”
Sanders is not a numbers person, and the shot-blocking record doesn’t mean that much to her, right now.
“To be honest with you, my mother knew about the record before I did. I just want to win. The ‘W’s’ are what I’m looking for,” she said.
UAlbany head coach Trina Patterson appreciates the all-out
effort Sanders gives the Great Danes
“Sometimes, you have kids on the team that you know could become an all-conference player if they ever put it all together. Gia is one of those players,” Patterson said.
“She was named to the league’s all-defensive team last season, and that gave her a lot of confidence. Gia comes from a line of great athletes. Her father is in the record books at St. Bonaventure. She’s built a lot like him. She’s long, thin and very athletic. But the difference is that she never saw herself as an offensive threat. What we’ve tried to do this season is to convince her that she has a good offensive game, too. Her first step is as quick as any player in the league.”
Sanders is fourth on the team in scoring at 8.4 points per game, but she leads the Danes in rebounding at 6.9 per game.
“The perimeter game has never been her strength, but she’s selective, and she can shoot the three if they play off of her and give her some space. She shoots 40 percent from beyond the arc,” Patterson said.
“She’s perfected the rip-through move, and she can get to the basket off the dribble as quickly as anyone. Most of the time, she can’t be stopped. I think the game at Vermont was the first time they took that move away from her.
“The thing I like the most about her is that this year she has decided to give it her all, and play hard on every possession. When she plays like that, it’s incredible to watch. A great example was the game she played at Maine, when she was
8-for-10 from the floor, and scored 19 points. That was her most perfect game.”
Patterson thinks Sanders could be both the best defensive player and the most underrated player in the league.
“She gets her share of blocked shots, of course. She is very intimidating with that part of her game,” Patterson said. “But if someone asked her opponents who’s the hardest player to score on at forward, shooting guard or point guard, they would have to say Gia. She has such quick feet that she can defend all three positions.”
Patterson said that Sanders is a model student, with a 3.0 grade-point average.
“She’s always on time and is a great person,” Patterson said. “She’s one of those players that you wish you could have 10 of.”
Sanders thinks the Great Danes’ defensive intensity and renewed confidence can go a long way in the conference tournament.
“When we were 1-11 at the start of the season, we hung our heads down for a while, but then we bounced back. We’ve played well against some very good teams, like Indiana and Marist.
“I think we’ve got all the pieces working now. We’ve already accomplished a lot of our smaller goals. Our goal is to win the America East Conference.”