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Bloodlines: Freshmen Grays, Sanderson come by it honestly

Saline freshman Jonathan Sanderson. (Photo courtesy The Saline Post)

Farmington freshman Greg Grays Jr. and Saline freshman Jonathan Sanderson Jr., the sons of former Big Ten players, are their teams’ leading scorers as just freshmen.

Grays’ father had the state’s only 60-point game of the 1990s. He was one of five future D1 players on Southfield-Lathrup’s 1996 Class A runner-up squad who signed with Penn State, then was an All-Horizon League guard for Detroit. Sanderson’s father may now be best known for “Camp Sanderson” as U-M basketball’s S&C coach, he was an accomplished hooper in his day, a 6-7 forward who started on Ohio State’s 1999 Final Four team before finishing his career at Ohio U.

The Hornets’ biggest wins have come against Chelsea and Ann Arbor Huron, which both had come into Saline undefeated at the time. Sanderson played different style games in that pair of Ws, giving what his team needed each time. Against Chelsea, it was an athlete who could go at their strong junior backcourt and create buckets. He did that to the tune of 39 points, including 17 in the fourth quarter with a hot hand creating his own three-points looks, and burying clutch free throws in a two-point win. In the Huron game, he was flawless bringing the ball up safely against usually 100 man-to-man, and getting his teammates a bevy of open jumpshots once running half-court offense.

A triple-threat past the college three-point arc, Sanderson is 6-2 and plays to his height and length, seeing the floor and making tough passes look simple with a choice of delivery points, one- or two-handed releases. He’s not pressured by the baseline as an “extra defender” and can pitch it to the corner while falling out of bounds for Nash assists, or see and find guys replacing at the top of the key. He’s right-handed but prefers going left with the drive and has soft touch off the glass. Like with his menu of passes, Sanderson can free himself on drives different ways, with a shoulder shimmy breakdown one trip, a rip-through the next. A higher percentage three-point shooter off the catch than dribble. Can do more to distort zone defenses and get free-form points rather than conforming and having to empty the quick-hit playbook.

Sanderson utilizes his physical tools on the other end as well, and is a good defender for a ninth-grader. Good speed and wingspan closing out on shooters, though sometimes can end up off balance at the end. Covers space fast, able to play the help line under the basket, then bound out to defend the top of the key. He switches ball screens cleanly and aggressively. Shows high hands not just against shooters but passers. With his quickness is able to freelance and make plays, jumping to double for tips, or stripping guys clean at midcourt.

Sanderson is the best guard in what is a very promising backcourt for the state’s class of 2026; the No. 2 freshman prospect overall behind Old Redford Academy’s 6-6 Jaquan Stennis; and could end up a mix of Monte Morris, Edmond Sumner and Travis Conlan.

One would be hard-pressed to find a better staff from which to learn the guard trades than Grays has a Farmington, where Derrick McDowell is the head coach. Unlike Sanderson on the ball, Grays plays strictly a 2 right now in what is a pretty structured system, even making outlet passes when he gets a defensive rebound instead of advancing the ball himself. Grays moves well off the ball, both cleaver and active, and when Farmington needs a bucket he has a knack for shaking loose going down hill. The kind of scorer who can cobble together 20 even if he starts out slow, by getting to the line, and working inside out. A dangerous streak shooter when he’s flowing and not aiming. Not just a three-point guy, likes to put the shoulder and to clean out for pull-up jumpers. Has good intentions on the drive as a score-pass threat, needs to not telegraph it when the latter. Grays is good at the little things, stuff like getting English and angles on his post entries, helping in the gaps without losing his own man, and being an aggressive one-on-one defender though about 5-11 has a good wingspan.


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