Get To Know – Isaiah Sanders

Koda Hedrick, Staff Reporter

“GET TO KNOW” FEATURES: Throughout the fall 2020 semester the Fairmont State Athletics Department will be posting “get to know” features to allow fans, donors, parents, and fellow student-athletes to get to know members of the 17 athletics programs at Fairmont State University. For today’s feature, we sat down with junior men’s basketball standout Isaiah Sanders.

Why did you choose Fairmont State? 
“I started off my freshman year at Notre Dame College (Ohio). TK [Tim Koenig] was the head coach there and he got the job here [at Fairmont State]. That’s one reason why I wanted to come here because I didn’t want to play for anybody else. Another reason is the winning culture they have here. I wanted to be a part of that. I felt like with my future goals in life it was a good opportunity for me. We had the talent. I played against Kenzie and Cole my freshman year. They were pretty good so I thought it would be pretty fun to play with those guys. Some of us came here from Notre Dame. We’re just trying to bring some history and continue the winning culture here.” 
 Did you expect to perform at the level you have performed before starting college? 
“Coming into college you don’t really know what to expect as a freshman. That summer I just worked really hard trying to get my game ready, including my physicality and speed. It took a little while to adjust as a freshman  but coming in as a sophomore last year, because I started as a freshman and played in big games I already knew what to expect and what it took. Last year wasn’t really anything different. I was just playing my game, having fun, and trying to play hard for my teammates.” 
 Can you tell me your story, about your family/friends and where you were raised? 
“Sicklerville is a little place in South Jersey. It’s just a little suburb in South Jersey probably like 20 minutes outside of Philadelphia. We had one big time basketball player come out of there named Kyle Hines. He plays in Italy right now in EuroLeague. He went to my high school and I played for his AAU team from sixth to 10th grade. Before that, I played for the little township team with a bunch of my friends that I grew up with. They all play college basketball throughout the East coast. I grew up with those guys from the start and we played on the basketball team together, AAU and high school. Those guys kind of pushed me at a young age. They’re my guys. I still talk to them to this day. My goal really is to just be that next guy coming out of Sicklerville, that next really good basketball player. I want to start something and it be just like we all looked up to Kyle.” 
 Biggest moment(s) or accomplishments on and off the court at Fairmont State so far? 
“I would say just kicking it with the guys. I love doing that. I can hang out with anybody on the team. We can be in the dorm room playing the Wii. That’s one of my favorite things, traveling and eating meals with them off the court.” 
“On the court, it’s just the journey. It’s all a part of the game: the hard times, the fun times, the wins and the losses. That’s just something I really love, going through all of that with the guys.” 
 Can you describe some of your relationships with your teammates and coaches?

“I’ve known TK and the coaching staff since I was 17 years old as a junior in high school when they were recruiting me. They always believed in me. They gave me the opportunity to make a huge impact on their program and team as an 18-year-old freshman. Nothing has changed. They never lied to me. They never told me things I wanted to hear. They just always kept it real. I met Dev last year when he came here. I love Dev. He’s a fun guy. Some things you might not know you can just go to him for. I have a strong relationship with my teammates. I came from Notre Dame with Jack [Kelsheimer]. Ilisia [Washington] got an offer from Notre Dame but he came here after TK was hired. Jack is an older guy. He works hard. I’m always with him. I kinda look up to him. I knew Kenzie, and Cole, and most of the upperclassman before just by playing against them so I was just trying to adjust last year to feel them out. I’ve been to their houses off campus. I love hanging out with them.” 
 Can you describe the culture of your team? 
“We all have one goal and that’s to win. We know that’s the culture at Fairmont State too. We know that every game matters. Every game we just focus on winning. Everybody’s same goal is to get a ring on our finger. We’re going to do whatever it takes to get to that level.” 
 The season got cut short when you had just ended your participation in the MEC Tournament after defeating Glenville State and ultimately falling to Charleston in the semifinals. You were set to face Shippensburg in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, but it was cancelled due to COVID-19. Can you describe what it was it like to have the season end like that? 
“It was definitely disappointing. A lot of people around the country were disappointed in every sport. I felt like our team was really ready to play them [Shippensburg]. We already played them early on in the year. They were a really good team, too. We were ready and prepared mentally. We were shooting around. It was the day before the game, and they came in during our practice like ‘Yep, it’s over.’ 
“During the time we weren’t really sure what was going to happen. We were watching the news in the hotel, seeing things unfold right in front of our eyes with the virus. We started seeing Division I programs shutting down – the March Madness stuff. We weren’t really sure if it was going to trickle down, but it ended up falling to us. It was pretty heartbreaking. Guys were pretty upset. Some guys were crying. I feel like that just added fuel to the fire just to come back ready for this season and beyond. I felt like one lesson that probably every athlete learned throughout the country is just not to take things for granted. You never know when your last game is going to be – I don’t think anybody saw that coming.”
 What has it been like to be a part of great team success in your first two years playing at the collegiate level? 
“It’s been great. I feel like it’s helped me way more than anybody could imagine. I never really won anything until I got to college. A lot of the older guys my freshman year showed me what it takes to win. I learned my freshman year how to play hard, how to adjust to situations, when to make the right decisions, and when not to do certain things in certain situations in crunch time. 
“Freshman year that success taught me what it took, what I needed to do as an individual and what I could do with my teammates to help the team win. Setting up for my sophomore year, I kind of went in with the same mentality. I got better obviously throughout the year and summer leading up to my sophomore year. I knew coming to Fairmont State, I wanted to bring that same knowledge that I learned my freshman year here to this program. Playing last year and coming up short, I learned even more just by losing. I know both sides of the story. I’ve been successful winning. I’ve also lost. I feel like at this point as a junior, I know what it takes to win and I know what’s going to cause us to lose. I feel like that’s a blessing, just having both sides because I feel like I can help our team in many ways with that knowledge. I feel like it’s more knowledge and experience than a lot of people have. I think last year’s end result with us losing to Charleston and then coming up short in the NCAA Tournament because of the coronavirus is just going to benefit us this season.”

 What are your expectations for this season? 
“[I want] an even better record than we had last year, definitely to be number one in the conference, and nationally ranked. I want to be MEC champions, to win the region, host the region, and then make a national run for that championship. That’s my goal. That’s my teammates’ goals as well.”
 What does it mean for you to be a Falcon? 
“It means a lot. That’s one reason I came here. When I went to Notre Dame College, not many people back home knew about it.  But when I was making my transition to come here…  people knew about Fairmont State and the winning culture and the history that this school has and certain people who have played here. I knew what was expected. People expect greatness. If you don’t perform, they’ll let you know. It motivates you on and off the court like during your workouts in the summer. I could compare it to schools like West Liberty, Charleston, big time schools in this conference. They feel the same thing. I would say it’s like playing for a team like the Lakers. When you go to those teams, you know what’s expected out of you and you have to perform or you’re not going to survive. That’s what I wanted. That’s why the culture and coming here was important to me.” 
 Major: Business. Expected Graduation: 2022Future Plans? 
“I’m not sure. I want to play overseas, try to play basketball as long as I can and be successful at that. That’s a big goal of mine. I’m sure when that’s all said and done, I’ll probably try to get into something with my business degree. But I want to stay connected with sports in any way possible.” 
  Have you been able to stay engaged and connected with coaches and teammates during this time with restrictions? 
“Yeah, definitely. The coaches have always texting us. We have WebEx meetings all the time. Teammates come over [to my apartment] and we kick it, play the Wii, have fun, joke around, watch games together. We’re always connected.” 
  What has it been like as a student and person with online classes, masks, and social life? 
“[on wearing masks] It’s just something I know I have to do. It’s something that I know we have to adjust to if we want to play, if we want to play this season. Personally, I like in-person classes more than online. I feel like I get more out of it when I’m in person and I feel more connected with the teachers and administration. I just feel like a lot of this year is going to have to deal with sacrifice and adjustments, like giving up time that you might want to go out on certain days in public as you would in years before with groups of people. My classes are 50% online, 50% in-person. I’m adjusting, trying to stay safe and smart.”
 Activities/interests outside of school and sports? 
“I’m pretty chill. I really just like to hangout with my teammates, my friends, play video games. I really like movies, especially the old 80s kinds of classics, pop culture movies. Sometimes, when I’m bored, I make some edits and mess around on Photoshop, save them on my phone and don’t really show anybody. If I have free time I might just chill to myself, think about things, watch some game film.”

 How motivated or anxious do you feel to play right now? 
“I can’t even describe that, man. Since we couldn’t play in the NCAA Tournament last year, I’ve been itching. This summer that’s all I thought about through all my workouts. I’d imagine myself out there on the court going against these guys in our conference. Every day I’ve been watching the NBA Finals and playoffs in the bubble and I’m like ‘I want to go to the gym right now.’ Sometimes I caught myself watching the game and after the game thought ‘I got to go to the gym real quick and put some shots up.’ That’s how much I’m itching to play. I know all the guys feel the same way too.”
 If there was one thing you would want people to know about you, what would you say? 
“I’m pretty much myself. I don’t really try to change for anybody. I’m pretty open and outgoing. I like to joke. I like to laugh a lot. Even though I joke around, I’m pretty serious when it comes to basketball. I’m a pretty playful guy but when it comes down to business, I’m ready to go.”