ST. FRANCIS, Wis. — Larry Sanders was looking forward to making an impression. Invited to the United States national team’s minicamp in Las Vegas, the Milwaukee Bucks center wanted to take the first step in earning the chance to represent his country.
Instead, Sanders sprained his left ankle during one of the workouts, preventing him from participating in most of the minicamp.
But that doesn’t mean the experience wasn’t a lost cause. In fact, Sanders was amazed with what he took away from his time around the national team.
“They talked a lot about unity, which is great,” Sanders said. “Everybody not really putting their egos aside, but joining egos for the USA ego. Putting individual accolades aside just to contribute to winning and how they all had the same goal in mind.
“That mindset going forward is something that we can definitely bring to the Bucks. Just everyone pointing in the same direction and focusing on contributing to winning the game and how much of a better team we can be if everyone had that mindset.”
As one of just four holdovers from last year’s roster that features 10 new faces, Sanders is embracing a leadership role in a culture that’s clearly changing. The franchise is promoting Sanders as one of the faces of the franchise, with his likeness all over town.
“It’s awesome that they feel that way about me and they have that much trust and faith in me as a leader, as a man, as a person and as a basketball player,” Sanders said. “I won’t let them down. It’s definitely something I’m ready for thanks to their help.”
Last season, Sanders had a front-row seat in a locker room lacking leadership, one suffering from chemistry issues and individual agendas. As one of the leaders of the new-look Bucks, Sanders is determined to set the tone for the culture coach Larry Drew is trying to create in Milwaukee.
With leadership comes responsibility, meaning Sanders must better harness his emotions on the court in order for his words to have meaning.
“I made strides in that direction last year, and I’m going to keep making strides in that direction,” Sanders said. “I’m not the ultimate leader, but that’s my goal. I’m going to keep working toward that as much as I can. Stay in these young guys’ ears constantly, because I remember being in their position like it was yesterday.”
The theme residing over the Bucks for most of last season was one of uncertainty.
From head coach Scott Skiles and general manager John Hammond to guards Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis, many key members of the organization were in the final year of their contracts.
It was evident at times some in the locker room put personal agendas ahead of the team’s goals. With Jennings and Ellis both gone and the vast majority of the roster playing on multiyear contracts, Sanders feels team goals will be put first this season.
He also plans to implement the message of unity he picked up at the national team minicamp so the locker room can remained unified, unlike like last season.
“From the beginning, too,” Sanders said. “It’s not an issue we should have to address in April in the playoffs. That should be something that’s addressed in the preseason before we even play a regular-season game.
Everything will be ironed out. You go through situations, and you learn from them. You learn how not to do things and how to handle things better. I think we’ve learned a couple of things the last couple of years and we’ll try to put those into action.
“As far as individuals focusing on contracts, we won’t have that dark cloud kind of hanging over the team. Individual players will be able to have their mindset on winning games and being where we need to be come postseason. I think it will be a lot simpler and it will help us a lot.”
When asked about the Brandon Jennings sign-and-trade to Detroit, Sanders opted to praise new teammate Brandon Knight instead of addressing his former teammate.
“Brandon Knight is a tough player, man,” Sanders said. “He plays really hard. Every time I’ve played against him, he’s been a tough competitor. Sometimes he’s out of position and down too low which leads to blocks and stuff, but he won’t do that anymore. He doesn’t have to worry about me. He can focus all of his energy up top.
“Me and him will be a hell of a pick and roll, just hounding guys. He’s a really good defender. He’s going to add another element to our team as far as guard defense up top. He’s a good shooter, he has great speed, and I think he’s a great addition to the team.”
Sanders’ ankle is doing better, and he expects to be able to workout at full speed in about a week. Between the minicamp Las Vegas, obligations in Milwaukee and usual offseason preparations, Sanders hasn’t had time to sit down since the season ended.
His summer will stay busy as he plans to head to Los Angeles soon to workout with Pacers guard Paul George and Clippers center DeAndre Jordan.
“I keep working to get better and build on the success that we had last year,” Sanders said. “We don’t want to just go to the playoffs every four years. It’s a tradition thing. We want to start a tradition and when teams look at us they know we are team that’s going to play in the postseason. That’s what we want hanging over our heads.
“I think we can definitely grab that and keep building on that, especially with the team we have now. We have so many young pieces. With everyone working as hard as they will work, we definitely will be where we want to be come April.”
And if all goes well on the court with the Bucks, Sanders will have another chance to make his impact felt for coach Mike Krzyzewski and the national team.
“They all had really positive things to say,” Sanders said. “They liked the way I affected the game, they said I did a lot of good things out there team-wise. I think that’s what my main focus was, just making sure my presence is felt being on the team and helping my teammates. I think they kind of felt that out there.”
Wolters makes it official: The Bucks officially signed second-round pick Nate Wolters on Thursday, general manager John Hammond announced.
Milwaukee acquired the draft rights to Wolters from the Philadelphia 76ers on draft night in exchange for the draft rights to Ricky Ledo and a future second round pick. Wolters was selected 38th overall by the Washington Wizards and then traded to Philadelphia before heading to the Bucks.
Finishing his collegiate career as South Dakota State’s all-time leading scorer, Wolters averaged 22.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game last season for the Jackrabbits.
Wolters gives the Bucks 16 players on their roster, one over the maximum 15 allowed when the season starts.