Larry Sanders still working to control emotional outbursts
ST. FRANCIS, Wis. -- Larry Sanders knew he was in the wrong the second after he leaped up and slapped the backboard. After being called with an offensive foul he disagreed with, Sanders did the right thing by sprinting to the other end of the floor, but a moment of weakness cause him to leap and smack the glass in a recent exhibition game.
"When I went and slapped it, it was so loud, I was like, 'This is a technical foul,' " Sanders said.
Indeed it was, Sanders' second of the preseason after finishing last season tied for third in the NBA with 14 technical fouls.
"That was a bad one," Sanders said. "I was like, 'Why did I smack it that hard?' I was kind of proud of myself because even though I did get that technical foul, I didn't say anything to the refs. I wanted to say something to them but instead I ran down the court.
"That's an old (Dennis) Rodman move. I'm going to try to steal that from him. He would sprint and just run straight. I ran straight but then I jumped up and smacked the backboard. I've just got to take that part out."
Each game day, Sanders battles his emotions from the minute he wakes up. Things came to a head last March when a league-leading five ejections and technical fouls piled up, causing the NBA to fine Sanders $50,000. Conversations with then Bucks coach Jim Boylan left Sanders knowing he had to try to find some method that helped calm him down.
"It's been a life-long journey," Sanders said. "It's not anything new. I got to a point at the end of the season last year feeling really comfortable with the officials. And I put a lot into that. My whole day was filled with finding my peace.
"I thought I had crossed a certain barrier, but I realize I have to put the same amount of work in to do it again."
The plan worked, as Sanders was hit with just one technical foul in April and avoided an automatic suspension from the league.
"I worked very hard, before and after games," Sanders said. "I spent a lot of quiet time, meditation, listening to classical music or gospel music. I spent a lot of time with God, my maker, just calming myself down. I was able to be in full communication with him throughout the game.
"It takes a lot to do that. When I get in those hot situations, it's hard for me to see my way out of them. I have to be pulled out of them. I have to refocus in that area."
Sanders' outbursts or frustrations are purely out of passion. He's not reckless with his emotions because he doesn't care, in fact, he gets fired up because he wants to succeed that badly. Milwaukee needed Sanders on the floor last season, but the Bucks now will rely on the 24-year-old even more.
While his four-year, $44 million contract extension doesn't kick into next year, Sanders is now one of the faces of the franchise. Lack of control over his emotions is something Sanders could be held back by, something Bucks coach Larry Drew learned at a young age.
Drew bumped into Hall of Famer Walt Frazier the summer before he began his NBA playing career. An agent at the time, Frazier gave him a piece of advice Drew has yet to forget 33 years later.
"He said there are two sets of people in this league you've got to learn how to handle," Drew said. "You're going to deal with them on a daily basis and you have to learn how to be respectful, and that's writers and the media, and then there's the officials. That is so true. I got that advice back in 1980 and it's still true in 2013."
No matter how the previous regime handled Sanders, Drew is committed to a hands-on approach. Drew halted a recent practice after a few Bucks players had trouble controlling themselves emotionally, spending roughly 10 minutes preaching how Milwaukee can't afford to give away points on technical fouls or get a bad reputation with officials.
"There are guys in our league that officials are told to keep an eye on," Drew said. "When they officiate games they are told to keep an eye on certain guys because that guy has a history of losing his temper or losing control. You just don't want to be that type of player, not if you plan on having a long NBA career. You want to show you can play under pressure, you can maintain your composure.
"I played with a guy in Magic (Johnson) and he was just a master of how he handled officials. Yeah, he's Magic Johnson, but if it was a bad call on him, you know there's a way you go up to an official and say, 'Hey, you might have missed one. You owe me one.' Something like that, something kidding with them, not to go to an official and try to humiliate him or degrade him."
Sanders' struggle to stay on the floor hasn't just been limited to technical fouls and ejections, as he ran into trouble with personal fouls regularly. He averaged 3.3 fouls per game, good for fifth in the NBA.
He played just under four minutes less per game last season than Oklahoma City's Serge Ibaka, the only player who finished with more blocked shots than Sanders.
"It's a combination of things (that cause the fouls)," Drew said. "It's reaching, it's body-positioning and then it's fouling out of frustration. You can't do that. You're a target if that's how you are. We've just got to help him with that."
The fouls out of frustration are the ones that bother Drew the most, as those are the ones that end up causing a player to sit with foul trouble.
"They are (hard to swallow), they really are," Drew said of the fouls out of frustration. "It's an emotional game and you do get frustrated, but you can't be selfish in that regard and just think of yourself in that situation and not think about your team. Your team needs you, and we need him on the floor."
Foul trouble found Sanders early in the preseason, but he hasn't had to sit because of fouls in Milwaukee's last two exhibition games. He figures the fouls will drop as soon as Drew's defensive system becomes reactionary.
"I'm just thinking out there a lot right now, being in different positions than I'm used to," Sanders said. "The more we do this offensive review and defensive review, it will slow down for me a little bit. I'll be accustomed to the system and I can just go play."
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