High School Boys Basketball

Hoops chapter closes for Tompkins’ Sanders duo

By DENNIS SILVA II, Times Sports Editor
Posted 3/3/20

After each practice and game this season, Tompkins boys basketball coach Bobby Sanders had a departing message for his son, senior forward Hank Sanders.

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High School Boys Basketball

Hoops chapter closes for Tompkins’ Sanders duo

Posted

After each practice and game this season, Tompkins boys basketball coach Bobby Sanders had a departing message for his son, senior forward Hank Sanders.

“I’d tell him I love him,” Bobby said. “It was never about his performance. It was about having him on this team as my son.”

The Falcons’ surprising playoff run came to an end on Tuesday in their 51-38 Class 6A regional quarterfinal loss to Bellaire at the Merrell Center. Tompkins was one of the more inspiring stories of the last couple of months, overcoming a significant injury to sharpshooting sophomore B.B. Knight, a top recruit in the Class of 2022, and a lack of depth to win 12 of its final 21 games after a 5-12 start to the season.

The Falcons finished third in District 19-6A, beat higher-seeded Ridge Point and Houston Westbury in the playoffs, and gave 18-6A district champ Bellaire a scare—Tompkins trailed just 43-36 with 3:33 left—before falling short.

Hank had nine points, five rebounds and a block in the loss, putting the finishing touches on a fantastic high school career. As a sophomore, he was a role player for the Falcons team that won the program’s first district title and made it all the way to the state championship game. This year, he was huge in leading Tompkins to its second regional quarterfinal appearance in five years.

“It was fun starting on freshman ‘A,’ working my way up to varsity, making that state run,” Hank said. “It was fun seeing this senior class continue to get better. What we did was a good thing.”

And Dad was with him every step of the way.

“It’s been the most fun couple of years having him on varsity than any time I’ve had coaching,” Bobby said. “He doesn’t take the game too seriously, but he plays really hard and I love watching him play.”

Bobby—who also coached his older son Jackson, who was a senior on the 2018 state finalist—has a standing rule in the Sanders’ household, which is the basketball team is not talked about unless Hank brings it up. Bobby and Hank leave basketball on campus. It’s coach and player at school. At home, it’s father and son.

So, it was never really talked about over the last few weeks that the last game between coach and player was looming. Hank was aware, and Bobby was as well. But so much was put into just making the playoffs this season, after a disappointing absence last year, that it never really hit until after the loss to Bellaire.

“I knew it was going to come,” Hank said. “I’m just surprised we got this far. Every game that we played in district was fun. I was just happy to be a part of this. It was good to get back this far after the state run (in 2018). Last year, we had a pretty bad season. This one was fun.”

Bobby will remember his son going up to him after games and apologizing if he played poorly. That was hardly ever the case—Hank is a strong shooter and rebounder, and his effort is never in question. But he took a lot of the blame for losses upon himself.

“I tried to tell him to stop doing that, obviously,” Bobby said.

Hank will take away the accomplishments left behind by the senior class, a talented group that included gifted playmaker Johnny Nash, gritty defender R.J. Smith, the hustling Alex Hakimzadeh, valuable role player Matthew Long, and shooting forward Bryson Morehead. Tompkins was an unknown commodity in the Houston basketball scene when they stepped onto campus as freshmen. Now it is regarded as one of the more respected teams in Region III.

“Tompkins was so new when I came here four years ago, and to get as good as we got, and as fast as we did … that’s pretty neat,” Hank said.

After the Bellaire loss, Bobby told his players to forget the game “as fast as possible.” The Falcons were competitive throughout, but committed 21 turnovers and made just six of 13 free throws.

“We couldn’t have played much worse, and it’s kind of an anomaly how bad we played,” Bobby said. “We haven’t played that bad in months. I don’t know why it happens, but sometimes it does in sports.”

What he wants his players to remember is the sensational run to get into the playoffs, overcoming Mayde Creek for third place, and finishing in the regional quarterfinals, three deep into the playoffs. The Falcons will have seven returners, including Knight (who was injured most of the district season and played the last two playoff games on a hobbled leg), sophomore forward Carmelo Yakubu (who had four points, eight rebounds and three steals against Bellaire), and promising sophomore guard Jason Clark.

Bobby told his seniors to remember their legacy of expecting to make the playoffs and expecting to go far in the playoffs, a distinct standard for the program’s four sub-varsity teams, three of which were district champions.

“We have five words that we go by, the ‘Falcon Five’: humility, intensity, unity, service and gratitude,” Hank said. “I feel like knowing and understanding those things as a player will really help to build you as a person.”

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