As the polls for the Hines Furniture Athlete of the Year contest came to a close on Tuesday afternoon, Laurence Manning's Jaden Sanders was hoping his main goal for this summer came to pass.
He made it all the way to the championship matchup last summer only to see Sumter High's Nicole Wells claim the inaugural title. This summer, he wanted revenge.
Sanders won the vote this summer, capping off his high school career with one final highlight.
"It's like a weight off my chest. I've been waiting all summer for this moment," Sanders said. "It's a perfect cherry on top. This was the best year I've had. Winning the Hines Furniture Athlete of the Year, it's like a great goodbye."
Sanders has been quick to thank his parents, his most staunch supporters, through this process. His gratitude doesn't stop there. He's appreciative of everyone who took the time to show their support.
"It feels like family. It feels like love," Sanders said. "If I wasn't for them, I wouldn't have won. They took the time out of their day to vote for me and get people to vote for me. I'm just thankful for everyone."
The Swampcat senior also praised his head coach, Will Epps, for helping him develop on the court during his time at LMA.
"Coach Epps is a big person in my life right now," Sanders said. "In the 10th grade, I used to question stuff he did to me, like not playing me that much in one game then play me a lot in another game. My parents told me to trust him, and it all came out to be a good thing."
Sanders was electric for Laurence Manning in his final season. On a senior-heavy squad, Sanders stood out, averaging 13.9 points per game. He also averaged seven rebounds, 2.9 assists, 2.8 steals and 2.1 blocks.
For all his accomplishments, his favorite moments were the times spent with his fellow seniors.
"It made all of us happy because we've been playing with each other since we were little or when we were in 10th grade," Sanders said. "That chemistry came together on the court. If we won or we lost, we were having fun."
The season was not without its share of ups and downs. Right after Christmas break, the Swampcats were hit by COVID-19, causing the team to be sideline for most of January. After a junior season that was depleted by the virus, a mid-season pause was a cause for concern.
"It was struggling, really struggling. It gave us flashbacks to last season thinking, 'Are we going to play again?' It was bad," Sanders said. "We were so happy when we got back on the court."
The time away made the return even more sweet. Sanders' favorite moment from the season came near the end. After losing to Trinity Collegiate twice during the regular season, LMA got revenge in the region tournament championship, besting the Titans 44-41.
"That was the best moment probably of my life," Sanders said of that win. "We were all so happy because we lost to them two straight years before that. To finally beat them this year, we were happy."
With the Hines Furniture Athlete of the Year in tow, Sanders will soon make the trip to South Carolina State to begin his college journey. After getting limited recruiting looks during high school, Sanders will try to make the Bulldogs' basketball team as a walk-on.
"I would go back to old games of mine from my senior year and I realized I can really help a college team," Sanders said. "We play as a team and I'm a very unselfish player. I feel like I can really fit into a college team.
"To be on a DI college team would be a dream come true."
More Articles to Read