Kanye West, Jennifer Hudson and Bernie Mac all have something in common. They are all well-known stars bred from Illinois’s Windy City.
Rome Sanders and Darius Glover, who are in the process of trying to lead their basketball team to an NCAA tournament victory, are shooting to be new additions to that list.
Sanders, a criminal justice student, has no problem taking on the leadership role that some may find intimidating.
“We try to lead in a positive way that we hope will help (other players) in years to come,” Sanders said. “If we do good things on and off the court, the younger guys will do the same thing.”
Although Sanders leads the Rattlers averaging 16.7 points a game, he said he doesn’t carry that sense of expectation with him into the game. He feels his team is strong as a whole.
“We’re a well-balanced team,” said Sanders, who stands at 6-foot-8-inches 240 pounds. “I have a lot of teammates that can produce on any given night.”
Head coach Mike Gillespie Sr. said this is the necessary mentality for a team leader.
“The ability to lead this team and put the team ahead of (himself) makes Sanders stand out,” coach Gillespie said.Proving the coach’s words to be true, Sanders doesn’t acknowledge any goal for himself this season outside of the team winning a championship.
“How well the team does is an individual accomplishment for me,” Sanders said.
Sanders isn’t worried about the pressure getting to him on the court, but he does admit that it can be hard balancing his life outside of the game.
“During the season, you don’t have time to just have a regular college life,” Sanders said.
He explained that his team is always on the road and switching in and out of different hotels. It can take a toll on schoolwork, forcing players to get tutors or seek academic advisement.
“(Being a student athlete) has its ups and downs,” Sanders said.Darius Glover, the other team leader that has emerged this season, knows first hand about the downside of being a student athlete. He has struggled with his personal life and maintaining his status on the team.
Within the span of three years, both his grandmother and father died. The one-year anniversary of his father’s death will be March 1.
“It’s been a rough three years, but basketball has got me through it,” said Glover, who stands 6-foot-5-inches and weighs 245 pounds.
However, he thought about giving up the sport at a time when the stress of losing his relatives became too much to bear.
His mother, whom he refers to as “the love of his life,” was his strength during these times.
She reminded him that his father and grandmother were looking down on him.
“My grandmother wanted me to graduate, and my dad wanted me to play ball,” Glover said.
Ironically, playing basketball has also helped Glover get past his pain.
“Basketball saved my life,” he said. “I could have been dead or selling drugs right now.”
Through all of his trials, the criminal justice student has managed to emerge as one of the team’s major players.
Gillespie approves of Glover stepping up on the team.
“To watch Darius mature as a person and become a better leader is something I’m proud of,” Gillespie said.
Glover, who is averaging 9.8 points a game this season, said he feels comfortable being in a leadership position on his team.
“The players have always looked to me on the team as somebody that they could talk to,” he said. “I have respect for the players and the coaches, so it was an easy transition”With Sanders and Glover leading his team, Gillespie said he believes they have a good chance at winning the NCAA tournament.
“Both of the guys deserve that win, and they’ve worked very hard to see it happen,” Gillespie said.
With their last season of college basketball coming to a close, both Glover and Sanders are planning on continuing their hoop dreams professionally. “I have been playing for free all of this time,” Glover laughs.
“It’s time to play for money now.”
Although Sanders has the same dream, he realizes that in reality he holds a degree as well.
“I always have my criminal justice degree to fall back on if basketball doesn’t work,” he said.
Regardless of the outcome of the NCAA tournament, Sanders and Glover have led the team by example by becoming college graduates.