Photo courtesy Milwaukee Bucks/NBAE
Larry Sanders left Virginia Commonwealth University a year early for the NBA in 2009, when he was drafted as the 15th overall pick by the Milwaukee Bucks. He took his defensive prowess from the Rams — where he holds second place for all-time leaders in blocked shots — to the pros, where he finished last season the league's No. 2 in blocks per game. Sanders has a full-time starting job now and a new $44 million contract to show for his efforts, but he hasn't forgotten about the town he called home for three years. We caught up with Sanders after a preseason Bucks practice.
RM: How do you prepare for games?
LS: The routine's good. I have a shoot-around in the morning. When I get back to the room, I usually stretch right away before I take my nap, so my body feels better when I wake up. When I go to the gym or the arena, I usually have classical or gospel music on, something kind of soulful or peaceful to get me centered.
RM: What's the most surprising thing you've learned about playing in the NBA?
LS: The different paces of the game, from the different guys I've played with, and how dynamic guys really are — their skill sets, how to use them, different things like that.
RM: How will things be different without Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings?
LS: I think the makeup of the team will be kind of different, but our core is kind of the same. Our interior defense that we kind of built a reputation for [last] year — we're trying to carry that on, and I think we will be able to.
RM: Who are your role models for playing the center position?
LS: I watched a lot of Kevin Garnett.
RM: Who do you think the greatest 3 centers of all time are?
LS: Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O'Neal and … Who am I missing?
RM: Kareem [Abdul Jabbar]?
LS: Yeah, Kareem . That's what I was trying to get my mind around.
RM: Who's the best center in the NBA today?
LS: I would say as an all-around player, still Tim Duncan. He's killing the game right now.
RM: What's the top highlight of your NBA memories so far?
LS: I'd probably say the Boston series of last year. It was kind of a blur, but when I go back and look at every game, those were great games, and I got the chance to play against Kevin Garnett.
RM: What was that like?
LS: Dream come true, man. I respect his game so much, I respect him as a player, and for me it was just earning that same respect from him, and I feel I did just by playing hard and not backing down.
RM: Does anything bring you back to Richmond these days?
LS: Yeah, I came back to Richmond for a day this summer, and I wish I could have stayed longer. I still talk to all my guys there. [Former Rams] Joey [Rodriguez] and Ed [Nixon] are there now.
RM: Do you still follow VCU?
LS: Oh yeah. Still follow them, still talk to the guys there — old and new.
RM: How do you think they'll do this year after losing Darius Theus and Troy Daniels?
LS: The team's a little different, but I think defensively, they're gonna be even better. They still have a great low-post presence in Juvonte [Reddick], and he only gets better. Building around him, it'll be a little bit different. I remember when Jamal Shuler left my second year there. That was crazy. The dynamics of the team just changed, from having that shooter out on the wing all the time, to mostly going through the middle. I think Juvonte will have a lot more touches, and he'll be able to create more for the team.
RM: Your twitter handle is Nappy G. How'd you come by the name?
LS: It's Nappy Gilmore, like Happy Gilmore. That just kinda stuck with me.
RM: In a January game against the Los Angeles Lakers, you showed Kobe Bryant your blocking ability. What was it like to swat Kobe?
LS: That was crazy for me. It was funny because after that play, he asked me where I came from on that play, and I told him I came from the elbow area … You know, he kinda figured out a little bit about my game. He told me, "OK, the next time, I'm gonna pump fake, and and-one you." It was funny, because they came back and played us, and I was thinking, "I can't let him get me with this. I can't let him get me with this." And he got it on me for a three. He didn't make the three, but he got the foul. [Laughs.] Just shows how smart of a player he is.
RM: In a Sports Illustrated profile, you said you hope to build a home for abandoned women in Florida. How's that coming along?
LS: It's going good, I'm reaching out to some people and starting to attend some seminars and workshops for foundations, to kind of see how people are running them. I have some aspects of my foundation that I want to incorporate into it, but I just want to gather as much information as I can before I put anything in place. It's definitely something I want and will do.
RM: We saw that you're right a fantasy novel. Do you still get time to write?
LS: Oh yeah. I do now. I'm reaching out to some people that I think are going to help me creatively, to kind of expand what I'm thinking about, and take it to a new height. I use them to help inspire my vision, try to connect with them — people who are going to help me sit down and just get all my thoughts organized and put on paper. The process is going on right now. It's great for me to have all this stuff on my mind all the time, on a daily basis. It's just a very fortunate place to be.
RM: What exactly is it about?
LS: It's basically about the similarities between Heaven and Earth. It talks about how Earth is kind of the testing ground. It goes into a bloodline of angels, and this angel gets sent to Earth because he committed a sin in Heaven. So, on Earth, he has to live through his life. The justice system is the same — only, there's one judge in Heaven. If you do a sin, you commit to it, you get sentenced to 47 and a half years, or 36 years, or however many. You have to live to overcome this obstacle before you're allowed back. He doesn't know that he's an angel, but he's living on Earth, and he has to go through situations. He was in love with a woman, that's kind of what caused him to be sent down to Earth. He encounters her again, she's in hell on Earth ... There's a lot of stuff, there's a lot of twists and turns, but it's gonna be good.
RM: Do you have plans to publish it soon?
LS: Soon? I don't know. Once the season kicks in, there's not too much to think about but who we're playing the next night. I'm going to work on it here and there in my free time, and see what I can do into the summer. But I'm not gonna rush the process. It's gonna happen over time, and I'm excited about the process. Once I finish it, it'll be for anybody to read — you know, anybody, anywhere. I'm not doing it for any reason besides the creative thought for me, and I'd love for others to enjoy it.