After making his first free throw, Brandon Eckles missed his second attempt with 10:33 left in the second half of Springfield’s game against Amherst College on Tuesday. As the ball bounced off the left side of the rim, Deonte Sandifer leaped into the air and corralled an important offensive rebound.
“He’s six feet tall but he’s playing like he is seven feet tonight,” said the Amherst play-by-play announcer.
Later in the possession, Sandifer got the ball in the corner and cashed in with a three pointer to give Springfield a 53-47 lead.
When it comes to basketball there are several different roles that can be filled on a team. There is the hype man that keeps the players up when things seem tough and the floor general that has to know where everyone on the court is at all times.
But one of the most important type of players a coach can have on his roster is the guy that can do the little things. The things that don’t pop off the stat sheet at the end of games. It’s a player that only people who really watch the game can respect.
This year, that player for Springfield men’s basketball has been Sandifer.
In his first month or so with the team, Sandifer has gained a reputation for being a guy who is quiet, works hard, is open to constructive criticism, and doesn’t complain.
Sandifer also carries himself with the consistency of being punctual, regardless of the situation. The interview for this story was no exception.
The meeting spot was next to the fireplace in the campus union at 2 p.m. last Tuesday. The union was bustling at the time due to the amount of people studying for finals on the soft chairs upstairs near the student activities office. Sandifer was sporting a Springfield men’s basketball windbreaker and sitting at attention with his back straight and a hand on each armrest.
It was 1:50. He was 10 minutes early.
“He’s quiet and intuitive,” said head coach Charlie Brock. “You can always see that he’s kind of looking to see if he understands. He has been able to get in and learn two different positions. If he is in for one guy he can do one thing or if he is in there with another guy he can do another thing and he has done a great job of it.”
Throughout high school Sandifer always had the idea of playing basketball in college in the back of his head. He initially planned to go to a preparatory school after graduating, but none of the schools gave sufficient enough financial aid. Instead of taking on the financial burden of prep school, Sandifer elected to enroll at Springfield College and walk on the basketball team.
Over 30 athletes tried out. The program carried 12 players the previous season. The Pride had a solidified core of players coming into this season, and the possibility of a walk on spot was limited.
“I knew if I was just myself, stayed confident, and played hard that I would have a good shot,” said Sandifer.
On Oct. 17, after weeks of 6 a.m. lifts that required Sandifer to rise before the sun, and tryouts that included occasional taxing sprints up and down James Naismith court, Sandifer received an email from Brock telling him to meet in his office
The meeting proved to be one of positivity. Sandifer had made the team as a walk on.
Before making the team at Springfield College, Sandifer was a standout player for Taconic High School in Pittsfield, Mass. under the tutelage of head coach Bill Heaphy. During his varsity career, Sandifer was responsible for handling the ball, scoring the ball, and defending the opposing team’s best player.
But now that he’s on a team with one of the conference’s most prolific scorers in Jake Ross, Sandifer has had to adapt his game and play a role that the team needed coming into this season.
“He’s a defensive stopper, and we look at him as such,” said Brock. “We don’t look to him to be a scorer, although he can. What he does is under the radar. Every now and then he will pick up a rebound and get a loose ball or get a deflection. Just those little things. He has been really good at it.”
Joining a new team with some players who have already had at least one season to learn the ins and outs of the system can be daunting, but thanks to upperclassmen leadership, Sandifer says that the transition for him has been great.
“The team is a great group of guys that really show you the ropes as a freshman,” said Sandifer. “Ben [Diamond] is a great leader [too]. If I am doing something wrong on the court he’ll say something to me like ‘hey you’ve got to set that screen’, and he doesn’t do it in a ‘coming at me’ sort of way. He is good with constructive criticism.”
Sandifer likes things straight forward when it comes to coaching. If he is doing something wrong, he doesn’t want to dance around the subject. He wants to know exactly what it is and how he can do it right. Brock is that type of coach.
“He’s very honest and is straight to the point,” said Sandifer. “If something is on his mind he is going to tell you straight up and not sugar coat it, and that’s what I prefer.”
Whether it’s pursuing his man along the three point line or pulling down a hard earned offensive rebound, Sandifer knows how to play his role to the fullest.
His stats might not be eye popping this season. Heck, he might go a few games without scoring any points. But if the Pride make a deep run in the NEWMAC tournament this season, Sandifer is without a doubt one of the reasons why they do.