Time Just FliesWell-Traveled, Markhuri Sanders-Frison Prepares to End His Short But Successful Career
Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Category: Sports > Winter > Basketball (Men's)
As Markhuri Sanders-Frison sits, he holds his face in his hands.
Just three days remain before Cal's lone senior plays his final regular season game at Haas Pavilion. Sanders-Frison's impressive Senior Day performance - 13 points, a career-high 13 rebounds and 34 minutes of non-stop hustle - hasn't taken place. Nor has the pre-game ceremony with his family.
But he knows that day is coming.
"It just felt like we played Cal Poly, (that) just felt like last week" he says. "And it felt like just yesterday that the confetti (for the Pac-10 crown) was dropping from the ceiling at Haas. Time is going by fast.
"Fast, fast, fast."
Sanders-Frison's feellings are understandable. After all, he's barely gotten settled - and he's never felt more at home.
Given just two years to make an impact, the career of a junior college transfer is more like a race against the clock. If anyone knows that experience, it's Sanders-Frison, whose short stint has seemed especially brief.
He joined the Bears in July 2009, still needing a pair of classes to complete his associate's degree. Already behind on his conditioning, his start grew rockier when he landed awkwardly taking a charge in the fall. Three bulging disks and a muscle tear in his back were the result, along with a season of frustration.
"It put me behind the eight ball even further," Sanders-Frison says. "That's not how I wanted to begin my Division I career, with injuries and being out of shape. That's not what I thought would happen."
Though his team reached new heights that season - capturing the school's first conference title in 50 years - Sanders-Frison made only scattered contributions on the floor. He couldn't finish routine shots. He was slow to move his feet on defense and foul trouble was inescapable.
During Cal's opening-round win over Louisville, Sanders-Frison's stat line read: three minutes, three fouls and zero points. That performance still pains him.
"Oh man, oh man. Oh my," he says, head in his hands once again. "I just couldn't do anything in the game. I couldn't even move. I was frustrated, the coach was yelling at me to do better, I just felt horrible."
His teammates noticed, too.
"Last year you could see it in his eyes when he was sitting down, just how much he wanted to play out there," Cal point guard Brandon Smith says. "It's like he was capable of so much, and he wasn't getting the opportunity to showcase it."
Sanders-Frison has finally gotten that chance - and made the most of it - in his final year as a Bear.
After devoting an entire summer to strengthening his back and core, dropping weight and upping his conditioning, Sanders-Frison has been one of the team's most pleasant surprises. Playing much taller than his 6-foot-7 frame, he is one of the conference's most efficient scorers, baby-hooking his way to 11.2 points per game on nearly 60 percent shooting. He also provides much-needed low-post defense to an undersized Cal squad.
This season has presented still new challenges, as Sanders-Frison battled through plantar fasciitis. But he has been determined not to allow a repeat of 2009-10.
"I just wanted to get better for my team; I put it on myself," Sanders-Frison says. "I wasn't gonna allow this to happen my senior year. By any means necessary. I put in the work, so I wasn't surprised that I started contributing more. I was just grateful, like, 'Yes, my hard work is starting to pay off.'"
In the fall of 2009, Sanders-Frison became a father.
Not literally, but when was asked to mentor his new dorm roommate - a slender, shy freshman named Bak Bak - he considered himself as such.
"Bak, yea that's my son," he says, with a sizable grin on his face. "Coaches said you have to look after him, make sure he's going to class, make sure he's on top of his work, stuff like that.
"I have the closest relationship with him."
It's just one of the ways in which Sanders-Frison, despite his limited stint in Berkeley, has developed into an unquestioned veteran leader.
To fully understand his contribution means looking past the stat sheets and surveying the basketball court, where he tirelessly battles inside and hustles for loose balls - a hard-nosed, no-nonsense style of play that has become "contagious" on the team. It requires a peek at in-game huddles and pregame warm-ups, where his passion and encouragement know no bounds.
"He's motivated me since the day he got here," junior forward Harper Kamp says. "He's been working, he just enjoys the game and is a ton of fun to play with. I don't get hyped up really easily, even when I'm excited. But when he's pumped up, hitting me in the chest, it's hard not to.
The highest praise came from his coach.
"I think one of the Markhuri's biggest assets," Mike Montgomery said after Saturday's regular season finale, "and one of the reasons he's going to be successful is because he's a very personable guy who people like, and he's a great leader.
"He doesn't come off as this great player, but he's a big ol' burly guy who people are gonna listen to. He walks the walk."
Reality is setting in, as much as Sanders-Frison resists.
Like many college players nearing the end, he doesn't want to stop playing ball. The difference? All he wishes for is one more go-around at Cal.
"Man, I would give up almost anything to have another year with this group of guys," Sanders-Frison says, almost pleading. "We're just a family, we're just a group of brothers. We have a good time with each other."
Still, he has no regrets about his time with the Bears. When asked how he wishes to be remembered by teammates, Sanders-Frison gave a simple but revealing answer.
"That he had my back, no matter what," he said. "That he was a real teammate. That's it."
Ed Yevelev covers men's basketball. Contact him at email@example.com.
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