From bench to box score, UMass welcomes Sanderlin earlier than expected

How transfer student Danielle Sanderlin adjusted to new blanket wavier

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Chris Tucci/UMass Athletics

By Lulu Kesin, Collegian Staff

Transfer student Danielle Sanderlin woke up every morning this season thinking she wouldn’t play in a game for an entire year. Then suddenly she scored her first basket as a member of the Massachusetts women’s basketball team on Sunday afternoon.

The 6-foot Canisus transfer expected to sit the full year due to NCAA eligibility rules but in December the NCAA Division I Council announced blanket waivers for all DI athletes to play immediately.

“My debut was kind of nerve-wracking, because this year I went into the year thinking I wasn’t going to play for a whole year,” Sanderlin said. “After getting settled in it was kind of natural, like I’ve been doing this for a long time, so I was just excited to get out there more than anything else.”

Sanderlin stepped on the court for the first time against Davidson on Friday. On Sunday, just a few minutes into the second quarter, Sanderlin scored her first bucket for the Minutewomen in its historic win over Fordham. While the basket may have looked flawless, the quick turnaround from bench to the court was far from it.

“At first I did struggle,” Sanderlin said. “I’m coming into a bigger, better program so there was a lot of transitioning. But I worked through it, worked hard, just having a ‘want to’ in practice and that carried over into me getting some minutes the past few games.”

Sanderlin’s mentality was just to contribute in any way she could when she was on the court. When the feeling she had that the first shot she took as a Minutewomen would go in became true, it was just an added bonus.

In addition to the physical adjustment to becoming game ready, Sanderlin had to embrace the Minutewomen’s “win the day” mentality from a player’s perspective.

“Win the day to me just means going after it every drill, whether you are scoring or going for the rebound, defensive stops or just bringing energy,” Sanderlin said. “If I win the day in practice, I know I can the day in the game because there is always a carryover.”

UMass’ transparent success with transfer students in recent years is easy to defend when looking at the stat sheet. Minutewomen star Sam Breen, spent time on the bench last year after transferring from Penn State. Maddie Sims also watched the entire year from off the court but has started every game this season.

That being said, it’s not always an easy situation to bring in transfers from a coach’s perspective.

“We’re always cautious about bringing in transfers,” Verdi said. “When you do, they’ve already had their mind set up and they come into a new situation and all of a sudden you are held accountable.”

Accountability serves many roles in Verdi style basketball.

“This is tough, this is hard,” Verdi said. “But if you want to be great you have to hold your player accountable, have to hold your staff accountable and you have to hold yourself accountable. Accountability is a key ingredient into winning championships, but this is a structured environment. I communicate that early on in the recruiting process, I let them know what it looks like and what they are getting themselves into.”

Communication is the forefront of any relationship he builds with players. At the end of the day, Verdi wants his players to know he is still the same coach who brought them to campus in the first place.

“I want the best for our players, I want to help them grow and develop,” Verdi said. “I want to see them be successful both on and off the court.”

The coaching staff at UMass provides every perspective for their players except for the perspective of a player on the bench. Sanderlin saw that as an opportunity to provide when she wasn’t allowed to provide points yet.

“Since I was on the bench in the beginning, I saw everything that was going on,” Sanderlin said. “My presence was like a mini coach I’d say. If it’s coming from me, it’s a different voice that connects to the girls. I stepped in that role just letting people know what’s going on out there and giving reassurance that way.”

Now that Sanderlin has officially traded in her bench attire for a uniform, she will continue to provide new depth for the Minutewomen throughout the season.

UMass hits the road to play VCU on Friday, tipoff at 6 p.m.

Lulu Kesin can be reached at [email protected] or followed on Twitter @Lulukesin.