By Jeremy McDonald
SALEM, Ore.– It’s going to be weird when the 2019-2020 season rolls around to not see the polo shirt-wearing, khaki pant wearing Dean Sanderson roaming the McKay bench after 10 years at the helm of the McKay Royal Scots program.
But all that screaming, foot stamping and high expectations he has set during practice on a daily and in a yearly basis, was to better his athletes on-and-off the court. He set a standard that if you’re going to be on his team, you’re going to work your ass off for your spot and playing time.
Sanderson taught his athletes to be tough mentally and physically. To never give up and never surrender no matter the circumstance.
“I would say that I was blessed enough to be a part of a program like that under a great coach. Every day we would go hard in order to be successful, but we would always made sure we had fun (except for the running),” said Andre Tovar, who played for Sanderson between 2015 and 2018. “It was more than just learning and improving our game. It was the adversity we learned to overcome and bounce back from. The work ethic we all put in, the dedication we had to the program, coaches and each other.
“He would push us to where we thought we were gonna give up and quit but he knew that we would never back down without a fight and that’s exactly what it looked like during game time. If I could go back I would haha! It was an amazing time and it made a huge impact on my life.”
Sanderson, who came to McKay in 2009, admitted that he didn’t know what he was walking into following Jack Martino’s departure. But what Sanderson did was brought in the right people that shared the same ideologies as he did to send the message home on a regular basis.
Guys like Matt Espinoza, Bryan Huber and Caleb Singleton to name a few. Brett Rhodes and Josh Riddell were other great influences Sanderson mentioned to help guide the kids going through his program. Even Jack Martino made a brief return on the Scots sidelines in recent years.
Win or lose, the staff at McKay would do anything for their athletes to set them up to succeed in more ways than what the win-loss record may indicate.
“It was awesome playing for him, him and all of his coaching staff (Noza, Huber) were amazing. They cared about making us better day by day but at the same time teaching us life lessons,” said Tristen Wilson, who played at McKay between 2013 and 2016 and helped coach the Scots the year after his graduation. “He pushed us to our limit cause he knew we could handle it and had us push ourselves to continue to keep moving forward. I’m a lucky guy to get to play under him and his staff while I was there, he taught me how to push through adversity and how to be a leader on and off the court.
“No matter if we’re not playing for him anymore he will still do anything for us! I thank him for always looking through all the steep types at McKay and sticking around as long as he did! It shows he was really there for us and didn’t care about a win loss record, when you have a coach like that you never get them! I will always keep in touch with these guys because of how they impacted my life!”
Speaking of Martino for a moment, Sanderson and Martino were once coaching rivals back in the day when Sanderson was a snot-nose young freshman coach at Corvallis in 2003 and Martino was coaching at West Salem started them down a path that eventually led to respect and honor.
Martino left McKay after being the freshman and JV coach from 1999-2002 and the Varsity Head Coach from 2003-2008. His first game back at McKay was as the Head Coach at North Salem between 2012 and 2014; Sanderson honored the former Scots Head Coach before the start of the game.
“My first game coaching back at McKay, he had a huge speech written about me and my coaching career at McKay,” said Martino. “He had that read before the starting lineups. He didn’t have to do that. It was one of the nicest things anyone had ever done for me and that was all him.
“Dean has always been professional. And I will tell you, that’s quickly becoming a rarity in coaching circles. I’ve always thought his guys battled all night long. You could never take a possession off against them. Nobody, not even those close to him, know how much he has done for the kids at McKay over the last decade.”
Martino came back to McKay to coach along side Sanderson between 2016 and 2017 before departing, eventually landing with Jordan Graneto at Sprague this season. Sanderson joked with me that Martino was a ‘McKay Legend’ during my four-years covering McKay, but both coaches are cut from the same cloth with the same passion and compassion for the game and their athletes.
It’s just that Sanderson is a little more Bob Knight throwing his chair-passionate and Martino is more Mike Krzyzewski mad over a stupid foul-passionate is the difference I’ve seen between the two.
Sanderson described his passion though as wanting to see the kids succeed. Sometimes that passion overflows negatively like the overtime loss at West Salem in early-2016, other times it went positively as he stormed the court with his players after their double-overtime victory over then number-2 Sprague last season.
Sometimes he’s stone-cold serious like McNary’s Ryan Kirch trying to ice Reynold’s Jorge Crawford at the free throw line with the game tied and 0.3 seconds remaining in regulation down in Medford late in 2016, using his last two timeouts that worked to perfection as he didn’t show any emotion at all entering overtime that fateful December day.
It’s just who he is, a passionate you-know-what that wants to see his players do well in every way possible.
“I wanted so badly for our kids to have success. Sometimes that came out positively and negatively, but I always was authentic. I loved going to battle with those kids no matter what the outcome was,” said Sanderson.
Sanderson’s influence even influenced some of the coaches around him, like McKay-Grad and former Head Wrestling Coach Troy Thomas.
“I thoroughly enjoyed my four years as Dean’s colleague and although I’m a wrestling coach, he taught me some valuable coaching lessons,” said Thomas. “Dean embodies the McKay spirit and soul; passionate, hard working, and caring. Dean’s players would walk through fire for him, because they know he would do the same for them. His ability to connect with players will make him very successful at his next program.”
The decision to leave wasn’t easy though. He was the longest tenure coach at McKay when he stepped down Tuesday afternoon and becomes the fifth coach in the past 18 months to depart the Scots Athletic Department and third resignation.
The passion was still there even though his McKay team went 0-24 this season. Though they live out on the West Salem side of the bridge, McKay was an important factor to him and his kids who all grew up around the Northeast Salem school.
The memories for Sanderson are endless, it was hard to pick one as many came to mind he said. That’s why the decision was a painful one for him to make, but Sanderson knows that the time has come for a new voice to take over the McKay program entering next season.
“It was really hard to leave. I just know its time now. For the last 10 years being a basketball coach at McKay was a major part of my family’s life. Some of my kids first role models are former McKay basketball players,” said Sanderson. “I have no idea what’s next other than to take a deep breath.
“I have so many on the floor memories that stick out as favorites each year. But my favorite moment was last Friday. We had the majority of our former players from the past eight years at our game. Seeing them back in our locker room and thinking of each of their individual stories and what they are accomplishing now was a realization of how special and important McKay basketball was to me.”