From the ages of 18 to 22, senior forward Zuri Sanders started and ended her collegiate women’s basketball career at Texas Tech.
“This experience has been very, very bittersweet. I still remember the first practice I had in this arena,” Sanders said. “I felt like I was about to pass out, so one of my coaches told me to get on my knees, and the first thing that came across my mind is that this is about to be the longest four years of my life if I can’t even get through a 30-minute workout.”
After competing in her final game as a Lady Raider on Tuesday, March 5, Sanders realized it was possible because she did it, she said.
After four years of competing in the United Supermarkets Arena, Sanders said she has seen growth in herself as a person off the court as well as a player on the court.
“I’ve grown not just as a player but as a person, and I’m excited to see where my future takes me,” Sanders said.
Sanders first stepped onto the court at the USA in 2015 as a true freshman. She went through three tough years with the Lady Raiders, including tearing her ACL as a sophomore.
Thinking back to that injury, Sanders said it has become one of the top three moments in her collegiate career. While this may be odd for most, that time became one of growth for her, she said.
“I know this is crazy to say but my top one would probably be when I tore my ACL because I got so much out of that,” she said. “I know a lot of people when they talk about injuries, it was probably the hardest time in a person’s career, but for me it was a time of growth, and I learned a lot out of it.”
With having to sit out due to injury, Sanders said she was able to study the game mentally which made her stronger physically when it was her time to step back onto the court.
An ACL injury was not the only obstacle Sanders has had to overcome in her time as a Lady Raider. In April 2018, the women’s basketball program announced the hire of new head coach, Marlene Stollings.
“She’s been through a lot in her career here, and she’s hung in there,” Stollings said. “We arrived here about eight or nine months ago, and she’s believed in us from day one.”
After three losing seasons, Stollings was brought in to do what she is best known for, to turn the program around. Sanders went three seasons with the same coach and majority of the same teammates, and before her senior season, everything changed.
Stollings said in the midst of adversity, she has never seen someone of Sanders’ age handle the transition of a new coaching staff months before her senior season started the way Sanders did.
“The biggest thing with Zuri is that she accepted change. Change is hard for everyone, and I don’t know that I’ve been around someone of her age that has accepted change as well as she has,” Stollings said.
Sanders has preached throughout this year that change is inevitable, so one might as well just go with it. She did not expect her senior year to be like this, but it has helped her prepare for the real world after college.
“It definitely prepared me for life and the way I was able to adapt through it, and my support system was so strong,” Sanders said.
Despite the changes made to her senior season, it quickly became one of her favorite years as a Lady Raider, she said.
“Just this team and how we stuck together, nothing has broken us apart,” Sanders said. “Our chemistry is just as strong off the court as it is on the court, and my senior year has been the best year by far, because everyone has everyone else’s best interest at heart and it’s not just as a player, but also as an individual. People truly care for each other on this team, and it shows and I love it.”
The chemistry between the team is something most people looking from the outside would not understand, calling it a sisterhood, she said. There are no groups involved inside the team, and everyone is close with one another.
Freshman guard Chrislyn Carr hit it off with Sanders from the very beginning.
“Zuri is my best friend, she is my rock,” Carr said. “When I’m down she picks me up, when she’s down I pick her up. She’s the best thing I’ve ever had, and she’s a great person to talk to all the time, on and off the court. Our bond is so close, and I wouldn’t trade her for the world.”
Throughout the season, Lady Raider coaches and players would preach about how Sanders is a leader, not only on the court but off the court as well.
“This has been one of my favorite teams to play with,” Sanders said. “I know down the line I’m going to see championships that they win, and I’m going to be so proud that I was able to wear this jersey on my back.”