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UT going through changing of guard

12/30/2016, 12:11am EST
By By BRIAN BUCKEY BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Sanford adjusting to playing the point

UT going through changing of guard

Rockets guard Jaelan Sanford shoots during a Dec. 20 game at Savage Arena. BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH

After playing shooting guard for most of his freshman season, University of Toledo sophomore Jaelan Sanford has transitioned to the starting point guard role for the Rockets this season.

After Stuckey Mosley transferred to James Madison in the offseason, the race to be the starting point guard coming into this season was wide open. Sanford has earned the starting spot ahead of freshman Justin Roberts and junior college transfer Lucas Antunez.

“I kind of knew that in the offseason I was playing a lot of point and I was doing well,” Sanford said. “I like it more — having the ball in my hands more — and I feel like I can take control of the team more. I’m definitely learning. Some of the turnovers, I’m going to start cutting down and get ready for MAC play.”

UT coach Tod Kowalczyk said Sanford initially was recruited as a point guard. Sanford was more of a combo guard at Evansville (Ind.) Reitz High School, where he graduated as the school’s all-time leading scorer with 1,544 points. For his AAU team, Pocket City Basketball, Sanford said he spent most of his time at point guard.

“We recruited him as a point guard,” Kowalczyk said.

“Last year, I just felt he was overwhelmed at that position, running the team, knowing the offense. We thought it would be a lot easier for him to play the 2-guard and just concentrate on one position.

“That’s why we didn't play him at the point last year. But we knew he was capable of doing it and, in hindsight, maybe we should have played him more there. This year, I think every game he gets better.”

Sanford said he has learned from Roberts and Antunez, who have more of a traditional point guard skill set. Sanford, at 6-foot-4 and 195 pounds, offers size and scoring ability at the position.

Sanford is third on the team in scoring this season at 12.7 points per game.

So far, he has been able to balance running the team and looking for his shots.

“You just to have to make sure everybody is in the right spot and keep everybody in the game,” Sanford said. “But when I find my shot or if I’m coming off of a screen, I’m still looking to score the same as if I was at the 2-[guard].”

Sanford averaged 1.84 assists per game last season and has seen that climb to 2.4 this season. But at times, he has struggled with turnovers. He has 29 assists and 28 turnovers, something Kowalczyk would like to see improve.

“I think in Jaelan’s case, he obviously is a very good shooter and a very good scorer,” Kowalczyk said. “I’d like to see him have more assists and less turnovers. That would be an important thing for us.”

As Sanford continues to grow in his new role, Kowalczyk thinks he can continue his scoring while helping to put his teammates in position to score.

“I think he still needs to score for us,” Kowalczyk said. “Juice Brown graduated as the third all-time leading scorer in school history, but also second in assists. So [Sanford] can do both. He is an unselfish guy. He’s a team guy, and he’s continuing to get more confident on a game-by-game basis.”

One area where Sanford already has shown growth is on the defensive end of the floor, where he sets the tone for the team by guarding the opposing team’s point guard.

“Defensively, he’s the point of contact,” Kowalczyk said. “He’s a 6-foot-4, big point guard, but he’s also a guy that has very good feet and can stay in front of the dribble. He has continued to get better over time, especially on the defensive end.”

“Definitely guarding the quicker point guards, I have to be quicker on my feet and get better at it defensively,” Sanford said. “I’m feeling more confident at it, too.”

While he didn’t play much point guard his freshman season at UT, Sanford said he can lean on his experience from high school and AAU basketball.

“In high school, I was some point and some 2-guard,” Sanford said. “In travel [AAU], I was mainly a point guard. I have some experience. It’s not like I'm just coming in and having to learn it right away. I like being the point guard.”

CMU SWITCH: The Mid-American Conference announced late Wednesday the Rockets’ game at Central Michigan had been selected to air nationally on the CBS Sports Network.

The announcement will move the game from Jan. 14 to Jan. 13, a Friday. Start time for the contest in McGuirk Arena is 7 p.m.

Contact Brian Buckey at: bbuckey@theblade.com or 419-724-6110.

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Tag(s): College  Toledo