Saunders dominant at Richard Bland

Published 5:01 pm Tuesday, February 1, 2022

By Barbara Boxleitner

Freshman Kelby Saunders Jr. has been dominant for the Richard Bland College of William & Mary men’s basketball team.

The Smithfield High School graduate has performed so well that he actually started the most games — 15 — on the team through 17 games (6-11) and ranked third in minutes per game.

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That itself was unexpected by the 6-foot-4, 193-pound Saunders, who plays the stretch position.

“To know he (coach) believed in me that much, it just shows how much trust he has in me, which is also a confidence booster,” said the son of Kendra and Kelby Saunders Sr. “I’m very confident when the coach puts me in.”

He trained diligently during the summer to prepare for the season, working daily on conditioning and skills. “If I couldn’t get to the court, I’d shoot the ball in the air,” he said.

His effort has shown in his performance. He averaged 7.6 points per game, third on the squad and first among the freshmen.

Though his size allowed him to dominate during high school action, college opponents are equally big. He worked hard to overcome early scoring struggles. He had eight points in his debut, then two points and zero in the next games.

Two games later, however, he had 14 points, the first of four double-digit efforts within a seven-game span.

Andrew Lacey, Richard Bland assistant athletics director and head men’s basketball coach, credited Saunders’ maturity for his adjustment. “How he approaches practices and games to get better, instead of dominating people because of his physical ability,” he said. “Now he understands he has to fight through the adversity.”

Saunders focused on improving his jump shots and perimeter attempts so that he could be a threat from all over the floor. His 41.7% shooting percentage was among the better ones on the team for those with the most attempts.

Six times he scored at least 10 points, and he had a high of 16 against Denmark Technical College, when he tied a teammate for the most points. He led the Statesmen with 10 rebounds, the third time he recorded a double-double.

“He’s very, very athletic,” the coach said. “Sometimes he plays on the perimeter, and he goes inside and he dictates.”

Saunders led the team by averaging 6.2 rebounds per game, reaching double figures five times.  He had a season-high 11 rebounds twice.

On defense, he said he usually guards a forward or one of the bigger guys. “Being a little undersized, it’s pretty hard,” he said. “It is definitely a competition. It’s way more physical.”

Desire and technique have helped him excel defensively. “He’s aggressive. He plays hard. He’s getting in the right spot. It enables him to be able to rebound,” Lacey said.

Among the team’s freshmen, he led with 1.4 steals per game. He had a high of seven in a loss to Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute, leading players from both teams.

He had a game-high five steals during a win over Sandhills, when he added 14 points and nine rebounds in what he called one of his best all-around performances.

“You want to affect the game in multiple ways,” the coach said. “You want to fill up the stat sheet.”