Joining Oregon State baseball was what Tanner Sanders calls his “last hope” for staying on the Corvallis campus.
He really wanted to play football, which he came to OSU to do, but it didn’t work out with the Beavers. He planned to look elsewhere.
Sanders spent a season as a walk-on with Oregon State basketball before moving on to baseball. His swing was starting to come around after a summer of baseball on an Alaskan collegiate league team in 2016. He was ready to rejoin coach Pat Casey on the diamond for a second season when Beaver basketball coach Wayne Tinkle called.
Tinkle wanted Sanders back, leaving the 2014 Crescent Valley High graduate with a decision.
“I couldn’t really turn down this opportunity right here,” Sanders said earlier this week as he stood inside Gill Coliseum. “I struggled with it for a while because I dedicated a lot of time and went over to Alaska.”
But he knew he could have an immediate impact in basketball. Baseball was much more of an uncertainty. Tinkle and the Beavers were staring at a 2016-17 lineup without much experience or depth, and Sanders could help right away.
“He sets a great example for the other guys, because he’s the one communicating when we say we need more talk,” Tinkle said of Sanders, a 6-foot-5 guard who played in 29 games last season, averaging 8.6 minutes per contest. “He’s flying around defensively, on the ball, off the ball, in the positions we’re trying to get the rest of the guys. He’s someone they can look to and he sets the example.”
With now a deeper and more talented roster, it’s uncertain how much playing time Sanders will get. But Tinkle says every day that Sanders is in uniform he helps the team get better.
Sanders, a speech communications major, and the Beavers open their schedule with a Friday exhibition at home against Pacific. The regular season starts Nov. 10 hosting Southern Utah.
Sanders’ contributions, though limited in playing time, aren’t lost on his opponents. And when younger teammates grow frustrated with their understanding of a new system, Sanders is there to help and maybe crack a joke to lighten the mood.
“Tanner brings a lot. He’s a personality for one. He’s someone everybody gets along with,” junior forward Tres Tinkle said. “Just a happy person, always has positive energy, and that’s what the team needs. Somebody that can make the guys laugh and brings energy every single day.”
Junior forward Drew Eubanks said Sanders is fun to be around but also provides guidance and leadership to the team’s younger players both on and off the floor.
“We always need that,” Eubanks said. “You can have all the young talent you want, but if you don’t have somebody to guide them it makes it difficult to be a better group.”
Sanders is still a leader on the football field even though he no longer plays the sport.
He’s an offensive consultant of sorts at Crescent Valley, where his dad Scott is the head coach and brother Cameron is a junior running back and linebacker.
The Raiders (8-1) open the OSAA 5A state playoffs Friday at home against Marist Catholic, a team CV defeated with a 42-27 comeback win in Eugene in the season opener.
“I just kind of help out wherever I’m needed on the offensive side of the ball,” said Sanders, who has basketball practice in the late morning and early afternoon before heading to Crescent Valley for football practice, working primarily with the quarterbacks and receivers.
Scott Sanders, a former OSU football player whose CV team is seeded fifth in the 5A bracket, said Tanner relates well to the players.
“We have a lot of good coaches on our staff, but he’s that younger coach that probably can talk in a little better language to the kids than we can,” the elder Sanders said. “He’s a good bridge between us old guys and the kids. He has a great offensive mind. He played quarterback, he sees things on the field. I’m an old linebacker, so he has a lot better vision than I do for the offensive side of the ball.”
Cam Sanders said he likes having his older brother around.
“It’s awesome because he gives you more tough love,” he said. “Tanner is an athlete still so he still has that mentality.”
Sanders will miss the first two weeks of the state playoffs because of his basketball schedule but would likely be available if the Raiders reach the semifinals.
Sanders has had an uncommon ride through his athletic career, having donned uniforms for three different sports at the major college level.
The path has taken many turns with hurdles to overcome. But he felt comfort when he got the invitation from coach Tinkle to return to basketball that he was where he was supposed to be.
“It’s been crazy at times. Fun, obviously, been tough at times. But I never really thought I’d be a college basketball player when I was playing in high school, with the three sports that I played,” he said. “But I couldn’t be happier with where I’m at and this group of guys and coaching staff.”