Connections lead former NBA great Mike Sanders to SCC

Published 12:02 am Wednesday, December 14, 2016

LAPLACE — Over the course of an 11-year career as a professional basketball player, Mike Sanders has traveled the world playing in the biggest arenas.

Over 14 years as a coach, he traveled some more.

So how did the 56-year-old native of DeRidder, a Louisiana Sports Hall of Famer, end up in the St. Charles Catholic High School gymnasium, teaching the game to a bunch of girls?

Blame love and basketball.

Sanders, a 6-foot-6 point guard who left DeRidder for UCLA, then played for San Antonio, Phoenix, Cleveland and Indiana in the NBA, had recently settled down in LaPlace with his wife, St. John Parish District Attorney Bridget Dinvaut.

Meanwhile, longtime high school coach Kathy Luke was still settling into her new role as coach of the Riverside Lady Rebels. Then, the St. John the Baptist Parish Recreation Department offered a clinic to local coaches.

Luke decided to go.

“He had this book and I knew it wasn’t just some random guy from around here,” Luke said.

“After his presentation we got to talking. I didn’t know who he was. I told him, if he ever wanted to come and help me out, to come on.”

A few months later, Luke and her husband Jay Luke, who is an assistant district attorney in Terrebonne Parish, went to a D.A.’s convention in Florida, where they happened to run into Dinvaut and Sanders.

While their spouses talked law, Luke and Sanders talked basketball and Luke reiterated her offer. This time, Sanders accepted.

Luke has since hopped from Riverside Academy to St. Charles Catholic, where she wants to build a winning program.

“She has always created a winning culture, wherever she’s been,” Sanders said. “I really like the way she teaches these girls and helps them develop. She puts the work in and it pays off.”

St. Charles was 16-13 last year and earned a spot in the Class 2A playoffs for the first time since 2008. They lost to Rayville in the first round.

Luke has her work cut out for her trying to replace last year’s leading scorer Lela Hill. The Comets were 3-2 heading into this week.

“We beat De La Salle (26-22), who I thought was a very physical and well coached team,” Luke said. “We’re struggling on the offensive end, but our defense is making up for it. Hopefully we’ll continue to get better as time goes on.”

Luke said returning player Caroline Julian has taken over at point guard and is getting the job done.

The addition of Sanders to her staff can only help the program grow, Luke said.

“We hit the jackpot,” she said.

As a high school player, he averaged 27.3 points and 17.2 rebounds per game. He was recruited heavily by Kentucky, New Mexico, Texas-El Paso and UCLA, which had another former DeRidder player on the roster. LSU jumped in at the last minute.

Sanders chose UCLA and was instrumental in the team’s NCAA championship season in 1979-80. He was voted the MVP of the NCAA West Regionals.

He also was a two-time All-Pac 10 player and finished 15th on the Bruins’ career scoring list with 1,210 points. He was selected by the Kansas City Kings with the 74th pick of the 1982 NBA draft. He retired as a Cleveland Cavalier in 1993 after averaging eight points and three rebounds in his career.

He then went on to a successful career as a coach, ending up with the Utah Jazz.

He was inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in 2000.

Most of his new players have no idea who he is or what he’s accomplished.

“I don’t think they know, unless they  Google me,” Sanders said. “Most of these girls, I’ve been retired longer than they’ve been alive.”

Dinvaut said her husband prefers to fly under the radar.

“He never talks about it,” she said. “People would never know how successful he is or all the things he has done. He’d rather talk to you about cutting the grass. But, you know, it’s one of the qualities I admire and love most about him. He’s a genuinely modest and humble person.”

Luke said having Sanders at her back can only help her make St. Charles better.

“Having Mike on our staff is an honor and a privilege,” Luke said. “Me, being a basketball buff, not only am I excited that he can help our girls, but I can learn from him too. He coached on the NBA level — he sure can strategize as well as I can.”

Luke spent 27 seasons at Vandebilt Catholic High School in Houma, where she led the Lady Terriers to five consecutive semifinals and a Class 4A championship in 2010.

She was inducted into the Louisiana High School Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2013.

“We compliment each other very well,” Luke said. “He’s a very soft-spoken man and I am not a very soft-spoken woman.”

Sanders, who has never coached high school basketball — or girls, for that matter — said he is getting used to things.

“It’s a little different from boys because, you know, girls are more girlie,” he said.

He also has had to familiarize himself with the rules.

“The first game, there was this one girl and she was really good but she would come down and then she would hop and then shoot the ball. I was, like, can you hop like that? In the NBA, that’s a travel.”

Sanders said he does occasionally get recognized in his new hometown and as the team makes its way through the area.

“They’ll look at me and say, ‘Don’t I know you from somewhere?’” he said.