Sanderson brothers battle one more time in TPS-MA rivalry
Brothers Garrett (top) and Grant Sanderson will face each other one more time on Friday when Montgomery Academy and Trinity play their final regular season game. (Photos by Drew Gayle)
By Tim Gayle
There’s a rivalry between Montgomery Academy and Trinity, but it’s even more intense between brothers Garrett and Grant Sanderson. That’s because Garrett plays for Montgomery Academy, while Grant plays for Trinity.
“There’s talk, for sure, definitely a lot of talk,” said Garrett, a senior guard for the Eagles. “He knows how I play, I know how he plays, so we try to see if we can limit each other in certain things. At the end of the day, whoever wins can talk at the dinner table; whoever loses has to sit there quietly and listen.”
The two teams have split their series this season, with Trinity winning in the Capital City Conference tournament finals and Montgomery Academy winning the regular season matchup on Jan. 20. The rubber match will be held on Friday at Montgomery Academy.
“There’s a lot of talk,” said Grant, a sophomore guard for the Wildcats. “One and one, he beat me once, I beat him once. This last game is a big game for us. His last game against me, my last game against him, it’s kind of like a rivalry. There’s a lot of talk, a lot of smack.”
The pair grew up in Nashville, the third and fourth sons of Scott and Ronda Sanderson. Scott was the basketball coach at Lipscomb University, so the pair attended Lipscomb Academy together.
“We always play pickup games together, but never really get a chance to play together in school basketball,” Grant said. “But the experience of playing together as brothers is always there.”
When their uncle, Jim Sanderson, elected to give up coaching at Faulkner University, an offer was made to Jim’s younger brother Scott, who came down to coach the 2014-15 season but left the brothers behind in Nashville.
"All my boys had gone to Lipscomb,” Scott said. “They had all gone to the same school and (Grant) said, ‘If we find schools that fit us, do you mind if we go to different schools? I just want to be Grant, I don’t want to be Garrett’s younger brother, I just want to be Grant.’ So I really feel like Trinity fit Grant the best and I think MA really fit Garrett the best. So when that transpired that way, we allowed it to happen.”
The brothers arrived in May of 2015, eager to look at the four private schools the parents had selected as the finalists. Montgomery Academy was one of the schools slated for a visit on the first day, while Trinity was on the list for a visit on the second day.
“I’m down at the state tennis tournament in Mobile when I get a call,” said Trinity basketball coach Jack Schweers. “Garrett said he was going to MA, he wanted to be on a good team, and Grant said he liked Trinity. So it stayed like that for a month, back and forth. Finally, (Scott) called and said Garrett was going to MA, Grant was going to Trinity and I was like, I don’t know about that, we are really bitter rivals.”
Grant said an underlying reason for his decision was to try out for catcher on the Wildcats’ baseball team.
“Trinity had a better baseball team,” Grant said. “I figured I could play baseball here, he could play basketball there. As crazy as it turns out, I’m not even playing baseball anymore.”
It’s only natural Grant would turn back to basketball, especially in the state of Alabama where his father has been a successful basketball coach at the University of Mobile — before going to Lipscomb — and now at Faulkner; where his uncle Jim had coached for 24 years, winning an NAIA national championship; and where his grandfather Wimp had become the winningest coach in University of Alabama history, making the NCAA Tournament 10 times in his 12 years as a Crimson Tide coach from 1980-92.
“They’ve heard about it and they’ve seen his house with all the Alabama stuff in there, but they weren’t born when he was coaching there,” Scott said. “They are aware of it, obviously, but I don’t think that plays a factor in it. And being my sons, they’ve been accustomed to it for so long I don’t think that creates any pressure on them to play well, either.”
The rivalry is now in its second and final year, a bit more intense as Garrett has developed into the Eagles’ top offensive threat while Grant has refined his role as a defensive specialist.
“I enjoy it,” Scott said. “Their mom doesn’t really enjoy it. Somebody’s going to win, somebody’s going to lose, in the week leading up to it they get to going back and forth at each other. But they’ve been going at it in the driveway against each other for so long, I just like watching my kids compete.
“Garrett, being the kind of player he is, an offensive-minded player, and Grant being the kind of player he is, more of a defensive-minded player, they end up matched up on each other quite a bit.”
To see one brother matched up on the other is a treat for the ordinary basketball fan, but it can be quite intense for the brothers.
“I think I know how he plays because I’ve been playing against him since childhood,” Grant said. “So I feel like it’s my job, because I know how he plays, to guard him. I take pride in my defense. I just feel like that’s what I’m good at. I’m passionate about playing defense.”
He’s a pretty good actor, too, if you take the perspective of the older brother.
“He’s one of those kids that likes to flop a little bit,” Garrett said. “If I step back and nudge him, he’s going to act like I shoved him and fall way back. That’s actually how I got my fourth foul in the CCC Tournament by doing that. He got my fourth foul in the regular-season game, too, doing something just like that. It’s just a way of getting under my skin like, I guess, all little brothers do.”
Under your skin? No, that comes later that night when the two arrive at the house and start talking about the game.
“’Did you like that fourth foul I gave you? Did you like it?’ Garrett recounted his brother’s challenge. ‘”Yeah, I liked it, Grant, I liked it.’”
Their final act will take place on Friday in the Montgomery Academy gym. Because the two schools play in different classifications, they will not have the opportunity to face each other in the playoffs.
“Mom has a shirt that’s cut in half,” Grant said. “One side has Trinity on it, one side has MA on it. They want us both to excel and they’re always cheering us on. She does so much for us, it’s just crazy. She had seven games (last) week. We’re so grateful for her.”
Scott, meanwhile, will be with Faulkner’s basketball team as it plays on Thursday at Blue Mountain College, northwest of Tupelo, Miss., before traveling to Hattiesburg, Miss., for a game in Southern Mississippi’s gym against William Carey University on Saturday.
“I’m trying to figure out how to play our games, practice and still drive back four hours to watch them play, then get back over there to Mississippi,” Scott said. “I don’t want to miss Garrett’s last game of the regular season (when he is honored on Senior Day) and obviously those two playing each other adds a lot of meaning to it as well. To me, it’s kind of sad because we had four boys and the older two have moved out and now Garrett is about to finish his senior season at MA and move out as well. It just goes by so fast.”
After four meetings over the last two years, the fifth and final meeting will leave bittersweet memories for both brothers.
It could prove to be a special memory the day after the game as well.
“If I win, he has to serve me food,” Grant said. “If I lose? I don’t know, it’s just rough. I hope I don’t lose.”