Husky Junior Mark Sanford Playing Key Role In Men's Basketball Revival

From the living room window inside his Lake City apartment, Mark Sanford can see that snow is beginning to cover the peaks of the Cascades and notices a small watercraft drifting along the shores of Lake Washington.

His father, Richard, would love this view.

Richard Sanford worked at a printing company in Dallas during the day, but in his heart, he was an artist. He painted acrylics of landscapes and sold his works on the street. As a young boy, Mark would sit next to his father, brush in his hand, and paint.

Sanford hasn't painted in nearly six years. Not since his father was killed, shot by a youth who was attempting to rob him.

"I like this place because it's away from school and quiet," Sanford said. "I can chill here without distractions. So much is happening on campus, that I need a place to just relax.

"My dad would have liked it because you don't see things like this in Dallas. He liked to paint scenic things. Landscapes and stuff. He would just sit here all day and paint away."

Richard Sanford never saw his son play basketball. When he died, Mark was 14 years old, stood 5 foot 8 and played football. Mark told his father that he would play in the NFL, but in his heart - even back then - he felt he would never leave the impoverished neighborhood of South Oak Hill, Texas.

Nobody he knew ever left. At least not alive.

Mark Sanford never imagined that he would grow eight inches in four years. He never expected his mother would take him and his brothers to San Diego for his senior high-school season or that Washington would offer him a basketball scholarship.

When Washington meets Brigham Young tonight in the season opener at Edmundson Pavilion, Mark Sanford, a 6-foot-8 junior, will assume his role as starting forward for the Huskies for the third consecutive year.

Just before tipoff, he will take a mental trip to Dallas. He goes there to find his nerve, that me-against-the-world impetus that has driven him to be regarded as one of the top players in the Pac-10 Conference. His journey will take him along drug-infested streets, where he'll relive memories with friends who had tremendous basketball talent, but never made it out of the neighborhood. He'll remember how close he came to succumbing to the criminal activities.

And mostly he'll think about his father.

Richard Sanford never saw his son dunk a basketball. Or block a shot. Or shoot a three-pointer.

If he had, he might say what Husky Coach Bob Bender said: "Mark is an exciting, almost dazzling, player. He can only get better and better. . . . He means a lot to us because he's capable of doing so much."

The spark of revival?

Richard Sanford's son, the former artist and football player, is a basketball player. He is the scoring (16.5 point per game average) and rebounding (6.1) leader on a Husky team picked by league coaches to finish in the middle of the Pac-10.

He's scored 1,000 points faster than any other Washington player, but his place in UW history has yet to be determined. When his career is over, he might be remembered for his role in reviving Husky men's basketball.

"I'll admit that we've almost turned the corner in terms of fan support and creating the type of enthusiasm about Washington basketball that I would like to see," Bender said. "I still think people are waiting. . . . The expectations will increase. People want more."

Perhaps Sanford can fill that need.

He is Washington's most recognizable Husky since Detlef Schrempf. He is the Huskies' Shawn Kemp - a crowd-pleasing, high-flying dunker capable of bringing fans out of their homes on a rainy December evening and into Edmundson Pavilion.

Sanford's game is tension and drama, though he is dependent on others for scoring.

Offensively, he has difficulty creating shots for himself. His three-point shooting and ball handling are improving, but he flourishes on the fast break and is a tremendous finisher, a la Kemp.

He often fights double-teams underneath the basket, waiting for the slightest opening to the basket before taking a pass and hammering down a dunk.

Perhaps that explains why he and point-guard Jan Wooten, a junior-college transfer, spend late night hours inside Edmundson Pavilion perfecting alley-oop passes.

For a budding Husky program seeking a following, Mark Sanford is the attraction.

"I'm probably 100 percent basketball player and 20 percent entertainer," Sanford said. "Coach doesn't like that entertaining part. . . . But the way I see it, the crowd is there for a reason. We don't play in empty gyms. They're there to see you win. They don't want to see a 43-40 game. They want to see something."

It took Bender two years to stabilize the program and last season he provided enough wins (16) to pique the interest of the Seattle fans. The women's team has outdrawn the men's for years but is in period of flux after Chris Goebrecht's resignation.

The opportunity seems perfect for a revival of men's basketball. Season-ticket sales have increased nearly 11.8 percent. A year ago, Washington sold 3,261 men's season tickets. This year, 3,701 have been sold.

Twelve Washington games will appear on cable television and two will air on network TV. Husky officials expect sellout home crowds against top-ranked Cincinnati, No. 11 Arizona and No. 13 UCLA.

"We've finally got the exposure this year after years when nobody cared too much about Washington basketball," Sanford said. "Now that we got the exposure and expectations, we need to win."

UW men's schedule NOVEMBER: 26, vs. Brigham Young, 7 p.m. 30, vs. Portland State, 1 p.m. DECEMBER: 3, vs. Idaho, 7 p.m. 5, at Old Dominion, 4:35 p.m. 7, at James Madison, 10 a.m. 21, at Portland, 7 p.m. 23, vs. Loyola Marymount, 7 p.m. 28, vs. Eastern Washington, 1 p.m. JANUARY: 2, at Southern California, 7 p.m. 4, at UCLA, 1 p.m. 9, vs. Oregon State, 7 p.m. 11, vs. Oregon, 7 p.m. 18, at Washington State, noon. 23, at Stanford, 7:30 p.m. 25 at California, 7:30 p.m. 30, vs. Arizona State, 7 p.m. FEBRUARY: 2, vs. Arizona, 12:30 p.m. 6, at Oregon, 7:30 p.m. 8, at Oregon State, 7 p.m. 10, vs. Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m. 15, vs. Washington State, 7 p.m. 20, vs. California, 7 p.m. 22, vs. Stanford, 2 p.m. 27, at Arizona State, 7:30 p.m. MARCH: 2, at Arizona, 12:45 p.m. 6, vs. UCLA, 7 p.m. 8, vs. Southern California, 3 p.m.