Sometimes, sophomore Vee Sanford reminds us what makes him such a likeable basketball player. Against Syracuse in the Big East Tournament last year, he introduced the Hoya faithful to his beautiful teardrop floater, which he has since used to similar effect against Memphis in December and against Syracuse again on Saturday. Vee, however, does not see a lot of playing time. When point guard Chris Wright broke his hand against Cincinnati last week, most analysts believed that Sanford, along with fellow backup guard Markel Starks, would pick up the bulk of Wright’s minutes against the Orange. In the end however, Sanford played just five minutes, compared to Starks’ 24.
With Wright’s injury coming in the third-to-last game of the regular season, it seemed that the spectacular final campaign of Wright, Austin Freeman and Julian Vaughn was about to go off the rails. The disheartening loss to Syracuse on Senior Day did nothing to assuage concerns about the Wright-less team. Against the Orange, not a single player recorded more than two assists. Starks, who usually plays eight minutes per game, dished out just one assist in 24 minutes, the same kind of uninspiring play that has largely characterized his freshman season.
If you compare the performances of Sanford and Starks, it makes little sense why Starks has received so much more playing time than his sophomore teammate. Sanford is the superior shooter of the two, connecting on 58 percent of his field goals and a spectacular 63 percent from beyond the arc. Starks, on other hand, has shot a mere 22 percent from three-point range and less than 26 percent overall.
Of course, it is arguably unnecessary for a point guard to be a good shooter if they can pass the ball well. Boston Celtics all-star Rajon Rondo is an excellent example. But Starks has been no better than Sanford in this area either. They each notch an assist about every 15 minutes of playing time (by comparison, Wright has tallied an assist every 6 minutes this season), and they have roughly the same ratio of assists to turnovers.
Next year’s basketball team will attempt to replace three of its top four scorers, two of whom are guards. The success of the Hoyas outside game will rely on getting Jason Clark and Hollis Thompson open looks. Their relatively weak inside game will need legitimate threats on the perimeter to help generate opportunities in the paint. Sanford, with his team-best statistics from beyond the arc and his ability to drive the lane and finish, fits the bill. With Starks in the game it’s a different story. As we saw against Syracuse, when Freeman went 2-for-9 from the three-point range, an opposing defense will ignore Starks and swarm more realistic threats.
Although Wright and Freeman will (sadly) be departing after this season, Sanford’s prospects for increased minutes still do not look bright. As his rotation against Syracuse indicated, John Thompson III clearly believes that Starks is his point guard of the future. Next season, Jason Clark and Nate Lubick will be the only returning starters. Hollis Thompson will presumably rejoin the starting line-up, and Henry Sims will likely contend with recruits Mikael Hopkins and Tyler Adams for the last spot in the frontcourt. What seemed in autumn to be an open race between Starks and Sanford for the final starting slot now appears to be, justly or not, a settled matter.
Sanford will be left to contend for minutes with redshirt freshman Aaron Bowen and recruit Jabril Trawick. In what will be a rebuilding year, JTIII may favor Bowen and Trawick over Sanford, envisioning a youthful but tested team two or three seasons from now. It would be a different story if Sanford had continued to play at the rate he did before the Big East schedule began—in that case ,he might have dethroned Starks as the future starting point guard.
Instead, whether Sanford will even be on the squad next year is up in the air. Since the 2005 season, six Hoyas have transferred from Georgetown, including Vernon Macklin, Jeremiah Rivers, Omar Wattad, and most recently, Nikita Mescheriakov. It is possible that Sanford may follow the same path. After his freshman year, a post on Sanford’s Facebook page indicated that he felt he did not play “as much as I deserved.” Although Sanford played almost nine minutes per game in the first half of the season—a sizable number considering that the three star guards are in front of him—his minutes have dried up in 2011. Since Dec. 29, Sanford has played less than four minutes per game. He certainly wouldn’t be the first player to transfer from Georgetown over playing time.
Before the Syracuse game, Jason Clark praised his younger teammate: “[Sanford] hasn’t been playing a lot lately, but he’s been playing very well in practice. I’ve always been in his ear talking to him, you know you’re time is going to come.” His time did not come on Saturday against Syracuse. Will it ever?