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Can you believe it's been 20 years since The Shoe debut?

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     Steve Sanders was a wide receiver from Cleveland, Ohio, who played four years for the University of Cincinnati football team. But that's not how he will be remembered on the UC campus.

 

     This is what made Sanders part of Bearcat basketball history: It was his 3-pointer from the corner as time ran out that gave Cincinnati a 66-64 victory over Minnesota in the first game ever at Shoemaker Center - and the first game of the Bob Huggins era.

 

     That was 20 years ago this week.

 

     Here is what led up to Nov. 25, 1989 ...

 

     Sanders' last football season was 1988. He knew he was coming back to UC for a fifth year to try and complete requirements for his degree. In the spring of 1989, Sanders was playing intramural basketball and caught the eye of new assistant basketball coach Larry Harrison. Harrison, who was on the lookout for players, asked News Record reporter Branson Wright about Sanders and another football player, Roosevelt Mukes. Wright was friends with Sanders, who played pickup games every off-season with UC basketball players, felt he held his own and often wondered whether he could play Division I basketball.

 

     The next fall, Sanders joined the basketball team for preseason conditioning, then had second thoughts.

 

     "That was the hardest thing I ever did in my life," Sanders said. "I talked to Coach Harrison and said, 'I don't know if I can do this.' We just ran so much. I actually stopped for about two weeks."

 

     When practices officially started, UC held walk-on tryouts. Sanders and Mukes both showed up.

 

     "Coming in, I didn't really expect to play a lot," Sanders said. "I thought maybe I could play five or 10 minutes a game and just enjoy the experience. But as time went on, I started feeling more and more comfortable. I thought to myself, 'I could play a lot.' "

 

     Huggins was beginning to assert himself as the Bearcats coach and certainly grabbed the attention of the players.

 

     "He was a maniac," Sanders said. "The yelling and the screaming didn't bother me. I came from a football background, and that's all football coaches do is yell and scream. But it was something to go through, just the hard work. Practice was so intense for 3½ hours. He never let us cheat ourselves. I was in the best shape of my life playing basketball."

 

     By the first game, the 6-foot-2 Sanders was in the starting backcourt with Andre Tate.

 

     "The whole time leading up to the Minnesota game, he never let us think that we weren't good enough to win," Sanders said of Huggins. "We had an awful lot of confidence, which he gave us. And the coaching staff did a great job with the scouting report. Everything he said that they would do during the game, they did."

 

     Sanders, who would average 7.0 points and 2.5 rebounds for the season, had four points all game. Until the very end.

 

     In the final seconds, Kevin Lynch of Minnesota tried to save a ball from going out of bounds and throw it off the leg of UC's Keith Starks. He missed, and the ball bounced down the court and went out of bounds right under the UC basket. Eight-tenths of a second remained on the clock.

 

     Huggins called a timeout. The first thing he said was, "You guys are going to win this basketball game."

 

     The play designed called for Tate to inbound the ball and lob it toward the basket for either Starks, Levertis Robinson or Lou Banks, all great leapers. As the huddle broke, Huggins grabbed Sanders by the arm and said, "Steve, if they can't get it inside, you have to break around because Andre's going to throw you the ball."

 

     Sure enough, Tate couldn't get the ball where he wanted. Sanders broke toward the ball, faked back, then went to the corner in front of the UC bench. Tate delivered a perfect pass. Sanders caught it and shot it, his first 3-point attempt of the night.

 

     "It felt perfect," Sanders said. "It felt like I just placed the ball into the basket. It had to go in. I saw it and when it went in, I was so happy. There was so much energy flowing through my body I cannot explain. I jumped up and down and ran, and they chased me and caught me. They dived on top of me. They picked me and then I got down and ran across the court and up into the stands. Everybody was off the court but me. I'm still running around in the stands. Then I run down back through the court again. When I finally got in the locker room, I was so hyped and excited, I just had to go lay down on the floor in the shower. ... It was truly amazing."

 

   It's now 2009. Sanders laughs when he gets the call for this story.

 

   "When you say it's been 20 years, my first thought is, Wow, I'm getting old," he said laughing. "My second thought is, I always go back to a conversation I had with Coach Harrison right after the game. He told me I would go down in UC history, and I told him that in two weeks nobody would remember that shot. So here we are 20 years later and we're talking about it.

 

   "What I see now is that it was the beginning of the resurgence of Cincinnati basketball. I know what it was before I played, and I see how it is now."

 

   Sanders, whose daughter Brianna was a star at Princeton and now is on Ohio State's women's basketball team, remains in Cincinnati. He is a senior program director for the YMCA of Greater Cincinnati working at the Carl H. Lindner YMCA in the West End. He's worked with the YMCA for 17½ years, including stops at branches in Lincoln Heights and Madisonville.

 

   "It just feels like it gives me a chance to give back to a community that's similar to where I grew up (in East Cleveland) - a lot of single-parent homes, families that are not as fortunate as they would like to be," Sanders said. 

 

   "We're in a $10 million state-of-the-art facility. The kids have a chance to feel good about where they're going and what we're doing for them. I just love what I am doing."

 

 

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