Roosevelt Sanders, former Central Boys basketball coach, passed away this weekend, Sanders’ chief assistant Robey Butler confirmed to Tuscaloosa News.
Sanders, 84, coached Central to 699 wins, back-to-back AHSAA state championships in 1990 and ’91, and four Final Four appearances.
He is in the Alabama High School Sports Hall of Fame and the namesake of Central’s gym.
Central had an 86-game home winning streak under Sanders. The state championships were part of a 47-game winning streak. Central won 81.5% of Sanders coached games.
Sanders was the coach when Central was formed in 1979 with a combination of predominantly Black Druid High and predominantly white Tuscaloosa High. In the school’s first season, Central went 29-1, losing only in the postseason.
“It was intense at the beginning because everything was pretty new at the time, but I think sports kept bringing the school together,” Butler said. “It was a bond of everything. Besides, it didn’t hurt that the first football team went 9-1 and the first basketball team went 29-0. The baseball team was really good.”
Joel Good, a two-year varsity player for Sanders, compared the Central program under Sanders to Alabama football under coach Nick Saban — he can remember the losses.
“You couldn’t ask for a better person,” Butler said. “I loved his players, his coaches. I didn’t work for him, I worked with him. We had a great run from ’80 until he left in ’98.”
Sanders was highly respected in the Alabama basketball community and the inaugural coach of the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Basketball Game.
Central called its dressing room the “red room,” Good said. Sanders made it a safe place for many players, with values like God, family, school and Central basketball written on the board, Good said.
Former Central and Overseas star Johnny McDowell said Sanders was guided by instilling trust, leadership and discipline. Although McDowell had a father in his father at home, Sanders was another to him.
“Many of the kids he coached didn’t have a father or uncle to look up to,” McDowell said. “Coach Sanders was that to a lot of people. Coach Sanders did a lot of work, he helped a lot of kids, but he never wanted recognition for it. That’s how he wanted it to be. He did more behind the scenes than we will ever know for kids. “
Some of Sanders’ best battles were against Tuscaloosa County and former coach Bobby Jones. Games tended to score low, but were so intense that it made for exciting basketball, Jones said. Sanders and Central were adept at taking away an opponent’s first option, so Jones always knew he needed a second scorer.
Jones and Sanders were close but great rivals. He knew if his phone rang at 11:30 a.m. or 5:30 a.m., it was Sanders.
“He won and he did it the right way,” Jones said. “Every time I had a child from him or he had one that was handed over to me, we would answer the phone first and say, ‘Why is he coming?’ It wasn’t a recruiting contest. … He never cut corners and did things that were off the board.”
It was Jones and Tuscaloosa County who broke Central’s multi-year home win streak. Jones learned from Sanders and he thinks it was mutually beneficial.
“We were lucky enough to break the streak, but that meant a lot of losses along the way,” said Jones.
Sanders coached three state championships, his first at Tallassee in 1969. After leaving Central, he began an eight-year tenure as head coach at Miles College.
Contact Jerell Rushin at 205-600-4015 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JerellRushin_.