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Counseling consumes ex-Coug

David Sanders has dealt with pain, both physical and emotional, for a great deal of his life. Kismet led him to a career helping others deal with theirs.

Basketball consumed the life of the Greater Spokane League career scoring leader at Central Valley and starter at Washington State until a hip injury diagnosed before his senior year in college left him in chronic, debilitating pain.

He was ultimately forced to re-evaluate his life and was guided into counseling, where today he ministers to suffering adults at Westminster Chapel, a non-denominational church in Bellevue, Wash.

It may be someone who has lost a job, lost a spouse or even wants to end his or her life, said his wife, Tiffany. He provides donated cars to single mothers, counsels those struggling in marriages and finds lodging for women in abusive relationships, she explained.

“On a daily basis he fields phone calls from people hurting in life’s most horrible circumstances and provides help and hope,” she said. “I don’t know how he does it.”

Perhaps it is because he has experienced their hurt. His college career and plan to teach and coach was scuttled because of injury. When Sanders was 3 years old, his dad was killed and his mother, Karen, nearly so.

“My mom and dad and two of their best friends, who were in the back seat, were in an awful accident,” Sanders said.

They had been to dinner in Idaho and their car flipped on I-90, he said. Three people were killed. His mother, said Sanders, “shot out the window and it took quite some time to find her.”

Sanders and his siblings were raised by their mom following Karen’s extensive rehabilitation and with family help. Later, David said, an uncle who was a Vietnam veteran and had helped babysit the youngsters, took his life.

Even today memories linger.

“Losing a son (who was stillborn in his wife’s sixth month of pregnancy) and having a son, brought up a lot of stuff,” Sanders said.

When his son turned 3, “All of a sudden it hit me that when I was his age I had no dad. I had to work through that – what’s it like playing with him – because I played by myself.”

Twenty-five years ago you’d never have known what the introverted Sanders had gone through. He was one of three sophomore prodigies on the basketball varsity at University High, who would, by graduation in 1985, rewrite Greater Spokane League record books.

Basketball proved a salvation, he said, for a shy, directionless kid and indifferent student. He still counts then-CV coach Terry Irwin, and before that middle school coach Denis Rusca, as father figures and role models.

He transferred to CV as a junior, something he anguishes over to this day, Sanders said, because “it was hinted to me more than once that I wouldn’t start (at U-Hi) had I stayed. I was not a natural point guard and we already had other guards there.”

He showed unlimited range in the days before the 3-point arc and would set the single-season scoring record with 387 points, averaging 25.4 per game, that broke by 14 John Stockton’s mark set five years earlier. He totalled 845 for his league career, 40 more than ex-Titans teammate and rebound record setter Bill Ames – both surpassing the former record of Lewis and Clark’s Clay Damon. Another Titan, Steve Ranniger, moved into fourth place, 86 points behind Sanders.

Sanders showed flashes of that scoring ability during a star-crossed career at WSU.

He had a 13-point game playing sparingly as a freshman. Then a viral infection forced him to take a medical redshirt. He returned in 1987-88 to start 12 of 18 Pac-10 games. In one, Sanders scored 32, including the winning 3-pointer in overtime, against Stanford. He led the team in scoring (12.9 points per game) and free throw shooting percentage.

A back injury limited his junior season and the summer before his senior year, Sanders said, he was working out in Bohler Gym with a friend.

“I still remember as clear as day,” he said. “I told him ‘my hip feels heavy and I can’t jump.’ ”

Despite the injury, he played in all 29 games for Kelvin Sampson, but averaged just six points per game.

“Apparently I tore the labrum and it jammed in there,” Sanders said. “It didn’t show up on an MRI. I lived with it for 15 years and had to leave high school teaching and coaching because I couldn’t stand any longer.”

After teaching and attempting to coach he went back to Washington State and got his masters in psychology in 1994, met Tiffany, a track athlete, and married. He became a school counselor as she pursued her television career as a weather broadcaster, first in Kennewick, then in Tucson and back to the Seattle area.

It was there 10 years ago that, after failing to find school work despite six job interviews, he found a new career at Westminster as a counselor and psychologist.

“I oversee two things,” he said, “the benevolence fund and am director of the counseling department. It’s nothing particularly glamorous. All I hear are sad stories all day long.”

Because of the job and his own experiences, he was taken with philosophy, Sanders said, trying to understand why there is so much pain and suffering in the world. That interest led him to also teach college classes.

“It’s something I wouldn’t have thought I would have been interested in,” he said.

He hasn’t played basketball nor seen a high school game since coaching during his first teaching position at Freeman, and said being unable to exercise vigorously has been difficult. As he ages, sports have declined in significance. Being a father is uppermost.

Sanders said he spends most of his time laughing with daughter Rebecca, 8, who loves ballet and soccer. He wrestles with his son, Luke, 4, who loves playing with toy monster trucks. He and Tiffany push neither in athletics.

“If they’re not taken with sports, have no interest in basketball, it’s fine by me,” he said.

It wasn’t until 2000 that Sanders discovered surgery similar to the one Alex Rodriguez recently underwent. Had it been around a decade earlier, he said, it would have resolved the problem. Sanders, by then, had paid with nerve and arthritic damage that altered his career.

Forced to overcome obstacles of his own, Sanders has been able to give hope to others as a result.

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