This time last year, Larry Sanders was feeling pretty comfortable heading into his fourth NBA season. After a breakthrough season cemented his fan favorite status and won him a four-year, $44 million extension, Sanders entered camp widely viewed as the team's best player and the franchise's most recognizable face. But Sanders' season was quickly derailed by injuries and troubling off the court issues that forced him to take on a spectator's role, leaving many Bucks fans to question the signing altogether.
Fast forward a year, and the fifth-year big man not surprisingly claims to have learned from the entire experience, insisting that everything that his turbulent season has made him hungrier than ever.
"When you're out, and your team is playing, all of the little things you get caught up in ... they don't matter anymore." Sanders said during the team's Media Day on Monday. "[I'm] probably as hungry as I've ever been to play so I'm excited.
"You learn from different situations on and off the court, and it's all about growth. Nothing grows without pain, nothing grows without struggle, you just kind of have to pick apart the lessons within the struggle."
Sanders was involved in a nightclub brawl in downtown Milwaukee that forced him to miss the early portion of the season. He returned on December 27th, but was sidelined for the remainder of the season shortly after that. On February 8th, Sanders fractured his right orbital bone against the Houston Rockets while contesting a James Harden layup. While he was out, Sanders was suspended five games by the league for violating its drug policy after testing positive for marijuana use.
Without being able to help his team during a brutal season, Sanders is thankful for the many people who guided him during the darkest part of his career.
"I guess when you're in that dark spot you feel alone until the hands start trying to pull you out." Sanders said. "I was thankful that I had people in my corner who wanted the best for me, and wanted to help me out in those situations."
His last incident was a mere stamp on the devastating season, but Sanders says he learned a lot going forward and that if he could change anything from last year, he wouldn't.
"I would say preparation, preparing myself in certain situations. Being mindful of who I am now, the position that I carry on and off the court. And planning ahead, I think that definitely was kind of my weakness. Never really planned ahead, I think that's something very valuable that I see a lot of guys do that are successful. They prepare whatever situation they go into, and they're mindful about it,
"I wouldn't take back anything to be honest," Sanders explained. "I'm not a believer in mistakes, I believe in purpose. To say that one thing is a mistake is to say that the whole system is flawed and I don't believe that. Not everything is going to result in good, but everything has a recipe. You just got to pick apart the lessons within the struggle."
Last season Sanders played in a career-low 23 games. Despite missing time, Sanders was still second among NBA centers in defensive real plus minus (RPM) behind Brooklyn's Kevin Garnett. His health is back to where it needs to be, and he's ready to move past the entire situation.
"It was tough just sitting there not playing when my team was struggling," Sanders said. "I need to feel like I'm a part of that struggle.
"I healed up pretty good, the eye healed up good, the hand was able to do a lot of functionality stuff with the body."
The Bucks had a bright off-season that was highlighted by the team selecting Jabari Parker, another core building block for the team to build on with Sanders and second-year player Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Last year Sanders went into training camp with 11 new teammates as general manager John Hammond sent in a new group of talent. At this point, he's ready to get back to work with his teammates.
"Just excited to get back," Sanders said. "Had a very long time off, didn't play basketball but ... spent a lot of time with the guys working out. Getting myself back in shape ... getting my rhythm back. I'm just excited to play, I'm excited to play with this group of guys. I feel like everyone is here ready and excited to get into the season."