By Tom Ballato
When Orlando Sanchez committed to play for Steve Lavin at St. John’s, he didn’t know that the NCAA was going to rule him ineligible.
Sanchez played for the Dominican Republic’s national team when he was 22 years old. He entered the final minutes of a game and the NCAA determined that was enough to cost him his collegiate eligibility. At 24 years old, the organization said he had used up his four years of eligibility.
Sanchez was denied by the NCAA multiple times before he finally won his appeal against them. He was able to show he experienced hardship and was granted a waiver for a year of eligibility. Sanchez who was born in the Dominican Republic, dropped out of high school to go to work and help his family.
He arrived at St. John’s as a JUCO transfer from Monroe College along with teammate Marc-Antoine Bourgault. Sanchez had a multifaceted skill set which put him on the NBA radar. For his size he was able to guard multiple positions, shoot the ball, rebound, defend, and make plays for others. Sanchez also had a high basketball IQ.
During St. John’s 2013-2014 season, Sanchez appeared in 32 games and drew a start in 18 of those games. He averaged 7.4 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. Sanchez’s former teammate Max Hooper, when asked about Sanchez as player said, “Versatile, unselfish player. Able to play on the perimeter, but also use his size inside. Skillful with the ball. A great passer.”
Sanchez went undrafted in the 2014 NBA Draft, but shortly after signed with the New York Knicks by team president Phil Jackson. He spent training camp with the Knicks before getting waived. He later signed with the Westchester Knicks, the D-League affiliate of the Knicks.
In 33 games with Westchester, he averaged 9.1 points and 6.3 rebounds per game before leaving to sign with a club in the Dominican Republic.
Since he has gone on to play in Venezuela, France, and Lebanon. He is currently playing in Japan in the Japanese B.League for the Shinshu Brave Warriors.
Q & A with Orlando Sanchez
What factored into your decision to come to St. John’s?
Sanchez: (It) was easy to stay in New York close to Monroe College. They had been a family for me. Marco was about to go there also and he had been like my brother. Also Felipe Lopez was a great friend.
You had eligibility issues and were ruled ineligible due to your age and playing basketball after you were 21. How did St. John’s support and help you throughout the process?
Sanchez: St. John’s made sure the even if I wasn’t able to play, I could continue getting my education. All the coaches and teammates supported me to the end of the entire process. They never let me be by myself and were always helping me. I am always going to be thankful for all that they did for me.
What is your favorite memory form your time at St. John’s?
Sanchez: When they told me that I could play and also told me that I could wait for next year and graduate.
After college you signed with the New York Knicks and played a year in the D-League. What was that experience like for you?
Sanchez: From where I come from, that is was a dream come true. It was a great experience for me when I signed with the Westchester Knicks.
Since the Westchester Knicks, you have played in the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, France, and Lebanon. Have there been any adjustments that you have had to make playing overseas?
Sanchez: Not really, because everyplace I go I play different positions. I play the 2, 3, and 4 positions and that helps that team. I help out the team on defense and offense.
Have you signed anywhere for next season?
Sanchez: No, but I am currently looking for a team.
Do you still follow St. John’s basketball?
Sanchez: I follow almost everything they do.