Mark Sanchez was disappointed, but not all that surprised when he opened up the Tucson Citizen on March 23, 2005.
Not only did the Desert View power forward who averaged 18.5 points per game his senior season for coach Juan Rojas’ Jaguars not make the newspaper’s first-team boys basketball all-star team, he didn’t make the cut for second- or third-team honors.
Four years later, Sanchez is an All-Western Athletic Conference star, leading the Boise State Broncos into Thursday’s WAC quarterfinals and hoping to play in his second straight NCAA Tournament.
“It would get frustrating in high school when nobody would notice, but it was sort of one of those things you just accepted,” said Sanchez, an admitted late-bloomer in basketball. “But I never stopped playing, never stopped working. My brother (Marcelino “Nino” Sanchez) wouldn’t let me. I don’t know what he saw, but he was the one that saw something in me and knew this was possible.”
Few of the 15 players selected ahead of Mark Sanchez for that 2005 all-star squad have enjoyed the collegiate basketball success he has. And none is knocking on the door of a second straight NCAA Tournament appearance.
More importantly for the 6-foot-7, 235-pound Boise State forward who started his college career with two seasons at Pima Community College, he will become the first person in his family to graduate from college when he accepts a degree in communications in May.
“From where I started to where I am now,” Mark said, “I never would have thought all this would happen.”
• • •
Growing up, Mark Sanchez was a star baseball player in the Sunnyside Little League, making annual trips to state and regional tournaments with the league’s all-star teams.
In high school, he says, basketball was nothing more than something to pass the time and keep his grades up until baseball season. That is, at least, until he quit the baseball team when his pride took too much of a hit from being benched for an older player that Sanchez felt had less talent.
It also came at a time when his parents were going through a divorce, leading Sanchez to move in with his older brother, a move they both now credit with his staying on the straight and narrow.
“If he would have stayed around there (at his parents house during the divorce) at that time,” says 29-year-old brother Nino Sanchez, “it could have all gone to waste like it does with too many other kids on the South Side of Tucson. I wanted to keep him away from that and put him in the right direction.”
So the high school sophomore moved into his older brother’s house, but had to accept the stern, tough love of a brother seven years his senior who cracked down on schoolwork and wouldn’t even allow girlfriends.
What Nino did allow was Mark to come to the basketball courts with him in the summers to play against much older, stronger players who didn’t show much sympathy for the young Sanchez.
“I was taking him to the parks with me all summer and he was 6-foot-2, 6-3, and everybody was there thinking he was a man, but he was just a 15-16 year old kid at the time,” said Nino Sanchez, who works at Los Niños Elementary School in the Sunnyside School District. “All these grown men were there battling with him. Then he got back to school, and he realized he was pretty good.”
But not good enough for Nino Sanchez to take it easy on his younger brother.
“He was always telling me what I did wrong, what I could do better,” recalls Mark. “Never settle. It was tough sometimes. I would sit there wondering if he even wanted me to succeed because even after I had a good game, he’d be the first to point to what I could have done better.”
By his senior season at Desert View, his coach began realizing Mark Sanchez was more than just a good high school player. Rojas, who fondly remembers Mark Sanchez’s school-record 22 rebounds against Sahuaro in 2005 and the streak of 30 consecutive free throws he made that season, said none of it would have happened had it not been for the support of his older brother.
“Nino Sanchez took care of his little brother,” said Rojas. “He was at every single game, followed him everywhere, drove him everywhere to practices, everywhere. It was a pretty special deal to see someone care that much.”
• • •
After his senior season, the Tucson Citizen all-star team snub wasn’t the only indication Mark Sanchez wasn’t getting noticed. No major college had interest and he ended up fighting for playing time at Pima Community College.
Nino Sanchez accepted an assistant coaching position the two seasons Mark Sanchez played at Pima, again critiquing his brother every step of the way.
Mark Sanchez took the coaching and tough love from his older brother and developed into a sophomore star at Pima, earning First-Team All-Region 1, Division 2 honors after averaging 19.7 points, 8.3 rebounds and two blocked shots per game.
Still, he didn’t get a scholarship from Boise State until after an opposing coach tipped off Broncos coach Greg Graham.
“Coach (Jerry) Carrillo at Cochise (College), his guys were getting recruited by Boise State and he told them, ‘You have to look at this kid at Pima,’ ” Mark Sanchez said. “So even then, it wasn’t exactly the easiest way to Division I basketball. I got a little lucky, but I got here.”
• • •
At Boise State, Mark Sanchez spent his junior season playing behind two all-league forwards, Matt Nelson and Reggie Larry. While he admits the limited playing time was frustrating, he said being a part for the first time of a title team made it all worth it.
Boise State shared a piece of the WAC’s 2008 regular season title and knocked off New Mexico State in triple overtime in the conference tournament championship game, earning a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
This year, Mark Sanchez opened the season winning two WAC Player of the Week awards by the middle of December. He ended the regular season with a team-high 12.8 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. Sunday, the league’s coaches voted him second-team All-WAC.
“This year, I’ve just been trying to use everything I’ve learned through the years to get back to that championship level,” Sanchez said. “It’s been a long road, but one that has gone by so fast. Right now, I just don’t want it to end.”
Boise State plays New Mexico State in the WAC quarterfinals in Reno, Nev., at noon Thursday.
The winner likely draws the league’s No. 1 seed, Utah State (27-4) in the semifinals. Even if the season for 19-11 Boise State doesn’t end with another trip to the NCAA Tournament, Mark Sanchez has already accomplished plenty.
“He’s an example to all these kids here (at Desert View) and on the South Side of Tucson,” said Rojas. “He didn’t give up when people didn’t notice him in high school, he didn’t give up when colleges didn’t notice. He worked hard for everything and he’s reaping the benefits now.”
After college, Mark Sanchez said he hopes to test the professional waters overseas before returning to Tucson one day to coach basketball alongside his older brother. Nino Sanchez can’t think of a more ideal situation than coaching with his little brother one day.
“He didn’t get nothing given to him. There were no handouts given to him,” said Nino Sanchez. “That’s what’s special about the kid.”
For more on high school sports, check out the Grammer School sports blog.
2005 TUCSON CITIZEN BOYS BASKETBALL ALL STARS
Devin Stewart, Sr., Santa Rita
James Smith, Sr., Flowing Wells
Marawan Shehata, Jr., Amphi
Omar Meziab, Jr., Tucson High
Shannon Doctor, Sr., Sierra Vista Buena
Nick Olm, Sr., Sahuaro
Jeremy Radtke, Sr., Salpointe
David Jackson, Jr., Rincon/Univ.
Chris Estrada, Sr., Nogales
David Alvarez, Sr., Sahuaro
Kyle Carney, Sr., Santa Rita
Jared Deal, Jr., Palo Verde
Drew Evans, Sr., Amphi
Quinton Jimerson, Sr., Rincon/Univ.
Diego Arrellano, Sr., Nogales
*Mark Sanchez, Sr., Desert View (among several others)