OSWEGO - If Liam Sanborn’s career for the Oswego State men’s basketball team went according to initial plans, he would be on the cusp of making his first collegiate start when the new season tips off tonight.
But the junior point guard from Staten Island has long since seized a starting role — featured in the first five for 56 of a possible 57 games since joining the Lakers — and was recently recognized as an NCAA Division III Preseason All-American by Street & Smith Publishers.
Sanborn will help guide the Lakers into their season opener against Ithaca at 5:30 p.m. tonight as part of the Elmira Tip-Off Tournament, aiming to help Oswego build off a 24-6 campaign last year that ended with the program’s second trip to the Sweet 16 in the past four seasons.
Oswego head coach Jason Leone — entering his ninth season after being named BCANY Division III Coach of the Year and SUNYAC Coach of the Year for 2018-19 — said that he initially pegged Sanborn as a backup for two seasons but the St. Peter’s High School product wouldn’t be denied.
“The plan was kind of I guess to develop me to play now in my junior year, but I mean I just worked hard and didn’t really take that for an answer, some things went my way and I ended up getting the starting job coming in,” said Sanborn, who came off the bench for one game during his freshman season to allow a former senior teammate to start for his final home game.
“Coming in I just tried to do all the little things, didn’t try to play outside of myself, and I think a big thing was just trying to be the best player in practice every day,” he added. “Little things like wind sprints, being the first one every time we ran up and down the court. I just did the little things so that everything else could fall in place.”
Sanborn ranked 10th nationally with 5.5 assists per game last year to go with averages of 12.6 points and 4.6 rebounds while starting all 30 games. He was selected to the All-SUNYAC First Team, NABC Division III All-District Second Team, and the D3hoops.com All-East Region Third Team.
Sanborn helped the Lakers to their best win total in seven seasons while reaching the Sweet 16 for the second time in four years and making the team’s fifth NCAA Tournament appearance in eight seasons under Leone. Oswego also finished 15-3 in SUNYAC play last year en route to claiming the conference’s regular-season and playoff titles.
“That was a memorable experience and something I definitely didn’t take for granted and would love to return to do again,” Sanborn said. “We were counted out all year but we knew what we could do and stuck together. It was a fun time, everyone enjoyed being around each other and playing for each other. … This year we’ll have more of a target on our back so I think we’re all ready to embrace that challenge.”
Leone described his now-polished floor general as a “thin and under whelming presence,” on his initial recruiting visits, but said that he noticed vast improvements to his game and physical strength by the time he arrived on campus as a freshman. Sanborn is listed at 6-0 for height and at 185 pounds entering his junior campaign.
“To his credit, he transformed his body the summer before his freshman year,” Leone said. “His best quality is that he has such a strong will, and he’s incredibly physically and mentally tough. I believe when I watch Liam that there’s nothing he feels like he can’t accomplish and that’s a great trait to have.”
Leone added: “His impact is through his strong will and I think it’s a great omen when your best player is also your hardest worker.”
Sanborn is one of three Oswego starters returning for the upcoming season. He will join senior guard Brandan Gartland and senior forward/center Joe Sullivan, a second-year transfer from Assumption College, each of whom are expected to share leadership responsibilities with Sanborn.
Oswego was ranked No. 23 nationally and projected to win the SUNYAC title in the D-III News preseason forecast, and ranked fourth nationally in the Division III preseason rankings by Street & Smith.
“The preseason stuff is nice but we all know it doesn’t really mean anything unless we do something with the preseason rankings,” Sanborn said. “You kind of have to make the most of it and play hungry like we did last year, play with a chip on our shoulder like we have something to prove. We never really get complacent or ahead of ourselves, but we’re excited with what this team can accomplish if we do all the right things.”
After Sanborn is finished helping to elevate the stock of the Lakers program, he plans to pursue his career goal of working on wall street. The finance major and devoted student was named to the Google Cloud Academic All-District First Team last year.