They settled in a Section 8 house off a dirt road in Vero Beach, where Larry spent hours at the kitchen table with his notepad and the Indian River Press Journal. "Drawing was a way for my mind to take a break from everything I'd seen and focus on the lines," he says. "It was a release for me. I could zone out and just be there." Marilyn bought him a black skateboard, another vehicle that allowed him to escape, up ramps and down driveways with new friends.
Marilyn wanted to keep her children close, so she worked wherever they went to school, whether it was Citrus Elementary or Olive Middle, whether she was a bus driver or a crossing guard, a cafeteria cook or a substitute teacher. But she could not shield Larry from trouble. He was expelled from fourth, fifth and sixth grades. "I didn't fight a lot, but I had a problem with authority," he says. "I'd get into it with teachers."
Marilyn sent him to a new Baptist school, Kilpatrick Christian Academy, where he was one of three students in his class. The school did not offer sports, which was fine with Larry, because he cared only for the arts. Kilpatrick was in Fort Pierce, so the family moved back there. Marilyn allowed the kids to see their father, who had mellowed and been weakened by years of severe stomach ulcers, again on weekends. Larry occasionally skateboarded over to the basketball court at the Boys & Girls Club on 23rd Street, and because of his height, he would immediately get picked first. "Then my team would lose," he says, "and I'd never get picked again." Peers ridiculed him for everything from his fashion sense (skinny jeans, Chuck Taylors) to his musical tastes (Coldplay, John Mayer), and he sought refuge at a Bahamian church, where friends were members and services lasted from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
"I had to process what I'd been through," Sanders says. "I had to make sense of it, or it would have overwhelmed me. There's no fantasy out there, no utopia. Between our birth and our due date, we all have to accomplish something, even though a lot of stuff will try to distract us." Sanders enrolled at Port St. Lucie High in 10th grade with a plan for his future. He was going to be an animator or a computer designer.
BEFORE THE beginning of the fall semester, Port St. Lucie High has an open house at which sports teams and academic clubs set up booths in the gym to lure new students. "I was standing in the back, and someone ran up to me and said, 'There's a kid here who's 6'4",' " recalls Port St. Lucie basketball coach Kareem Rodriguez. "A half hour later someone ran up and said, 'There's a kid who's 6'8".' A half hour after that he was 7'2"."
Sanders was 6'6" and still couldn't care less about basketball, but he appreciated the idea of a team as a brotherhood, a coach as a father figure. "I haven't been on a team before," he told Rodriguez. "I don't know anything about this."
"I'll show you," Rodriguez said. "I'll teach you." Sanders had never run a pick-and-roll. He had never heard of a three-second violation. In his first game with the jayvee, he scored in the wrong basket. He was attracted to defense partly because he didn't have to follow so many strange instructions. He saw the ball and swatted it. It would be fun to win 2--0, he thought. Sanders inherited length and coordination from his father, but also his temper. One time an opposing player was banging him in the post, and finally he pushed back. Sanders was outraged when the official called him for the technical. Rodriguez yanked him. "You pushed the guy," Rodriguez said, and to demonstrate, he put two hands on Sanders's shoulders. A shouting match ensued. "Larry has a clear definition of right and wrong, and when he feels he's been wronged, he'll tell you," Rodriguez says. "It shook me up, and it shook him up too."
Rodriguez discovered what so many others around Sanders have missed: How he reacts depends on how he's addressed. "If you ask Larry, 'Can you pull your pants up, please?' he'll be like, O.K., no problem," Rodriguez says. "But if you tell him, 'Hey, pull your pants up!' he doesn't respond well." Rodriguez handled Sanders with care, and so did his teammates. They ragged on one another but not on him. They knew, after a hard foul or a tough call, to stand with him and speak softly. During a game in his senior year Sanders saw a 5'11" teammate get pushed into the gymnasium wall, and he reacted as if a brother were in danger, picking up his teammate while barking at the culprit. Rodriguez got Sanders to cool down after a stoppage in play. "I think he had four blocks and 15 rebounds in the second half," Rodriguez recalls.
Basketball replaced art as his outlet, and at the Boys & Girls Club, locals asked Sanders if he was going to play in Division I, II or III. "D-III!" Sanders replied, assuming it was the highest level. He committed to Virginia Commonwealth, renowned for its chaotic full-court press, after watching one practice. "They were like brothers too," Sanders says. He majored in sociology at VCU and took classes in psychology to learn more about domestic violence. "I wanted to understand, Why do people do this?" Sanders says. "A lot of kids who grow up in that kind of environment start to think it's O.K. They start accepting it. I was terrified of that happening to me." Then he'd go to practice and bust teammates' noses. "Larry is an aggressive soul," says Alabama assistant coach Tony Pujol, who recruited Sanders to VCU. "He can be a happy-go-lucky guy, but on the court he tries to put three knots in your forehead. I'm not sure that's a fire you ever want to put out."
The Bucks sent two scouts to VCU in the spring of 2009 to evaluate a fearless point guard and consensus first-round choice named Eric Maynor. When they returned they raved about Maynor (who's now with the Trail Blazers), but they also mentioned a hyperactive jack-in-the-box with no advanced post moves and few discernible skills other than the ability to block a shot every 10 minutes. Sanders averaged just 4.9 points and 5.2 rebounds as a freshman, but after his junior season he was up to 14.4 and 9.1. In June 2010 the Bucks chose him 15th overall, and he rejoiced at a party in Richmond. "I was standing inside the Siegel Center, where VCU plays, and I felt this hand on my shoulder," Rodriguez says. "I turned around, and it was Larry's dad." Rodriguez had only spoken with him once. "He shook my hand and told me, 'Thank you. If it wasn't for you, Larry wouldn't be in this position.' "