Kendrick Saunders reflects after first year as SHU men’s basketball coach

Kendrick Saunders became the new head coach of the Seton Hill men’s basketball team after the retirement of 15-year head coach Tony Morocco at the end of the 2017-18 season. Photo courtesy of Kendrick Saunders.

After the retirement of 15-year head coach Tony Morocco in February of last year, the Seton Hill men’s basketball team had a vacancy to fill. In April 2018, SHU named Kendrick Saunders as the new head coach for the 2018-19 season.

Originally from Maryland, Saunders was the captain of his basketball team at Palm Beach Atlantic College in West Palm Beach, Fla. After his graduation, he spent time as an assistant coach at his high school and worked various camps before becoming an assistant coach at Hunter College in New  York City.

“I fell in love with the game early, and I knew early on that I wanted to be a college coach,” Saunders said.

Saunders’ coaching career has spanned nearly 20 years. In addition to his time at Hunter College, Saunders has also coached at Frostburg State University, the United States Military Academy and Princeton University. Before coming to SHU, Saunders was an assistant coach at the United States Naval Academy for six years.

“I heard about Seton Hill through some coaching friends of mine about how great of an institution it was, and that it was a school built on service,” Saunders said. “I just really fell in love with the place when I came up. Just walking around on campus during my interview, the students were very friendly. I really felt good about being on campus and thought this would be a great place to be a head coach.”

After meeting most of the team last May, Saunders said he spent his first season trying to add to what was already in place. For Saunders, this included the leadership of team captains Nathan Davis, Trevor Blondin, Brandon Alston and Anthony Karabatsos.

“The leadership with those young men was absolutely fantastic, and they helped lead us the whole year from top to bottom,” Saunders said. “It was more of just trying to add to the culture and continue to try to build.”

The Griffins finished the 2018-19 season with an overall record of 9-19 and a record of 7-14 in PSAC play. After missing the playoffs last season, the team clinched sixth place in the PSAC West this year. The Griffins fell to Mercyhurst University in the first round in March by a score of 78-48.

“I thought we had a great season, and just was really proud of those young men and what they accomplished this year,” Saunders said. “I thought the grit and enthusiasm and passion for the game was day in and day out. Their will to have success was really phenomenal.”

Saunders also had the opportunity to see two of his players reach a milestone this season, as Davis and Blondin both earned their 1,000th career points.

“I was just excited to be a part of it,” Saunders said. “You don’t get to 1,000 points without putting a lot of time in the gym and sacrificing a lot of opportunities. Hats off to the previous staff and the people that recruited those young men, and the type of foundation they’ve had where the players could put that work in.”

In addition to Saunders, SHU also hired two new assistant coaches this season: Ryan Joyce and Brad Johnson. Joyce was previously an assistant coach at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, and Johnson was an assistant coach at Frostburg State University.

“I think I have the best two assistants in the country,” Saunders said. “They have a really good understanding of the game and they’re tireless workers. They really work hard to make sure the program sustains itself, so I’m really proud to have both of them.”  

As Saunders prepares for next season, he hopes the team has a “productive summer.” Outside of basketball, Saunders said he hopes his players leave SHU with “a giving heart” with an understanding of the importance of service to the community.

“I’m just excited about being here at Seton Hill University,” Saunders said. “I think it’s a wonderful institution, and the tremendous support from the student body and administration has been fantastic. Our staff is excited to be a part of what Seton Hill is about, and just excited about continuing to move further in the future and represent Seton Hill the right way.”

Published By: Stephen Dumnich

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