Four months after the death of his grandmother left Vee Sanford feeling empty and uninterested in basketball, he is in the midst of a magical March for him, his family and the Dayton Flyers.
Sanford, an all-state player at Lexington Catholic in 2009, has helped Dayton pull off back-to-back upsets in the NCAA Tournament.
Sanford's running 10-foot bank shot lifted the 11th-seeded Flyers to a 60-59 victory over sixth-seeded Ohio State last week. They followed that by stunning third-seeded Syracuse 55-53.
Sanford, a 6-foot-3 senior, had 18 points, eight rebounds, three assists and two steals in Dayton's first two NCAA wins. The Flyers play 10th-seeded Stanford in the Sweet Sixteen on Thursday night in Memphis.
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"It's been kind of a tough year overall for Vee," said Vince Sanford, his dad. "I'm just glad he's finally had some good things happen for him and the team."
Viola Johnson, Vee's grandmother (and mother of Vince's wife, Angie), died of cancer last November.
"That was the worst time of my life," Vee said. "I pretty much grew up living with her. We were always at her house, and she came to every game I played in high school.
"When she passed, it took a lot out of me. It got to the point where I didn't really want to play basketball, but I stayed with it."
Vince drove his son back to Dayton the day after the funeral. That's when Vince heard that Coach Archie Miller wanted to take Vee out of the starting lineup — where he had been every game his junior season — and bring him off the bench.
Vee, who transferred to Dayton after his sophomore season at Georgetown University, was the Flyers' top returning scorer (13 points per game) going into his senior year.
"I was pretty upset about it," Vince said. "I couldn't see why a coach would ask Vee to sacrifice his senior year. But Vee kept telling me it'd be fine. He was so grounded, so mature about it all."
Vee has averaged 10 points this season, "and playing starter's minutes," he said.
"You've got to make the best of whatever situation you're given, and that's what I've tried to do. We've got a great group of guys here. We look out for each other."
Sanford's shining moment came in the closing seconds against Ohio State. Miller drew up a play that put the ball in Sanford's hands. He was guarded by Ohio State star Aaron Craft, but Dayton's Devin Oliver set a ball screen that Sanford said gave him "a split-second to get ahead of Craft." Just before he reached the baseline, Sanford lofted a shot with 10 seconds left. "I'm just glad it went in," he said.
Dayton proved that was no fluke by beating Syracuse two days later.
Sanford said he felt comfortable playing on the NCAA's big stage in Buffalo because he'd been under the bright lights before.
When he was at Georgetown he played in the Big East Tournament in Madison Square Garden. He also played in the NCAA Tournament his first two years with the Hoyas. And as a senior at Lexington Catholic, he played in front of 20,000 fans in Rupp Arena in the Sweet Sixteen.
"My senior year in college reminds me of my senior year in high school, getting to the NCAA and getting to the Sweet Sixteen," he said.
The main reason Sanford transferred from Georgetown to Dayton was to be closer to his family. One or both of his parents have made it to all of his home games the past two seasons.
Vince said the odometer on his car confirms that. "Two years ago it had 28,000 miles on it. Now it has 76,000, and about all of them are highway miles between here and Dayton."
Vince and Angie couldn't make it to Buffalo last week, but they'll be in Memphis Thursday night, and Vince will be expecting a gift from his son — another NCAA commemorative watch.
The back story is that when Vince played college basketball at South Florida, the Bulls made it to the NIT in 1985 and all of the players got keepsake watches.
About 15 years ago, Vince was playing hoops in the Dirt Bowl, and Vee was with him. "I had my NIT watch with me," Vince said. "I took it off and put it in a bag and told Vee to keep an eye on it."
Somebody swiped the bag and the watch.
"I was really small then, so he was pretty much risking it," Vee recalled with a laugh.
But to repay his dad, Vee has given him the two watches he got from playing in the NCAA Tournament when he was at Georgetown.
"And now I'm going to give him a third one," Vee said.
Not that his dad needs any more compensation.
"Oh, man, I never could've imagined anything better than what's happened the last week," Vince said. "It's really been a blessing. It doesn't even seem real."
For Vee, it's been a tribute to his grandmother.
"She always told me to be patient, that things always work out," he said. "She was right."