On Thursday, Feb. 17, Levell Sanders was named the permanent men’s basketball head coach after inking a five-year contract that will keep the Bearcat with the program until the 2026–27 campaign.
“When I first came here when I was an assistant coach, I [thought] this place was like a gold mine,” Sanders said. “The campus was a beautiful campus. You’re a few hours away from New York City. We have great facilities. It’s a great academic situation. The University makes the city thrive. There are so many positives and so many pluses about Binghamton … When I talk to recruits, they might not know much about Binghamton, but when [I] get recruits and their parents out to see the campus, to see the place, everybody falls in love with it.”
Sanders was named an assistant coach to the program in 2019 while former head coach Tommy Dempsey was still at the helm of the team. Shortly following the men’s basketball team’s defeat to Hartford in the first round of the 2021 America East (AE) playoffs, Dempsey’s contract expired, and the former head coach officially departed from the program.
To replace Dempsey, former Binghamton Director of Athletics Patrick Elliott named Sanders interim head coach along with the decision to delay the search for new leadership until spring of 2022.
After his promotion in early March of 2021, Sanders quickly began to make his mark on the program after bringing both junior guard Jacob Falko and sophomore guard John McGriff to the program. In conference play, Falko currently sits at 16.4 points per game and McGriff has posted an average of 11.6 points per game thus far.
“We’re excited about [the contract] because it gives us the ability to lead this team for the next five years,” Sanders said. “More importantly, it allows us to go out and be able to recruit. That was the one thing that was holding us back. When you’re interim coaching, you’re recruiting against coaches that are long-term. They use that against you. Certain schools were using that against us, [saying,] ‘Why would you go there, the coach isn’t gonna be there next year, he’s interim.’ More than anything, that’s the part that really helps.”
Under Dempsey, the men’s basketball program totaled a 71-194 overall record and a 33-109 conference record. In Dempsey’s first season as head coach in 2012-13, the team only mustered a single AE win over Maine in a tight 57-56 victory. With Sanders at the helm of the lineup during the 2021-22 season, the team has posted eight conference wins thus far for the most it has had since the 2009-10 season when the Bearcats had just come off of an AE championship title and a trip to the NCAA tournament the previous year.
“Every coach does things a different way,” Sanders said. “Dempsey, I thought he did a good job of leading us. I’m a different person, and of course we do things a little bit differently … We’re laying the foundation right now, and that is going to help us for years to come. When you take over a program, that first year and how you lay the foundation is the most important because then everything that happens after that is based upon the foundation that you’re laying. If you lay a weak one, it’s not going to last.”
Despite spending most of his time in Binghamton as an assistant coach, Sanders is no stranger to leading a major program to success. For five years, Sanders headed Czech Republic team BK JIP Pardubice where he was named All-Czech Republic League Coach of the Year in 2017.
“The players I’ve coached overseas that were really smart players made me have the ability to know the game,” Sanders said. “When you’re coaching professional players, they have an opinion. I was 40 years old coaching guys that were 36 … It really helped prepare me and it helped me have the ability to see the game and know the game.”
Sanders had also played professionally in the Czech Republic before he began coaching and is currently the 11th-highest scorer in the nation’s history.
“It gave me a different perspective on how to see the game,” Sanders said. “I coached four years overseas, but I feel like I coached 10 years because of all of the experienced players that I was coaching that really helped push me.”
With three games left to play before the AE playoffs begin, Sanders is confident the team has more room for improvement thanks to both his players and his coaching staff.
“It’s an important year for us,” Sanders said. “We added three guys — good character guys, guys that wanna play for the team, play hard. I really like our team. I do think we can become even better, even this season. We still have a lot left, but none of this would be possible without the players and the coaches.”