Levell Sanders has been a part of the Binghamton men’s basketball program since June 2019, when he was hired as an assistant coach. Since then, Sanders has risen through the ranks, promoted to interim head coach in March of 2021 and eventually named the permanent head coach.
Entering his first season at the helm of the team, the Bearcats came into the year picked to finish last in the America East (AE) preseason coaches’ poll. Despite this, the team was seeded sixth in the postseason and won a road playoff game. Due to Sanders’ success in his first season as head coach, he has been named Pipe Dream’s Coach of the Year.
“Being able to work with so many good people, building different relationships with the student-athletes and with people in the community and with people at the University,” Sanders said. “It’s been a fun ride and a fun opportunity and I’m really looking forward to what we can do with this program and how we can push our university even further.”
Following BU’s 2020-21 season, Sanders was promoted when Binghamton decided not to renew former head coach Tommy Dempsey’s contract after nine years with the team. As a result, Sanders was named as the team’s interim head coach while the school conducted a formal search for Dempsey’s replacement. In February 2022, Sanders was officially named as the permanent men’s basketball head coach when he signed a five-year contract with the program through the 2026-27 season.
“Ever since I’ve been here it’s been cool and it’s been an opportunity to be involved in college basketball again,” Sanders said. “I’m thankful for the opportunity that coach Dempsey gave me. Giving me an opportunity to get on his staff.”
Sanders led Binghamton to a 12-17 overall record and an 8-10 conference record, earning the sixth seed in the AE tournament. BU posted its best conference record since the 2009-10 season when the Bearcats finished the season at 8-8. Sanders’ role in Binghamton’s improvement earned him a spot as a finalist for the 2022 Joe B. Hall Award, an accolade granted to the best first-year Division I men’s basketball coach.
“We just wanted to work,” Sanders said. “I wanted everything to be hard because things are hard, life is hard. Winning is hard and being good is hard, and so I just wanted those guys to have an opportunity to experience that. Then you can build character and you’re gonna go through some ups and downs.”
The Bearcats exceeded expectations for the 2021-22 season, outranking three AE teams in the playoff standings and upsetting No. 3 New Hampshire in the first round. This marked the program’s first playoff victory in over 10 years. Although Sanders is proud of his team and its performance this season, the first-year coach is focused on the offseason and his plans for 2022-23.
“We wanted to be really good defensively, so we really focused on defense from day one,” Sanders said. “That’s still gonna be the focus going forward, I think we can even get better. We had some players leave in the transfer portal, but we’ve also added some really good players that are gonna help us … We don’t wanna be a program where teams are gonna come here and think they’re gonna win whenever they see Binghamton on the schedule. We wanna change that and we feel that we’ve done some things this first year, but we also feel and know that we can be even better.”
Sanders credits his success and motivation to his players, coaches and the Binghamton fans. He has taken the role as the new leader of the Binghamton men’s basketball program and hopes to contribute to the success of the team and community in the future.
“Whenever you’re leading people you wanna be good at it,” Sanders said. “For me it was just about the relationships with the coaches and the players. I didn’t wanna let the people around me down. I felt an obligation. I feel like the city and this community is really pushing and hoping for the basketball program to be good. So we just wanted to take on that responsibility to push the program forward and get out of that situation.”