Malcolm Sanders sat attentively on his foldable chair, observing a youth basketball camp at the Carole Hoefener Center. Out on the Curry Court, named after the famous basketball family, young boys, ages nine and under, were practicing shooting drills.
It was a full-circle moment for Sanders, 61, as he watched his son, Jalen, give instructions.
More than two decades prior, Sanders was doing the same, developing the likes of a young, unknown talent named Steph Curry. He helped the future NBA star develop the shooting and dribbling ability that will one day take him to the Hall of Fame.
“At the end of the day, I love basketball,” Sanders told QCity Metro. “I can watch it. I can be in the gym all day.”
Over the course of his career at Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation. Sanders helped develop future NBA and WNBA players, including Patrick Williams, Ish Smith, Tiffany Mitchell and Maya Caldwell, among others. He retired after nearly 40 years with the county.
These days he spends time working with his son, Jalen, who is the owner and lead instructor of the camp, Who Got Game, where kids are taught basic basketball skills.
For father and son, the camp is bigger than basketball. As juvenile crime rises, they wanted to provide a space for kids to stay out of trouble and develop good character.
A local athlete
Sanders said he began playing basketball when he was a kid living in east Charlotte.
He was known as a “natural scorer” at a young age, able to put up points against much older competition at courts across the city.
“I was streetball legend. I used to give numbers,” he said.
Sanders attended East Mecklenburg High School, where he was a three-sport athlete, playing football, track and basketball.
After getting injured playing football during his sophomore year, Sanders focused on basketball and track.
He earned a track scholarship at Appalachian State University, enrolling there in 1980. He walked onto the football and basketball team.
Sanders returned to Charlotte after graduating in 1985 and worked at the Naomi Drenan Rec Center.
Whenever he would come home, he’d see his six-year-old nephew, K.C. Rivers, dribbling his basketball in the driveway. Sanders said he was inspired to train his nephew and other kids in the area.
“Other races start their kids out young,” he said. “The more reps you get younger, the better off you’re gonna be.
At the same time, the Charlotte Hornets had arrived in the area, drawing a new interest in basketball among local kids, Sanders said.
Even at an early age, Curry was always a reliable shooter, Sanders said.
The Curry-led Flames did not lose for four years, Sanders said. He attributed it to their early basketball development.
“We came in dribbling, passing and shooting and running [teams] out of the gym,” he said.
Sanders’ team joined the Amateur Athletic Union basketball (AAU) circuit, renaming themselves the Stars.
They had similar success, advancing to the 10-and-under national championship game at the Disney Wide World of Sports complex outside Orlando in 1996. A missed shot attempt by Steph ended their championship dreams, Sanders said.
The Curry’s moved away after Dell spent the last years of his career with the Toronto Raptors. Sanders continued to coach in the AAU circuit.
The end goal, Sanders said, has always been to help kids get scholarships to college. So far, he’s accomplished this goal with more than 300 camp participants, he said.
In 1997, he started a year-round basketball camp called, Back to the Basics, where he offered kids, boys and girls, one-on-one and group coaching sessions.
Sanders said he treats each player like “family.” He wants to use basketball as a way to help kids develop character.
“We try to build them up, teach them responsibility, be role models and give back to the community,” he said.
Sanders also emphasized the importance of working hard for what you want. His AAU teams would wash cars and sell t-shirts, among other jobs, to raise money for uniforms and other expenses, he said.
Passing the torch
Sanders said his love for the game was renewed when his son, Jalen, and daughter, Janay, started playing. He trained both under his program, and both went on to play at Appalachian State University, his alma mater. Janay currently plays basketball for the University of Minnesota.
In 2020, Jalen created his own camp called Who Got Game, where he hosts camps alongside his father each summer.
That same year, they helped launch Queen City Pro-Am, a sporting event where both professional career athletes and amateurs compete.
Many of the players who compete have played under Sanders.
Montrezl Harrel, Mario Chalmers and Sindarius Thornwell are among the former NBA athletes to appear in the pro-am this summer.
Sanders’ latest invitation, he said, was to Steph Curry, who promised to make an appearance this summer.
Paying it forward
Sanders is currently retired from working at the park and recreational center but plans to continue to teach basketball with his son.
He stays in touch with many of his former players. Steph and Seth Curry each pay admission fees for the first 100 campers signed up for the first week of Who Got Game each year, Sanders said.
Sanders said he wants to be remembered for his impact on Charlotte’s basketball culture once he’s gone.
“I did it for the love of the game,” he said. “I did it for the love of the kids.”