Seniors saying farewell to Walton

It’s been a long five years for Arkansas senior forward Michael Sanchez, who will play his final regular-season game in Bud Walton Arena on Tuesday night against Ole Miss.

Michael Sanchez has started 24 games for Arkansas this season despite battling back and shoulder injuries.

“You mean eight (years)?” Sanchez said Monday. “I feel like I’ve been here since 2000.”

But Sanchez certainly isn’t complaining about all the injuries or the losses or the coaching change. Instead, he’s happy for the things that have gone right.

“I know that all things happen for a reason, and things could’ve been worse if I want to look at it that way,” said Sanchez, who’s endured foot, back and shoulder injuries since signing with Arkansas in the spring of 2007. “But I’m just thrilled that I have the opportunity here. I have gotten my degree and I’m on my way to a master’s degree now. I’m just thankful.”

Sanchez and forward Marvell Waithe are the only two seniors on Arkansas’ roster, and barring an NIT home game, they will suit up and take the floor tonight for a game at Walton Arena for the final time as Hogs.

Sanchez signed with John Pelphrey, Mike Anderson’s predecessor as Arkansas’ coach, out of Springdale Har-Ber High School five years ago. But he was also recruited by Pelphrey’s UA predecessor, Stan Heath.

Plantar fasciitis and other foot problems kept him off the court for nearly a year and a half, and then right before the start of this season, he had back surgery that limited him early. Then a sprained shoulder suffered earlier this month kept him out for three games.

Sanchez has been playing with a brace on that right shoulder the past few games, and he’s been doing it fearlessly, banging inside and going to the rim as if there were nothing wrong.

“I’m still not 100 percent with my shoulder, but I’m still fighting through that,” Sanchez said. “Just trying to get more healthy, I guess.”

Marvell Waithe's six starts this season are one more than he made in 2010-2011, but his average minutes per game have gone from 11.4 to 16.2 this season.

Sanchez won’t be remembered for his offensive contributions – he’s averaged 4.6 points for his career and 4.0 as a senior. And the 6-9, 255-pounder isn’t a great rebounder, either, averaging 4.0 for his career and 4.6 this season.

Instead, he’s a blue-collar banger who gets credit for doing little things to help the team.

Anderson said he admires Sanchez for “his tenacity, for his toughness, what he brings to the team.”

“Mike, without a doubt, he was looking forward to the chance and to the opportunity, the opportunity to be a big part of our basketball team,” Anderson said. “And so for him, through all the hurts and injuries, he’s still standing.

“Even in that game the other night (against Auburn) with a banged up shoulder, he goes and knocks down a big free throw. He does a good job of guarding (Rob) Chubb there in the middle. And a lot of times he could’ve just given in, ‘Hey, I’m hurt. Let the other guys do it.’ But he hasn’t.”

The 6-9, 195-pound Waithe, a Toronto native, has had his ups and downs, too. He wasn’t one of Pelphrey’s favorites last season after transferring from Tallahassee (Fla.) Community College, averaging 11.4 minutes and 3.6 points per game. He’s averaging 16.2 minutes and 5.1 points this season for Anderson.

Waithe has had some nice moments for Arkansas this year, including scoring a career-high 15 points the last time the Hogs faced Ole Miss – a 71-63 Rebels victory Jan. 11 in Oxford, Miss.

Anderson also noted that a junior college player tends to perform better in his second season at a four-year school, and having Pelphrey leave after last season wasn’t exactly fair to Waithe “because now you’ve got a new coach coming in.”

Waithe, who is on pace to graduate in the spring, said it was “emotional” to think about Tuesday’s game possibly being his last at Bud Walton Arena.

“It’s been a long journey just playing college basketball,” he said. “It’s real special for me to end it here tomorrow night on a good note.

“Even though a lot of things never went the way I wanted them to, I’m blessed to be in the position I am right now. Because last year you guys weren’t asking me any questions. I’m blessed.”

Waithe said he hasn’t really reflected back on his time at Arkansas yet.

“I’ll probably do it when the buzzer goes off,” he said. “As of now, it’s just business. I haven’t really reflected yet and I don’t plan to yet. Not yet.”

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