Robert Sandoval won't be playing Division I basketball in college, but he's hardly crying at the alternative: a scholarship worth nearly $40,000 annually to play basketball for NAIA national runner-up Azusa Pacific.
"It's been a very crazy and stressful process," said The Bee Player of the Year from Clovis East High. "It felt right and seemed like a good fit, so I decided to do it. I'm glad it's over with; I'm relieved."
As is Justin Leslie, the Azusa coach who feels he's pilfered a D-I talent and a player he expects to contribute immediately.
"I know what I'm getting," Leslie said, "and it's going to be fun. He's just one poised player who's unflappable under pressure and is mentally prepared for everything."
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He's getting a 6-foot, 175-pound point guard who handled state-class competition in two years while directing the Timberwolves to a 50-13 record, two Tri-River Athletic Conference titles and a Central Section crown.
Leslie said he's getting even more in a player whose parents, Julie and Roberto, and coach, Tim Amundsen, all attended Fresno Pacific, which competes against Azusa in the Golden State Athletic Conference.
"What I like, first and foremost," Leslie said, "is the quality of person he is. With the type of family he comes from, he'll fit right in. And he can play."
This past season, Sandoval averaged 17 points, 7.6 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 3.8 steals for a 25-8 team.
Never was his floor management or defense questioned, but some doubts about his athletic ability had several D-I programs sitting on the fence, Amundsen said.
Consequently, Amundsen said, Fresno State offered a deal that would bring a scholarship only after Sandoval walked on for a year; Pacific in Stockton was asking him to wait a bit longer while its recruiting process played out; and Washington State backed off recently after twice watching him work out.
Long Island, a D-I program, made an unconditional offer, but Sandoval wasn't interested in transferring his career to New York.
At Azusa, conversely, he'll settle in 15 miles east of Pasadena beneath the San Gabriel Mountains.
The Cougars play in a state-of-the-art, 3,600-seat arena, the Felix Event Center, and they play well in an up-tempo style that agrees with Sandoval.
They won their seventh GSAC tournament in 10 years, conquering NAIA top-ranked Concordia in the process, and closed a 28-10 season with an 84-83 heartbreak loss to Oklahoma Baptist for the national title.