David Sanders pressed his finger to a sheet of paper.
“You know you have to win a championship, right?” the woman said as she took his fingerprint.
“Yeah, I do,” said Sanders not long after replacing Wayne Brent as Callaway’s basketball coach.
“When I first got the job, the first thing I saw was the four gold balls,” Sanders said. “And that’s four (Class 5A championships) in the last five years.”
In 1998, Sanders became the first player from Provine High, where he played for Brent, to win Mr. Basketball, the prelude to a three-year career at Ole Miss.
Fifteen years later, the first-year Callaway coach now has the chance to coach another school’s first player of the year — junior point guard Malik Newman.
The two met years ago, when Sanders and Newman’s dad — former Mississippi State standout Horatio Webster — were roommates while playing together in the American Basketball Association.
“Malik would come to the gym when he was 5 or 6, and we’d just beat up on him,” Sanders said. “We’d throw his ball across the floor and make him go get it.
“He’d go get it and run back. You couldn’t discourage him, even at a young age. He just loved basketball.”
The relationship paid dividends later, especially when nearly every elite prep basketball program in the country — including prestigious Oak Hill Academy (Va.) and Huntington Prep, among others — tried to lure Newman, the nation’s top junior, away from Callaway after Brent left to become the head coach at Jackson State.
“To be honest, I never thought about going anywhere,” Newman said. “Then when I heard Coach Sanders got the job, ‘Ah, man, it’s a done deal. I’m staying.'”
Had Sanders not been hired, that might not have been the case.
“Mississippi is home. It’s not everyday a kid from our state gets this much national attention,” Webster said. “But if Callaway had made some boneheaded move that didn’t fit Malik’s style, we would have had to consider it a little bit more.”
Instead, Callaway hired a coach, Sanders, who a year ago guided Northwest Rankin to its first winning season since 2008
“Horatio wants Malik to be pushed,” Sanders said. “He doesn’t want him to be babied. He doesn’t want him to be treated like a superstar. He knows he doesn’t have to worry about that with me. He knows I’m going to be constantly developing Malik’s game.”
That includes on the defensive end, where Sanders specialized while he was in Oxford.
At Ole Miss, Sanders was known as a lockdown defender and lethal 3-point shooter (his 50.7 percentage in 2002 ranks second all-time for the Rebels in a single season).
Many of Sanders’ coaching principles came from Brent. Others came from Alcorn State coach Luther Riley, who Sanders coached under early in his career.
“He told me a long time ago that the one thing I was going to struggle with as a coach is realizing that everybody doesn’t have the same passion for basketball that I do,” Sanders said.
It’s something Newman — one of two nationally-ranked prospects on Callaway’s roster (sophomore Mario Kegler ranks 16th in his class) — struggles with as well.
“A lot of time, Malik might get frustrated with some of the guys,” Sanders said. “I have to constantly remind him, ‘Look, not everybody is built the same way you are.'”
Perhaps not, though the success of this season for Sanders will be determined by whether the Chargers win their third straight Class 5A championship.
How he handles those expectations will go a long with in determining what kind of mark he leaves on Beasley Road.
“If I didn’t want pressure, I would have stayed where I was,” Sanders said.