For Del Mar basketball star Timmy Saunders, athleticism runs in the family

On a recent Tuesday afternoon, Torrey Pines High School senior Timmy Saunders had a brief break between his final class of the day and basketball practice with a group of teammates he’s played with since around the fifth grade.

“We definitely know how to play well together,” Saunders explained from his home in Del Mar. “We’re very close.”

It’s that camaraderie that has led the Torrey Pines Varsity Basketball team to an impressive season that included a hot streak of 10 wins as 2014 drew to a close.

“We’re winning a lot of games and getting a lot of press for it,” said Saunders of the team’s recent fortunes. “It’s been fun. (Torrey Pines Basketball) Coach John Olive is probably the best coach in San Diego, and he knows how to get us ready for every game. He has great plans and strategies.”

For Saunders, success on the court was “a long time coming.” While a freshman at Torrey Pines, he didn’t make the cut for the Junior Varsity team, an upset that separated Saunders from his fellow teammates.

By his sophomore year, however, Saunders not only made that JV team, but leapfrogged into Varsity.

Leading into his junior year, Saunders didn’t make much of a splash either. “I was in the seven-man rotation but didn’t do anything significant,” he noted. “This year, however, I’ve embraced the role of a leader.”

Saunder’s leadership skills blossomed during this senior year and pushed him to the forefront of the already stacked team.

“This is something I never thought would happen and it’s finally happening,” he said of his athletic metamorphosis. “All of the hard work’s paying off, and it’s good to finally see it come together. It’s an honor to finally be in the conversation, at least.”

It stands to reason that the determination to succeed is in Saunders’ genes. His father, Dave, is a former UCLA men’s volleyball star who competed in the sport for two consecutive Olympics (1984 in Los Angeles and 1988 in Seoul), winning gold for the United States each time.

“My father is definitely proud of everything I’ve accomplished,” Saunders said. “He always told me to follow my passion, and even though my sister was a dancer and my brother is a musician, there was no pressure for me to pursue volleyball.”

That didn’t stop Saunders from joining the Torrey Pines Men’s Volleyball team, excelling at that sport as well. “I got into basketball first, though,” he said. “I didn’t pick up volleyball until high school.”

With the end of Torrey’s basketball season looming (regular season games are scheduled through February), Saunders is starting to set his sights on the future.

“I’m talking to some Division 2 and 3 schools,” he said of his basketball career after high school, which includes the possibility of playing for the University of Puget Sound, Seattle Pacific, or Pomona College.

“It’ll be tough going away and not playing with my core group, though. I’ve been with them my whole life, so I’ll have to adjust.”

For now, Saunders is trying to take all of his recent success and notoriety — which includes winning the Coach’s Award, being named on U-T San Diego’s All-Academic Team, and getting the All Tournament Award at Torrey Pines’ recent Under Armor Holiday Classic — in stride.

“The main thing is that our team is full of great guys and great players,” he explained before heading off to that Tuesday afternoon practice.

“That’s the thing about Torrey. We’re deep, well-coached, well-disciplined, and we execute. That’s what you need to win.”