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Wesley Saunders dribbles the ball against the Canton Charge earlier this month at the Sears Centre Arena in Hoffman Estates. (Photo by John L. Alexander/NBAE via Getty Images)

Saunders stays steady in development with Windy City Bulls

SHARE Saunders stays steady in development with Windy City Bulls
SHARE Saunders stays steady in development with Windy City Bulls

Windy City Bulls coach Nate Loenser’s first impression of Wesley Saunders wasn’t a good one.

Although Loenser liked Saunders’ size on film, when it came to his body language, Loenser wasn’t nearly as -impressed.

Saunders, who was Windy City’s first pick in the NBA Development League’s expansion draft, spent last season with the Westchester Knicks. But he rarely played, buried on the depth chart below bigger-name players such as Jimmer Fredette. Hoping to make a splash in the D-League after going undrafted, Saunders’ first taste of pro basketball wasn’t what he hoped.

“I didn’t really get the opportunity to play the kind of basketball I felt like I could play,” he said.

The frustration of feeling unwanted and underutilized took its toll. It also became evident to Loenser, who knew if Saunders was going to play a key role in Windy City’s game plan, the disconnect between potential and performance had to be mended.

Loenser called Saunders and talked about expectations and aspects of his game that needed improvement. After a choppy start with Windy City, Saunders has made strides while adjusting to the speed of a league he didn’t fully experience as a rookie.

This month, Saunders is averaging 13.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game. He has become a valued wing defender and continues to work to become a better shooter. Saunders’ development has been steady as he works off the advice he received near the end of his college career: For many, the road to the NBA is a marathon, not a sprint.

“I’ve just tried to take advantage of the opportunities I have been given this year,” Saunders said. “I just have to go out there and showcase the things that I can do.”

Six months later, Loenser has seen a marked difference in Saunders.

“He understands whether [the situation] is good or bad, he doesn’t change his mindset and he stays consistent,” Loenser said. “That’s one of the things I appreciate, that he doesn’t get too high or too low. He stays with it, and he puts one foot in front of the other.”

Schweinsteiger arrives

The Fire introduced midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger at a news conference Wednesday, and he’ll be available to play Saturday against the Montreal Impact at Toyota Park.

Schweinsteiger, 32, agreed to a one-year, $4.5 million contract last week after leaving Manchester United. Schweinsteiger, who arrived in Chicago on Tuesday, said that he feels comfortable playing anywhere in the midfield and that he wants to contribute without feeling the pressure to carry the team.

“I don’t want to say that I’m going to be the key player of [the] Chicago Fire,” Schweinsteiger said. “Every player on the pitch has to be a key player and has to take responsibility.”

Follow me on Twitter @JeffArnold_.

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