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Know Your Knight: How Tay Sanders’ Record-Setting Sibling Paved Her Path to UCF

Tay Sanders, sister of UCF Women’s Basketball legend Zykira Lewis, prepares for final games of her college career

Former UCF Knights Women’s Basketball guard Zykira Lewis said she did not want her sister to start playing basketball.

Admittedly though, fifth-year senior guard Tay Sanders said she was a late bloomer, only starting to play the game since she was tall, something a lot of people pointed out to her. Basketball was in her family, but she did not start playing because her sister did.

“I ain’t even wanted her to play,” Lewis said.

“She didn’t,” Sanders said. “She didn’t want me to play, but you know.”

As the sun is about to set on Sanders’ UCF career, the two sisters have both made their own distinct marks in the history of the women’s basketball program.

When assistant coach Isoken Uzamere first started recruiting Sanders out of high school, Lewis was nearing the end of her UCF career. By its end, she had more three-pointers than any player in program history, and only Tamika Coley had more career points. However, she made sure to let Uzamare know that Sanders had no interest in being just like Lewis.

“She was like ‘Do not compare her to me,’” Uzamere said. “’Don’t say she’s going to be like me, she doesn’t want to follow behind my footsteps. She wants to come and create a legacy of her own.’”

However, Sanders would have to wait a little longer to create that legacy.

Uzamere said when she first saw Sanders, still new to the game, play in high school, she said she “wasn’t good enough yet.” She described her as “raw” and “super skinny and lanky.” Two seasons playing at Chipola College in Marianna, Florida changed that.

“JUCO Tay, her body filled out, she was strong, she was like a big guard,” Uzamere said. “She played great defense.”

That defensive capability would be what set Sanders apart from Lewis. When the two would play one-on-one together in summers in the gym, Lewis said Sanders would beat her most of the time.

“She’ll block my shots,” Lewis said. “I used to shoot on her because I knew I couldn’t go to the hole. She was always a defensive player.”

Now, Sanders is just one part of the nation’s leading team in scoring defense.

“Between her maturity and her playing experience, and I can’t emphasize enough her defense, she’s important to wins and losses and she knows that,” Uzamere said. “She knows that if she plays bad, we are not successful.”

While Lewis’ individual achievements in her UCF career speak for themselves, it’s Sanders that has the most postseason success of the two sisters with two appearances in the NCAA Tournament and a conference tournament championship since 2011. Sanders also contributed to the team’s first regular season conference championship since 2005.

The in-conference achievements were also team firsts under head coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson, or as many call her, Coach ABE.

“I’m so happy Coach ABE recruited my sister, brought her into this program, because I wanted to get a conference championship, but, you know, didn’t happen,” Lewis said. “To see my sister get it, I just want to be in tears a little bit. I’m just proud of her.”

Now, Sanders will take the court with Diamond Battles, Masseny Kaba, Brittney Smith, and Shania Meertens at least one more time in this season’s NCAA Tournament. It begins on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. with a first-round bout with 10-seed Florida in Storrs, Connecticut, with a potential second-round matchup with a former AAC powerhouse in 2-seed UConn.

Sanders said she was thankful to play with them since they all got to collectively experience the losses, such as losing out on the regular season conference championship last year, before making it to the heights the team reached this season.

“Coming in this year, we all have the same goal,” Sanders said. “So, that’s what makes us a good team; good humble team. We know we want, we set goals for each other, and we have each other’s back.”

Uzamere metaphorically shares similar sentiments, comparing the team to a puzzle.

“They all have different personalities, but when you put that puzzle together, it makes a beautiful picture,” Uzamere said. “That’s the thing about them, like they all literally come from different walks of life and they have different experiences, but they share the same common goal, and that’s wanting to win, that’s hating to lose, and that’s competing.”

While Sanders and Lewis may come from the same walk of life, growing up together, the two ended up being different basketball players, yet both have found their own ways to etch themselves into the annals of UCF women’s basketball history.

While Lewis might not have gotten to experience the postseason success of her sister, she still got to be there to see it happen.

“I just try to be the biggest supporter—confidence, try to build her up whenever she felt like she’s not had a good game, whenever she felt like she didn’t help her teammate out,” Lewis said. “I just try to be there to comfort her and just let her know that everything will be alright, bounce back, and just be that confidence booster for her.”

As for Sanders, she might have her teammates, but she said Lewis is her number one fan and best friend.

“She supports me, even if I’m down, she’s gonna talk me through it all,” Sanders said. “She’s never felt like I was disappointing her because she always had my back. So, I just listen to everything she tells me and I just go out and I continue to play hard.”