Just Means More

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ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFKnights.com) – For senior Zakiya Saunders, Saturday is more than just a day after a UCF women's basketball game.
The daughter of Master Sgt. Vincent Saunders, she was born in Fort Benning, Ga. Just a few months later, the Saunders family packed their belongings and headed overseas to Germany.
From there, the family made stops in Missouri and Florida before returning to Deutschland.
This time around, Master Sgt. Saunders didn't stay with the family. He was deployed to Iraq for 16 months. After a brief reunion with his family, he returned to Iraq for a second tour.
"My dad and I are really close; he's kind of like my best friend," Saunders said. "When I was little, we used to do everything together. It changed; you kind of miss like a part of you."
A third tour followed. Stops in South Carolina and Virginia were followed by a move to New York where the family put down some roots.
Saunders started 11th grade in the Empire State and flourished on the basketball court.
"My dad was really excited because he was actually able to be there for all of basketball," Saunders said. "He took me to practice; he was so excited.  It was great because before he wasn't able to be there all of the time. Now he wanted to give me pep talks."
After three successful seasons under current UCF head coach at UAlbany, Saunders made yet another move. She'll make her UCF debut the day before Veteran's Day – a day that holds a little more meaning for the guard now.
"Before, it felt like just another day. But when we have family reunions, my dad gives his speech and talks about people that he lost when he was in war. It made me think how lucky I am because my dad's still around. He's still with us. I really appreciate the (military) holidays. A lot of people don't think about them – they see it as a day off.  I really appreciate them. My dad's lucky enough to still be in our lives and still be around."
It seems fitting that Saunders will make her debut with the Black and Gold on Veteran's Day weekend. While she's ready for a win on the hardwood, she knows there are a few more important things to acknowledge.
"I want to say thank you to all of the veterans for all of their work. I may not know the extent of the hard work that everyone puts in, but I know a little bit. I got my taste of it. Thank you for everything that everyone else has done."