Coach Ben Holling set a goal for the big kid to make the varsity basketball team and, perhaps, earn a starting job in a year or two.
Those modest expectations changed the more Holling worked with Isaiah Poor Bear Chandler at Omaha Central.
On Sunday, Chandler committed to Wichita State, a fast rise for a player cut from his eighth grade team in Omaha.
“Pretty much nobody gets cut at all in middle school,” Holling said. “Especially a 6-foot-5 kid.”
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Chandler, a 6-foot-9, 255-pound center, said he will spend the 2017-18 school year at Sunrise Christian Academy, working on his game and his academics, before attending WSU for the 2018-19 school year. With four inside players returning, playing time is likely limited for a freshman next season at WSU.
WSU’s history developing and featuring big men attracted Chandler. Coaches first showed him video of senior center Shaq Morris.
“The way they work around their big men is really legit,” Chandler said. “They told me that before (Morris) went there he was my size. When I watched videos, he was dominating. I thought that was pretty awesome.”
The idea of Chandler dominating didn’t make sense until high school. He said he was uncoordinated and overweight as an eighth-grader, in part because he had not played organized basketball.
“I couldn’t catch the ball,” he said. “I didn’t know post moves.”
Chandler is a different player now. Holling met him during the summer before his sophomore year and liked his size. He learned that Chandler was a new to the sport compared to others in his class.
“He was big and he had soft hands,” Holling said. “Hopefully, he could drop a few pounds and end up being a serviceable player.”
Soon, Chandler began to show many more skills. He got in better shape, ultimately losing 30-40 pounds and turning bad weight into muscle. As as sophomore, he could dunk only if he had space and time to launch. As a senior, he dunked 90 times.
“His improvement was astronomical,” Holling said. “He listens really well. You would show him a left-handed jump hook that he had never seen before, or didn’t know it was a thing. The next day he would use it in a scrimmage. Show him an up-and-under move. All of sudden he would do it.”
He averaged 14.2 points and 9.4 rebounds as senior, according to the World-Herald.
“I grew a couple more inches,” Chandler said. “I figured out if I got taller and better I could make something out of basketball.”
Holling, who is now coaching at St. Albert in Council Bluffs, Iowa, said Chandler went 5 for 10 from three-point range as a senior. He had not, Holling said, attempted a three in the two previous seasons. As a junior, he made 71 percent of his shots from the field.
“He scores most of his points around the basket,” Holling said. “He’s a force defensively.”
Chandler signed with New Mexico in November. He was released from his commitment, following a coaching change, in April.
He earned All-Metro Conference and second-team All-Nebraska honors as a senior.
Since Chandler won’t be at WSU this season, the Shockers have one open scholarship.
Wichita State is in the running for transfer center Kavell Bigby-Williams, who played last season at Oregon and has one season of eligibility remaining.
He has visited Wichita State, according to ESPN and the Portland Oregonian. Last weekend, he visited Baylor and previously visited San Diego State. While he received a release to transfer, according to the Oregonian, he could return to Oregon.
Bigby-Williams (6-10), from London, averaged 3 points and 2.8 rebounds for the Ducks. He played two seasons at Gillette (Wyo.) College and averaged 16.8 points, 13.6 rebounds and 5.6 blocks as a sophomore. He earned 2015-16 Spalding NJCAA Division I Player of the Year honors.