MEMPHIS, Tenn. — One Memphis native will wait by the phone and watch the TV with anticipation hoping to hear his name called in the NBA Draft.
Kennedy Chandler has waited his whole life for draft night and every decision his family has made had draft night in mind.
On Wednesday afternoon, Chandler enjoyed the last day before his life changes forever. A few friends were over, EA Sports Madden was on the TV in between media interviews about Chandler's past and his future.
“It’s been a long journey, a fun process for me to be able to accomplish my dreams and have everything I’ve wanted since I was a kid. My dreams are finally going to come true tomorrow,” Chandler said.
Chandler is from Cordova. He attended Briarcrest Christian School from 2nd to 11th grade. He thrived playing for the Saints under Coach John Harrington, but his family knew making NBA dreams come true took hard decisions.
"It's been a long process, a long journey. Making certain moves to make sure he’s in the best position. In reference to what position he plays on the court from Sunrise to Mokan to Tennessee," said Kylan Chandler, Kennedy's father.
Sunrise Christian School was the Chandler family's first strategic move. It's a basketball preparatory school in Kansas that plays a national schedule against top-level talent.
“Playing against all the top kids in the world that are nationally ranked. I wanted to have that experience of playing against everybody. For me to go to Sunrise, I knew it was going to help me go to college and be ready just by me being on my own so that’s what helped me a lot when I went there,” Chandler said.
In his lone year at Sunrise, he averaged 14 points and four rebounds. That summer he played for Team USA’s U19 World Cup Team and won a gold medal.
As college approached, he opted to stay in-state and be a Tennessee Vol under Rick Barnes. Part of the reason was staying in-state, but a bigger reason was another strategic move.
“That decision was just about point guards that Coach Barnes coached. TJ Ford, DJ Augustine. I knew I wanted to be the next point guard coached by Coach Barnes and for him to challenge me every single day,” he said.
Ford and Augustin are great comparisons. Both were 6'0" tall pure point guards. Much like the former Vols, Chandler is undersized.
He thrived at Tennessee anyway.
Again he averaged 14 points and 4 assists for the Vols, on the way to a SEC Championship. Chandler was named 2nd team All-SEC and chose to enter the NBA draft after just one year.
Even though he’s won at every level of basketball -- a two-time high school Mr. Basketball for the state of Tennessee, a McDonald’s high school All-American, and a gold medal Olympian -- at just six feet tall, there are questions about his game.
"I just laugh about it because it’s something Kennedy’s dealt with all his life," Kylan said. "But he always proved them wrong. Every step, every level he’s dominated."
Chandler has a few natural role models in the NBA. He’s created close relationships with Cleveland’s Darius Garland, Atlanta’s Trae Young and Memphis’ own Ja Morant. All are undersized guards and all have offered their advice.
"Just be me. Don’t let nobody tell you what you can and cannot do. Just by Trae Young, everybody saying he was small. Ja everyone was saying he’s too weak. He’s not strong enough," Chandler said. "It put a chip on their shoulder and for me, everybody says I’m too small. But I just prove everybody wrong at every stage. If that’s what I have to do at the NBA level then that’s what I’ll do."