Rick Barnes and his Tennessee Volunteers may be done in post season play, but that is not the case for one of their incoming recruits. Tennessee signee Kennedy Chandler and his teammates at Sunrise Christian Academy (Wichita, KS) are playing in the Geico Nationals Championship, an invitational tournament for some of the best high school basketball programs in the nation to determine a high school National Champion. Chandler and the Buffaloes were in action in the Semifinals of the tournament against IMG Academy. Sunrise won a hard-fought game over the Ascenders by a score of 70-63. Chandler was a key to the victory for Sunrise, and now he and his teammates will have a chance to play for the National Title.
Chandler has been nominated for countless awards, both at the state and the national level. He is the highest rated point guard in America, and under the brightest lights on Friday, he rose to the occasion, showing everyone, he deserved all the accolades. Chandler led the Buffaloes with 25 points. He also added in 5 assists and 5 rebounds as well. Chandler stuffed the stat sheet in a game where he was essentially already playing against high level college talent. At this point in the Geico Nationals, the starting five for pretty much every team in the tournament would make a dangerous college basketball team next season, Sunrise included. Chandler produced a fantastic effort, on a big stage, against elite competition. As an evaluator, there isn’t much more you can ask for. Chandler showed against IMG that he can score from all three levels, that he can create for his teammates, that at only 6’1”, he can go into the trees and rebound, and that he can play aggressive, one-on-one defense. After showing all of this for the entire game, it was in crunch time when Chandler turned it up to another level.
It was this performance by Chandler that caught the attention of another point guard making waves in Memphis. Ja Morant of the Memphis Grizzlies took to Twitter to talk about the performance Chandler put together against IMG. The high praise coming from Morant speaks volumes to the kind of play Chandler has put on, as he is arguably the most explosive point guard currently in the NBA. Morant has been following Chandler for some time, and has consistently praised him, going as far back as to when Chandler announced he would be coming to Tennessee. It was the ability to rise to the occasion that impressed Morant and many others.
Late in the game, Chandler worked to create space and hit the three-point shot that put the Buffaloes in the lead. He went on to score the last seven points of the game for Sunrise, as they widened their lead over the Ascenders to put them away. On a team loaded with talent and future college basketball stars, against a roster made up of the same, Chandler rose to the occasion as the best player on the floor. His coach and his teammates trusted him having the ball in his hand with the game on the line, and he put together a sparkling performance. Chandler made shot after shot, while then turning around and playing attacking, aggressive defense on the other end to keep IMG from scoring. Chandler rose to the occasion on both ends of the floor when the pressure was highest, and his team advanced because of that effort.
Much has been made of Tennessee lacking a player they trusted to take a shot late in the game. There was talk about how the Vols didn’t have a player to turn to when they absolutely needed a basket this season. It may be unfair to already out that expectation on him, but Kennedy Chandler certainly appears to be the kind of player with the mental makeup to fill that role. Chandler has one high school basketball game left before he moves on to Knoxville. Chandler won a State Title last season with Briarcrest Christian Academy, and now he looks to add a National Title in high school to his accomplishments as well. Chandler and Sunrise will take on top-seeded Montverde Academy Saturday at noon eastern on ESPN. Montverde and the Buffaloes have played three times this season, and the Buffaloes have gone 1-2 in those games. After their last meeting in Memphis, a Sunrise loss, Chandler said, “We’ll see them again in Florida.” Chandler called his shot, now can he and Sunrise cap things off with a title?