Few – if any – freshmen in college basketball have more responsibility placed on them than Tennessee point guard Kennedy Chandler. The Memphis, Tennessee, native was immediately given the keys to the Volunteers’ offense.
He has repaid head coach Rick Barnes‘ faith in him, averaging 13.3 points and 4.9 assists for the 13-5 Volunteers, who are ranked No. 18 in the latest AP poll. Chandler is the only player in the SEC scoring more than 13 points and dishing out more than 4.5 assists per game.
He contributed nine points and a game-high six assists in the team’s 64-50 win over then-No. 13 LSU on Saturday. The victory moved Tennessee to 4-3 in conference play.
griddy home win. pic.twitter.com/Ho1oBgdksc
— Tennessee Basketball (@Vol_Hoops) January 23, 2022
Widely regarded as a top-10 recruit, Chandler chose Tennessee over the likes of Duke, North Carolina and Kentucky. Before arriving in Knoxville, though, he won a gold medal as part of the U.S. U-19 World Cup team that included Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren, Purdue’s Jaden Ivey and Wisconsin’s Johnny Davis.
While attempting to finish off a fast break with a dunk in the semifinals against Canada, Chandler slipped and came down from the rim face-first. He was able to play in the gold-medal game against France and later gave thanks to God that the injury wasn’t more severe.
“It could’ve been way worse,” Chandler said. “It’s God. I thought it would’ve been way worse. I didn’t think that would happen. I usually finish the dunk. I don’t usually hang on the rim when I dunk. But I hung on the rim to try to protect myself because I slipped. I couldn’t control it.”
Now a projected lottery pick in the upcoming NBA draft, Chandler has not forgotten what it took to get to this point. His father, Kylan, once drove him to the CP3 Rising Stars camp instead of working a mandatory overtime shift at a logistics company where he was a manager. When Kylan returned to work, he was told he’d been fired.
Part of the younger Chandler’s transition to the college level has been working with Tennessee’s coaching staff to balance his natural feel for the game and raw athletic ability with running an offense effectively and taking care of the basketball.
“He’s one of those point guards where there’s that fine line between wanting him to be structured, but also wanting him to play his own game,” Barnes said last month. “He has instincts you don’t want to touch.”
Chandler was a two-time Mr. Basketball in Tennessee while playing for Briarcrest Christian School (Eads, Tennessee) before transferring to Sunrise Christian Academy (Bel Aire, Kansas) for his final year of high school. Following his second Mr. Basketball honor, he thanked God for the role basketball’s played in his life.
“Basketball is something special in my life,” Chandler told Tour Collierville Magazine. “God gave me the ability to play this sport, and I’m just very blessed for that ability. I started playing when I was 5 and I just worked hard every day since then. I just knew I could be something and I’m glad I put in the time.”
In that one season at Sunrise, Chandler was named the 2020-21 Kansas Gatorade Player of the Year.
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The Volunteers return to the court Wednesday night when they host Florida. They face Texas in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge on Saturday.
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