Chandler Eager to Make His Mark

Last week, several Knicks veterans got together at the Madison Square Garden Training Center for some informal workouts and scrimmages aimed at building team chemistry for the upcoming season.

This group, which included Quentin Richardson, Jamal Crawford, Stephon Marbury, David Lee and Nate Robinson, wasn't just there for a mid-summer reunion. They were already looking ahead to next season and welcoming newcomers who will be part of it. One of the players they reached out to was 2007 first-round draft pick Wilson Chandler, a 20-year-old from Benton Harbor, Mich., now just weeks away from his first NBA training camp.

After his first morning with the veterans on Thursday, Chandler was bursting with enthusiasm as he headed down to Hunter College for an appearance at the Knicks Summer Basketball Camp.

"It was a good run," he said. "We played about seven or eight games and my team won three. It was a great experience getting up there and playing with the guys, especially building team chemistry. We worked out before we went on the court. Did some drills, push-ups and cardio. It was a good experience in gaining that team chemistry we're going to need. … Stephon also talked to me and showed me a few things, so I think it was a good learning experience before having to play in the real games once the season starts."

A 6-foot-8 forward who got his first taste of life with Knicks teammates at last month's NBA Summer League, Chandler more than held his own on the court with the older players at the Training Center. His determination to make an impression was evident, just as it was during the Summer League games in Las Vegas, where he ranked third on the Knicks with 13.4 points per game.

"In Summer League, I played with Renaldo (Balkman), Nate and Demetris (Nichols), so I got used to playing with all those guys. And David (Lee) practiced with us sometimes in Vegas. … I knew Summer League was going to be hard going into it, because we were playing against good players every night, but I think we did very well. We played a high-tempo game and played defense. We grinded it out when we were down and went 5-0."

The instant impact at Summer League was hardly a surprise from a player who averaged 14.7 points and 6.9 rebounds as a sophomore at DePaul last season. As a teen-ager, Chandler emerged as one of the Blue Demons' leaders last season and dominated his team's wins over Wake Forest and Notre Dame -- a game in which he scored the go-ahead points and then blocked the potential game-winner in the closing seconds.

"It was a big jump from college to Summer League," Chandler said. "I know that when the real NBA season starts it's going to be harder than summer league, so I've got to be ready for it."

Chandler's sophomore year at DePaul was a remarkable step up from an impressive freshman season that included two Big East Rookie of the Week awards and three double-doubles. That landed him on the Knicks coaching staff's radar, particularly since the Knicks have contacts in the DePaul program, where assistant coach Mark Aguirre starred before becoming the NBA's No. 1 overall pick in 1981.

"The first time he caught my eye I was actually watching a game against Kansas," recalled Knicks President, Basketball Operations and Head Coach Isiah Thomas after drafting Chandler on June 28. "I turned on the game to watch Brandon Rush and Julian Wright. DePaul upset Kansas, and I noticed this guy Chandler. The more I watched him play, the more I did the background checks and the more I liked what I kept finding out."

When Chandler came out for the 2007 NBA Draft, the Knicks invited him for a workout, and he impressed them enough to become a first-round pick at No. 23 overall.

"When Mr. Stern came up and called my name, and said I was going to the Knicks at No. 23, it was one of the best moments of my life," said Chandler, grinning ear-to-ear as if reliving the memory as he described it. " It was kind of a surprise that the Knicks drafted me. There were rumors going around, but I knew that until they called my name anything could happen."

That vote of confidence from Thomas was significant – since Thomas has an outstanding draft record that has seen him bring players like Tracy McGrady, Damon Stoudamire and last year's pick, Renaldo Balkman, into the NBA.

Being drafted by Thomas was a special thrill for Chandler, who grew up just across Lake Michigan from Thomas' hometown of Chicago and has looked up to Thomas since his days as a star in Detroit.

While the Pistons were Chandler's home-state team, the youngster's loyalty was firmly directed at Chicago -- a city much closer to Benton Harbor than Detroit. It was hard to argue with his interest in the Bulls, because the Michael Jordan factor was a powerful attraction for just about any kid from Chandler's generation.

"Actually, my grandmother was a big Michael Jordan fan, and that's became I was a Bulls fan," said Chandler, who met Jordan for the first time while attending DePaul. "My grandmother loved Michael Jordan."

An avid fan of the game from his earliest days, Chandler said he had no idea he would one day follow his heroes Jordan, Jamal Mashburn and Kobe Bryant into the NBA.

"I didn't expect to play in the NBA. When I was younger I always wanted to be in the NBA, but I never thought that I would actually play there," he said. "I was just a big fan, but in college I began to think I had the chance."

Now, Chandler is about to "live the dream" as a member of the Knicks, and that long-awaited moment – playing his first minutes as a pro -- is not so far off.

"Growing up, you always wanted to play in the NBA. It was everybody's dream when you watched your favorite players," said Chandler. "And then you get into college and realize you have a chance to play in the NBA. You look forward to that, and it's a dream come true. And when you make it, you can't stop. You've just got to keep working hard."

Making it to the NBA and establishing oneself as a regular in an NBA lineup are two different steps, and Chandler says that although he is used to being the center of attention, he is prepared to bide his time and wait for an opportunity to make his mark.

"I want to win Rookie of the Year, but as long as we get off to a good start and are winning games, I won't be complaining about anything," he said. "Whatever the team needs me to do, I can do."

Photo Gallery: Chandler at Knicks Summer Camp


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