Chavers catching playing time, not footballs

PULLMAN -- Growing up in football-mad Texas, Antonio Chavers caught the gridiron bug early. But visions of playing wideout for the Longhorns, Aggies or Red Raiders were derailed as a high school junior. With growing academic demands, reasoned mom and dad, there was room on the calendar for just one sport. So today, Chavers isn't catching footballs but he is grabbing more and more playing time with the Washington State basketball team.

For perspective on the JC transfer's growing presence under the watchful eye of head coach Dick Bennett, consider that he's averaging 21 minutes of PT per game over the last four versus 22 minutes combined in the six previous contests.

His arrival on the Palouse this season caps a fly pattern that saw his mother chase him out of cleats and pads and into a starring role on the hardwood of Forth Worth's South Hills High.

"I wanted to play football so bad," Chavers groans, his head dropping onto a press room table after a recent practice. "But my mom and dad said I could only play one sport. So for a week or two I was lying, saying I had to stay after school to do makeup work, but I'd really be at football practice.

"One day my mom came up to school earlier than usual and saw me running from the football field with my pads on. That was my last day of football. I was kinda mad because my dad didn't back me up. But I'm here, so maybe it was for the best."

Sticking with basketball, Chavers ended up at Tyler Junior College, where he was recruited by Texas A&M, TCU, Iowa, Kansas State and Auburn, among others. He says he chose WSU because, "when I got here, something just made me feel at home."

When his signing was announced, Bennett was clear in his praise: "Antonio is an athlete somewhat in the mold of Jeff Varem only as a true guard. He's really a strong scorer and a great defender. He's not particularly tall, but he is very rugged and explosive."

Chavers made an impression on WSU fans at the preseason Cougar Rally, a Midnight Madness-type event. In the team's slam dunk competition, the explosive 6-foot-1 Chavers unleashed three crams on his way to victory: a windmill dunk off a bounce pass to himself, a 360-degree one-hander, and a reverse two-hander that he cocked between his legs -- a dunk popularized a decade ago by Harold Miner in the NBA's dunk contest.

The performance might have surprised those who were unfamiliar with Chavers, but came as no shock to his teammates.

"Antonio is one of the most athletic people I've ever seen," said sophomore center Robbie Cowgill. "He has amazing jumping ability."

Aside from his athleticism, Chavers has worked his way into the Cougars' rotation with his defense. He started and played 29 minutes in a loss to USC a week ago, registering seven points, six rebounds and two assists, a couple days after playing 20 minutes off the bench in a tight loss to UCLA. This past week he logged 17 minutes against Oregon and 19 vs. Oregon State.

With starting point guard Derrick Low out with a broken foot and sixth-man Randy Green playing on a sore ankle, Chavers has been an invaluable role player.

"He's a physical and intense player. He guards hard, with his body and tenacity. With Derrick out and Randy's ankle, we needed to bring that in," said WSU associate head coach Tony Bennett.

"It's definitely been a learning experience," Chavers said of his first season in Pullman. "It's something I'm not used to, coming from a junior college where the play isn't as sound and fundamental. Here, it's all sound, fundamental. It's quick. Everything is advanced. But I'm getting into the swing of things as I get some more playing time."

NOTES:
The Cougars (9-7 overall and 2-5 in conference play) will try to halt a four-game skid this weekend when they travel to Stanford on Thursday and Cal on Saturday. The Card are 8-7 and 4-3, while the Bears are 10-6 and 4-3. The Card beat ASU this past Saturday and Cal lost to Arizona.

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