Athlete of Week: Chandler, Chiefs surging at right time

nmbhoops-3The North Myrtle Beach High boys basketball team seems to be putting it all together at the right time. So is Chiefs’ junior point guard Cooper Chandler, and the timing of the two turning points are not coincidental.

Chandler was voted the Mammy’s Kitchen Athlete of the Week after leading North Myrtle Beach to three consecutive victories in Region 7-4A play, putting the Chiefs in position to claim a first-round home playoff game.

It’s a scenario that seemed unlikely one month ago, when NMB started the season 4-9. It seemed even more unlikely one year ago for Chandler, a then-JV player who saw action in only a handful of varsity games. He has suddenly become the Chiefs’ primary ballhandler, leading NMB to five wins in their last seven outings.

“It was hard at first being one of the people who barely played varsity,” Chandler said of his new role as floor general for the Chiefs. “We have a lot of young players, so it was like I’m an older player even though I don’t have much varsity experience. But I’ve been adjusting to it and I’m trying to be more of a vocal leader.”

The transition hasn’t come easily for Chandler or his teammates. Adding to the degree of difficulty was the arrival of a new head coach, Alvin Green, the program’s third in the past five years. Green, a former star point guard at Socastee High and Coastal Carolina, had to convince his new team to embrace the change and buy in to his game plan.

“It’s tough anytime you have a change, but we all like Coach Green,” Chandler said. “He was good at helping us deal with it and bringing us closer together. We all respect that he has played basketball at a high level and he knows what it takes to win. We all believe what he says and play hard for him and each other.”

It took time for the Chiefs to see results on the scoreboard. The turning point came after an embarrassing 20-point loss to neighborhood rival Loris. With the exception of a pair of defeats to No. 1-ranked and undefeated Wilson, the Chiefs haven’t lost since, and Chandler has had a big hand in every victory.

“After that loss to Loris is when we sort of woke up and started playing as a team,” Chandler recalled. “At first it was like everybody was playing for themselves, or maybe we just hadn’t put it together. All that hard work finally started paying off and we started winning and that gave us a lot more confidence.”

Wins over region foes Myrtle Beach, St. James and Marlboro County have given the Chiefs a chance to wrap up the runner-up spot in the league and claim the first-round home playoff game. They can earn the honor outright with a win over rival Myrtle Beach on Thursday, and they hope their recent surge carries them far in the postseason.

“We definitely want to get that No. 2 seed and a home playoff game, because we seem to play better at home, but we want to win anytime we play Myrtle Beach,” Chandler said. “But the main thing is we want to keep coming together and playing as a team, and hopefully we start playing our best at the right time.”

Both the Chiefs and Chandler.

Photo by Louis E. Keiner

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