Vols’ Chandler reacts to NBA Draft selection

Falling out of the first round of Thursday night’s NBA Draft party didn’t dampen the enthusiasm when Tennessee star Kennedy Chandler heard his name called early in the second round.

Perhaps the destination — the hometown Memphis Grizzlies, by way of the San Antonio Spurs — was the reason for that.

Chandler and his friends and family — and, interestingly, University of Memphis coach Penny Hardaway — were on hand for Chandler’s party at Hyatt Centric Beale Street in Downtown Memphis, and there was plenty of applause when Chandler heard his name called and put on a Grizzlies hat.

Wynston Wilcox from the Commercial Appeal in Memphis was on hand at Chandler’s draft party and recorded the reaction from the room when Chandler’s name was announced.

The first hug, naturally, came from Chandler’s father, Kylan.

Chandler and those around him — and practically everyone who covers NBA and college basketball — expected his name to come off the board a bit sooner. Most reputable outlets slotted Chandler into the back end of the first round, and many analysts listed him as the “best available” prospect from the midway point of that first round.

That didn’t happen, though. Chandler slipped eight picks into the second round at No. 38 overall. He was selected by the San Antonio Spurs, but he was immediately sent to the Grizzlies for cash and a future second-round pick.

As much as Chandler felt slighted by falling out of the first round, going back home to start his professional career and playing alongside mentor and friend Ja Morant was a strong consolation prize. Chandler spent his high school career at Memphis-area Briarcrest Christian School before transferring to national powerhouse Sunrise Christian Academy in Bel Aire, Kansas, for his senior season. He then committed to and signed with Tennessee, and he mostly excelled as a freshman for the Vols as a freshman before declaring for the draft. He was arguably one of the nation’s best point guards the second half of the season, finishing with team-high averages of 13.9 points, 4.7 assists and 2.2 steals per game. He won Freshman All-America, Freshman All-SEC and second-team All-SEC honors, and he was named the MVP after leading the Vols to their first SEC Tournament championship since 1979.

Tennessee’s season ended sooner than expected, courtesy of a tough loss to Michigan in a Round of 32 game at the NCAA Tournament. Chandler produced 19 points, nine assists, four rebounds and two steals in that game, and his emotional postgame hug from Wolverines coach Juwan Howard was arguably one of the most memorable moments in the tournament.

Less than three weeks later, Chandler on April 5 officially announced his intention to declare for the NBA Draft. Most expected him to be Tennessee’s fourth first-round pick in the past four years, but things went a different way. That didn’t seem to damper Thursday’s watch party, though, especially given the destination.

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