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By VAN ROSE vrose@leader.net

Sunday, February 16, 2003     Page: 1C

DALLAS TWP. - Willie Chandler has established himself as one of the best small-college basketball players the sport has ever known.
    The College Misericordia senior is the second-leading scorer in Division III history with 2,771 points. He has led the country in scoring twice and boasts a career average of 26.4 points per game.
    Not bad for a young man whose favorite sport is football.
    ``I've always loved football best,'' said the 6-foot-4 Chandler, who was an outstanding wide receiver at Scranton High School. ``Nothing has ever given me more of an adrenaline thrill than going out on a Friday night and hitting someone.''
    Chandler's gridiron exploits earned him scholarship offers from several major colleges, including Pittsburgh and West Virginia. However, he never contemplated playing college football.
    In his heart, Chandler knew his true calling was basketball.
    After graduating from Scranton in 1998, Chandler enrolled at East Stroudsburg University. After spending just a few weeks at the Division II school, he realized he made the wrong choice.
    ``I just didn't like the school. You didn't get much attention from the teachers, and the basketball program wasn't what I expected.''
    He transferred to Lackawanna Junior College and focused on his class work for the fall and spring semesters.
    After waiting a full year to start his collegiate basketball career, he did so at College Misericordia. He was heavily recruited by other area schools, but chose the Cougars because of head coach Dave Martin.
    Chandler, 22, was impressed by Martin's candidness.
    ``He was the most real of all the coaches I talked to. Other coaches were feeding me stuff, but coach Martin was right up front about his program.''
    Support system makes the man
    Chandler says coming to Misericordia was one of the best decisions of his life. His love affair with the school began the day he first set foot on campus.
    ``I just got along with people right away. All of my best friends are here now. The teachers are so helpful, and they're reasonable.''
    Chandler, a sports management major, is on track to graduate in May. He's tutored by his girlfriend, senior Kelly Gallagher, a student-teacher in the North Pocono School District.
    ``She's a smart girl and she's a big help. She doesn't do my work, but she helps. She's good to talk to if I'm having trouble in any of my classes.''
    Chandler said he also receives strong moral support from his parents, Will and Gae. They are divorced and both have remarried. They attend every Misericordia game.
    ``I can't thank them enough for what they did for me, they're great. Now, I feel like I have two families.''
    Chandler also has a close-knit basketball family. He's enormously popular with his teammates and coaches.
    Playing through the pain
    Wednesday, Chandler and senior Jason Perry combined for 65 points in a victory against Marywood to become the leading scoring duo in Division III history (4,301 points).
    ``Scoring a lot of points was never on my mind when I came here,'' Chandler said. ``I really didn't think I'd do that, until a few games into my freshman season.''
    Chandler made an auspicious college debut by scoring 44 points against Baptist Bible. After that, he was a marked man, according to Martin.
    ``Right away, there's a target on his back,'' the Misericordia coach said. ``From that point on, fans would get on Willie constantly every time we went on the road.''
    During one road game, the opposing team's entire student section wore Willie Chandler masks and heckled him constantly throughout the game.
    ``Willie loved it,'' Martin said. ``He played one of the best games of his life.''
    According to Martin, Chandler has taken a physical pounding in every game of his career, but has never missed a game, despite a plethora of injuries.
    ``He takes punishment every night,'' Martin said. ``He takes the ball to the basket, so he's constantly getting bumped and chucked. So for him not to miss a game is amazing.''
    Martin says the key to Chandler's basketball success is his mental toughness.
    ``He's terrific, because he's old school. He's a kid that never complains. He's such a warrior. People don't realize that he's played a lot of games in pain and never complained about it.''
    Chandler just takes it all in stride. He realizes that injuries go with the territory when you're double- and triple-teamed every game. On Feb. 10, he played 38 minutes against Arcadia, despite severely spraining his ankle in a game two days earlier.
    ``I have to face all those weird defenses that try to bump and bang you around,'' Chandler said. ``It all adds up. My knees were terrible my freshman and sophomore seasons.''
    Chandler is not just an explosive scorer. He's Misericordia's all-time leading rebounder, with an average of 8.1 boards per game. He also leads the team in steals, with a career total of 225.
    Big fan of kids and coaching
    What impresses Martin most about Chandler is that he's a better person than he is a basketball player. Off the court, he's easygoing and extremely accessible.
    And he's also great with kids, especially team family members. Chandler serves as a role model for Martin's daughter, Samantha; assistant coach Joe Ryan's son, Michael; and assistant coach Bob McGoff's grandson, Ryan.
    He spends time shooting hoops with each of them after every practice, and plays the role of a big brother to 9-year-old Ryan McGoff.
    Ryan McGoff sits on the Misericordia bench and attends every pregame meal. He always sits next to Chandler at the table, something both seem to relish.
    ``I love kids,'' Chandler said. ``You have to be nice to them. They look up to me and the rest of the team.''
    Chandler wants to coach basketball after his playing career. He plans to play professionally next year overseas, possibly in Germany.
    ``I've played against a lot of guys who are playing overseas now, and held my own. Coach Martin has been contacted by some agents, so after the season, we'll sit down and discuss my options.
    ``Right now, I just want to help Misericordia win the PAC championship.''
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