Clovis coach J.D. Isler planned to be a dentist before turning to coaching. CNJ photo by Eric Kluth.
By Rick White
J.D. Isler never gave much thought to being a coach when his playing career ended.
Even though basketball was his life growing up near Grady, Isler had his sights on becoming a dentist after a solid college playing career that included being conference player of the year as a senior at Lubbock Christian University.
One season as a graduate assistant coach changed his mind.
Instead of filling cavities and pulling molars in a pristine dentist’s office, Isler has spent the last two decades in sweaty gyms molding winning basketball teams.
In his third season as boys basketball coach at Clovis, the 41-year-old Wheatland native won his 300th game as a high school coach Tuesday when the Wildcats beat Carlsbad 98-68 at Rock Staubus Gymnasium. He’s guided the Wildcats to the state playoffs the last two seasons.
Isler is admittedly demanding on his players, his voice resonating to the rafters during practice and games as he tries to squeeze every ounce of potential out of his players.
A classic overachiever as a player, Isler expects the same commitment as a coach.
“That’s the way I was taught, that you have to put a lot into something if you want something out of it,” Isler said.
He knows he sounds maniacal sometimes during games.
“Sometimes when we’re watching film I turn down the sound because I can hear myself yelling over the crowd,” Isler said.
“What people don’t see is all the one-on-one time I spend with players. (The players) understand where I’m coming from.”
Isler’s high school coach at Grady, Lucky Carter, is not surprised his former player’s success.
Carter described Isler as a quintessential gym rat, whose thirst for knowledge of the game was surpassed only by his desire to win.
“He’d live in the gym,” said Carter, one of the more colorful coaches during his days at Grady and Tucumcari. “I’d have to run him out of the gym after practice.”
Carter would take the teen-age Isler with him on scouting trips, where the conversation would always turn toward basketball, he said.
“All he wanted to talk about was basketball,” Carter said. “He just wanted to know everything he could.”
Isler was introduced to basketball at an early age by his father, Jerry, a basketball standout himself at Wheatland in the mid-to-late-1940s.
“We’d go out on the gravel driveway at the house and shoot,” said Isler of his role model. “He’d rebound for me for hours. When it got dark out he’d put on the pickup lights and we’d shoot for several more hours.”
Isler spent nine seasons at Grady, winning a state title in his first years as girls coach in 1986 and later winning a boys state title in 1995.
In between, he coached women’s basketball at New Mexico Junior College (42-19 in two years) and the University of Texas-Arlington (42-35 in three seasons).
Isler said he inherited struggling programs, and the time and energy he spent rebuilding them led to his decision to return to Grady.
He took over the Clovis program in the summer of 2001 after a year out of coaching and another as the freshman boys coach at Marshall Junior High.
“Once I got involved with the Wildcats, it didn’t take me long to start bleeding purple,” Isler said. “Now it seems like I’ve always been a Wildcat.”