By Kevin Wilson: CNJ staff writer
The band is back together, somewhat, and it’s making a Friday swing through Portales.
In the closest thing they’ll have to a homecoming, Clovis High guards Jaden Isler and Bryce Hill, and former Wildcat coach J.D. Isler, lead McMurry University in a 7 p.m. Friday neutral site game at Greyhound Arena against Northern New Mexico College.
“It’s awesome; it feels good to see friends who have supported you your whole career,” said Isler, Clovis High’s No. 3 career scorer and assists leader. “It’s nice to be able to show them their support hasn’t gotten wasted. We love playing in front of these people, and this is home to us.”
The War Hawks (7-2, 5-2 American Southwest Conference) are in their first season under J.D. Isler, who joined the Indians following 10 years coaching at Clovis High. The elder Isler said he couldn’t turn down the opportunity to get back into college coaching, help McMurry make a transition to Division-II and again coach his son — the Indians’ starting point guard.
That announcement cemented the plans of Hill, Clovis’ No. 4 career scorer, who was already considering McMurry before coach Matt Garnett left to take a job at Wayland Baptist, his alma mater.
“ I came down for a visit after my last game at Texas Wesleyan,” Hill said. “I really liked the school. When Coach Isler told me he was going to get the job, I was sold.”
It’s the third time playing together for the senior guards, who also spent a junior college season together with Jacksonville College. The last time the three were together for a season, the Wildcats ripped off a 29-2 campaign considered historic even with its nailbiter loss to Hobbs in the 5A title game.
“It’s been really fun; they’ve both been playing really well,” Coach Isler said. “I think it’s been fun for them too. They didn’t miss a beat.”
The two are separated by .3 points per game, with Jaden Isler averaging 14.7 and Hill averaging 14.4. Isler leads the ASC with 6.3 assists per game, while Hill is second in the ASC with 3.6 3-pointers per game.
“It’s everything I could ask for up to this point,” Jaden Isler said. “We’ve had two close losses to two really good conference teams. Individually, I’m having a good year scoring the ball and I’m leading in assists. That comes along with having teammates like Bryce and Steve Jones (18.9 ppg) who make it easy to find them in the open floor.”
As far as having his father as coach again, Jaden Isler said the season has been easier because he knows exactly what the coach expects.
The combination was a staple at Clovis, earning Jaden the jeer, “Daddy’s boy,” throughout his career. Since that time, Isler verbally committed to Division-I Charleston Southern and collapsed later that day at a Lady Wildcat softball game in Texas. He went back and forth between hospitals in Texas, where doctors never figured out exactly what happened and fitted him with a defibrillator to be safe.
Charleston Southern officials, concerned about the ramifications of a player with a heart condition, would not clear him to play but offered to honor his scholarship. Isler declined and played a season each at Lubbock Christian and Jacksonville College before joining McMurry last year.
“That whole time really did bond us,” Jaden Isler said. “That started a long struggle for me as a player. I went from the top of the world. My plans to play Division-I didn’t work out like I wanted it to, and I bounced around from place to place. As a father and a coach, he helped me in a lot of ways getting through that time. I think it brought us closer.”
The game against Northern New Mexico was originally scheduled as a home game for the Indians, but the coaches struck an agreement for the game in Portales. It was a shorter trip for the Espanola-based Eagles, and coach Ryan Cordova has 12 native New Mexicans on his roster.
McMurry should blow by the non-conference Eagles, 0-18 with nobody averaging double figures. But don’t tell the War Hawks that.
“They don’t have a very good record, but their schedule has been brutal,” Isler said of the Eagles, who have played five Division-I teams and played 10 games in an 18-day stretch. “We’re not putting much stock in their record.”
Whoever the opponent, Hill said, it’s good to be home — or close to it.
“My mom hasn’t watched me play a game in two or three years,” Hill said. “She’s the reason I hoop.”