Isler heeds call to Clovis
Former Wildcat now back with alma mater
RIO RANCHO — The lure, Jaden Isler said, was too strong to ignore.
“When momma calls,” he said, “you come home.”
The Clovis High School boys basketball program has begun a new era with Isler as its head coach. After four glorious seasons coaching the Elida girls 45 miles down the road, where he led the Tigers to four straight state championships, Isler returned to his alma mater last spring.
The 29-year-old, a 2008 Clovis graduate, is following in the footsteps of his late father, J.D., who once coached the Wildcats.
“When Clovis opened up (in May), very, very late, I had planned on being back at Elida,” he said Friday night after his Wildcats fell 80-73 to No. 1-ranked Cleveland. “I took that as a sign it was time for a new challenge. It was one of those deals that when the opportunity showed itself, it was something I couldn’t say ‘no’ to.”
Isler said he had other job offers, but always felt that Clovis was the one job he’d leave Elida for.
And he wants to restore the luster to this program. The Wildcats (1-1) — the team and Isler have their home debut tonight against La Cueva — are a cumulative 41-92 the last five seasons.
“You know, we’ve had some rough years,” Isler said. “One thing I wanted right away is to get the community behind us. And I wanted us to get back to that up-tempo style, back to Clovis pressure. (To) establish the style and identity of the program.”
Friday was the first of four visits to the metro area for Clovis, which will be here next week for the Joe Armijo Classic at Albuquerque Academy. The Wildcats, based on Friday’s performance, are going to be a handful, young as they might be.
Senior guard Jacob Moon had 18 points, junior forward Ro Morgan 16 as Clovis took Cleveland almost all the way to the wire. (The Storm is not yet at full strength, as 6-foot-5 sophomore Tre Watson is recovering from a badly sprained ankle, suffered on the final play of the first half of last Saturday’s state championship football game against La Cueva.)
That aside, Clovis demonstrated that it has a quick, big, athletic group that can play above the rim.
“I think we can play with anybody, and I think we can beat anybody in the state,” said Morgan, a 6-3 forward.
Clovis last played for a title in 2013. Isler was on the floor when the Wildcats lost to Hobbs in the 2008 final.
“It’s really different with coach Isler,” Morgan said. “When we’re playing, it feels like he’s on the court with us.”
One of the first things Isler did was to go to Clovis’ junior high schools and get future Wildcats on the same program and in the same system Isler is running. “No zones,” he said with a smile. Isler is Clovis’ No. 4 all-time leading scorer and the school’s alltime leader in assists.
“Bring back that swagger you get from playing a physical, up-tempo style,” he continued. “That’s what I wanted.”
Isler has had to overcome his own issues just to start this season. He had surgery on his heart — twice — just in the last several weeks.
He wears a defibrillator, but it got infected just before Thansgiving. There was one surgery to detect that, and another operation to install in a new device.
Isler spent a few days in a Dallasarea hospital, and has two “racquetball-size” holes in his chest. He wears a wound vacuum virtually around the clock; doctors allowed him to take it off only for Clovis’ two games. But he was back on the vacuum as soon as he got on the bus leaving Cleveland.
“I’m on it 24-7,” he said. The need for the defibrillator goes back to when he finished his playing days at Clovis. While watching a softball game, he collapsed and his heart stopped. That was two weeks after his final game for the Wildcats.
Today, he is fully invested in getting Clovis back into the statewide conversation of big-school powers.
“He’s just an intense guy, and he pushes us to our limits,” said Moon. “To be the best we can be. (And) it’s on a relatable level.”
First-year Clovis boys coach Jaden Isler instructs his players during Friday’s 80-73 loss to top-ranked Cleveland.