Isler heeds call to Clo­vis

For­mer Wild­cat now back with alma mater

Albuquerque Journal - - SPORTS - BY JAMES YODICE JOUR­NAL STAFF WRITER

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.”

ROBERTO E. ROS­ALES/JOUR­NAL

First-year Clo­vis boys coach Jaden Isler in­structs his play­ers dur­ing Fri­day’s 80-73 loss to top-ranked Cleve­land.

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