Sunday Special: The former Lake High and Walsh University standout helped lead Winthrop to the Big South title last Sunday
Chandler Vaudrin got March Sadness before he could experience March Madness.
Last Sunday, Winthrop junior Chandler Vaudrin had the best moment of his college basketball career when he helped lead the Eagles to the Big South tournament title and a berth in the NCAA tournament.
By Wednesday morning, the former Lake High School and Walsh University standout was wondering if they would have to play the games in an empty arena.
By Thursday, the tournament was off due to the spread of the coronavirus.
"I’m holding up all right, but it’s tough right now," said Vaudrin, who spoke by phone Friday. "There’s been some ups and downs this week for sure.
"I know it’s the right move and we have to do this, but it’s so hard. We just worked so hard, each and every team. And we’ve got two seniors on the team and they don’t ever get a chance to play again. It’s just a weird feeling. The season is over, we never lost, but we didn’t win the national championship."
Vaudrin the basketball player isn’t the only one upset.
Vaudrin the basketball viewer is, too.
"I’m going to be honest — I don’t know what I’m going to do," he said, chuckling. "Every day, I’m watching basketball. My dad got me NBA League Pass so I could watch all the games and when a game gets to the end of the quarter, I’m flipping to another game.
"Like I said, this (canceling) is the right thing to do. There are bigger things than basketball and the most important thing we can do right now is stay healthy and try to end this right now. But it’s super unfortunate."
Still, canceling the tournament doesn’t take away from what Vaudrin accomplished in his first season as a Division I basketball player. The 6-foot-7 guard averaged 9.3 points, 5.8 rebounds and a team-high 5.8 assists per game for Winthrop (24-10), which shared the Big South regular season title before defeating Hampton on Sunday for the tournament title.
"For me, I put in a lot of hard work and made a lot of tough decisions because when I left Walsh I was in a good spot," said Vaudrin, who sat out the 2018-19 season after leaving Walsh. "It kind of validates that I picked a good school with good people here."
Vaudrin was one of two Eagle starters who played Division II basketball. Senior Hunter Hale started his career at Central Michigan, played two seasons at Division II Grand Valley and came to Winthrop this year as a graduate transfer, leading the team in scoring at 13.9 per game.
"I think there’s a lot of people who went D-II who didn’t have the grades or didn’t have the looks or wasn’t on the right AAU team or in the right environment," Vaudrin said. "There’s a lot that plays into it. But with hard work and persistence, you can achieve great things as a player and a team if you set your mind to it.
"Me and Hunter, we developed a really good bond. I lived with him and whenever we made big plays, we’d yell "D-II’ to each other, just as a way to say, ‘Keep going. Keep that chip on your shoulder.’"
Here are more highlights from Vaudrin’s interview:
On going 3-3 over the last six regular season games before winning three straight in the Big South tournament: "We went on a 14-game winning streak right before that and for us to win 14 in a row, it wears on you. You’re in the middle of a two-month stretch where you’re playing really, really high-level basketball. Once we got to the second times playing teams, you’re scouted better and they know your tendencies more. Plus, we have seven new guys on the team and four (true) freshmen, so it’s a long year and dudes from high school haven’t played this many games before. It takes a beating on your body. I remember at the Monday practice after we lost to Hampton, it was, ‘Fellas, we can keep doing what we’re doing now and maybe win a couple games in the Big South tournament. Or we can buy into our defense.’ We ramped up our defense to another level and that really helped us in the tournament."
On growing up a North Carolina fan: "My dad grew up liking North Carolina because of the Michael Jordan days and all that stuff, so for me, they were huge. Anytime there was a North Carolina-Duke game, I was watching. I’m a big fan of Roy Williams and what he did."
On playing Duke on Nov. 29, a game the Blue Devils won 83-70: "It was really cool. It was one of those things where, when I got out there for the tip, I thought, ‘This is really happening.’ I was nervous for probably the first two minutes and my heart was beating really fast, but after the first media timeout, I calmed down and I was good. I was like, ‘We can play with this team.’ It was cool going against Coach (Mike) Krzyzewski, with him being so legendary. We played a good game."
On playing at Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium: "It’s way smaller than you would think. Believe it or not, I wanted to get heckled more than I did. I didn’t take the ball out on the sideline. I wanted them (the student section) to do the things they always do. But they had just lost the game before us and it was like, ‘It’s another mid-major.’ Sometimes high-majors play down to the competition. I wanted it to be louder, but when they started hitting shots and got a run, it got pretty loud in there, which was pretty cool."
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