Do-everything forward Chandler Prater uses energy, intelligence to help lead Kansas women’s basketball on deep postseason run
There are many reasons the Kansas women’s basketball team is still playing this postseason, but junior forward Chandler Prater is one of the biggest.
“She plays her ass off all the time,” said KU coach Brandon Schneider after his team knocked off Nebraska 64-55 on Thursday night to advance to the final eight of the WNIT. “And it’s just a relentlessness about her that I think has increased here in this postseason.”
If we’re being honest, that relentless approach goes back pretty far.
One of the most decorated high school prospects to sign with Kansas in the Schneider era, Prater and the Jayhawks had high hopes for what her addition to the roster would mean. But a series of injuries early in her career — an ACL tear and sprains/strains to both of her Achilles tendons and ankles — derailed that instant impact and put Prater on a path to becoming something completely different than she was at North Kansas City High School.
Back then, she was a two-time DiRenna Award winner, given annually to the Kansas City-area’s best male and female basketball players.
Today, she’s a do-everything dynamo who has been compared by Schneider to former KU men’s standout Marcus Garrett. Garrett finished his Kansas career 16 points shy of 1,000 and as the 2020 national defensive player of the year.
Like Garrett, Prater’s passion for the game, toughness, intelligence and prioritization of her team and teammates have made her the kind of player that Schneider and the Jayhawks have come to rely on in a variety of ways.
Need a stop? It’s usually Prater who’s up for the challenge of getting it, whether that’s by locking down her player, swiping a steal, blocking a shot or picking up someone else’s assignment.
Need a basket? Prater can get that, too, whether she turns a steal into a hard-charging coast-to-coast layup or hits a smooth free-throw-line jumper. She even has range that extends out to the 3-point line and is a 79% free throw shooter, whose percentage at the line seems to grow in the biggest moments.
“She’s just one of those people who gives us her all,” KU guard Zakiyah Franklin said of Prater after the recent win over Nebraska. “Since Day 1, that’s been Chandler. Her passion for the game is just unmatched.”
Franklin calls Prater the Jayhawks’ “energy bunny” and she said all of the KU teams she has been on have relied on Prater to pick up the intensity for everyone.
That was on full display against the Cornhuskers, who got behind early and spent the game in constant pursuit of a comeback. Every time Nebraska got close, Prater made some kind of play that reminded them — and her teammates — who was in control.
Schneider recalled a moment midway through Thursday’s second half when the Huskers were threatening to steal the momentum and he called timeout to try to help his team regroup.
In addition to some X’s and O’s talk in the huddle and a little reminder about the importance of good body language, Schneider left his team with one final message before they went back onto the floor.
“Let’s all just kind of feed off Chandler here and get ourselves back rolling,” he told them.
It worked. A two-point KU lead quickly ballooned to seven and Nebraska never really threatened again.
Prater’s game is unique because it is a perpetual blend of joy and fire.
One minute, she’ll feel challenged and slap a scowl on her face, determined to get a stop or make her opponent look bad. Before you can blink — and usually after a Prater basket — that scowl transforms into a smile, and leaves those watching thinking she just went from the dinner table to the candy store.
“We rely on that a lot,” Franklin said. “Whether she’s on the court or off the court, that’s how big (her) impact is.”
Schneider has grown to rely on Prater a lot, as well. And he credits her basketball IQ with being able to handle everything he throws at her.
In the second half of KU’s most recent win, Prater played one of the Jayhawks’ guard spots on the perimeter after point guard Wyvette Mayberry had to sit because of foul trouble. Schneider said he could not remember the last time he used Prater at that spot in a game and he knew without question that she had not worked in that role during any recent practices.
“I still don’t know what position she is,” Schneider said, only half joking. “We kind of move her all over the place. … You can throw her into any situation, pretty much 1 through 4, and she’s going to know what’s supposed to go on.”
Regardless of where she plays or what she’s asked to do, Prater has just one goal every time she takes the floor — to win.
And while playing in the WNIT is not the same as playing in the NCAA Tournament like the Jayhawks hoped to do, Prater doesn’t see it as all that different when the ball is thrown into the air for the opening tip.
“I try to just stay in the present and be grateful for the things I do have,” she said. “I’m going to do anything this team needs for us to win and continue on in this tournament. And I’m honestly really proud of my progress.”
With her junior season now down to a maximum of three games remaining, Prater will try to carry that mindset with her into Sunday’s 2 p.m. Great 8 matchup with Arkansas at Allen Fieldhouse.