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Dallas Mavericks center Dereck Lively II has a proud mentor in Tyson Chandler

The 19-year NBA veteran has taken the talented rookie under his wing: ‘He reminds me a lot of myself’

DALLAS – While watching at home on his television, former NBA center Tyson Chandler jumped up from his couch in excitement when his pupil Dereck Lively II continued making an impact for the Dallas Mavericks by throwing down a putback dunk late in the season opener against the San Antonio Spurs.

“I was jumping around. I didn’t want to make too much of it. It’s just one game,” Chandler told Andscape about Lively, the Mavericks’ rookie center. “But at the same time, he stepped up big with how poised he was. I didn’t expect that. I remember my first game and I wasn’t that calm. We’ve been doing a lot since he got drafted, before training camp and during training camp. But to see him go out there and do it, I was superimpressed and it really let me know that he was really taking it in.

“You never know what’s going to happen when the lights come on. Well, he showed me what’s going to happen when the lights go on for him.”

The spotlight was on 7-foot-3 Victor Wembanyama in his highly anticipated NBA debut for the Spurs against the Mavericks on Oct. 25. Mavericks All-Star guard Luka Dončić stole the show with 33 points in the win, but the surprise performance of the night came from Lively, who had nine of his 16 points in the third quarter, grabbed 10 rebounds and blocked a shot in 31 minutes off the bench.

Lively has been starting ever since. Next up is a defensive assignment against two-time NBA MVP Nikola Jokic and the defending champion Denver Nuggets (Friday, 10 p.m. ET, ESPN).

After his NBA debut, Lively was glad to see a congratulatory text message from Chandler, his mentor.

“He definitely reached out and said, ‘Keep doing your work,’ ” Lively said in a phone interview with Andscape. “ ‘We’re going to stick at it and we’re just going to keep on climbing.’ He’s always going to have that high energy. So, we got back in the gym the day after and just tried to clean up all the mistakes from that game.”

Dallas Mavericks coaching assistant Tyson Chandler (left) works with Mavericks center Dereck Lively II at the team practice facility in Dallas.

Dallas Mavericks

“[The connection] was definitely natural. We just both have the same personality. We’re both always high energy, and there’s definitely days where he has more energy than me, which is insane. It was just like it clicked.” — Dallas Mavericks rookie Dereck Lively II

ESPN 100 ranked Lively as the No. 1 high school player in the country in the Class of 2022. The McDonald’s All American, however, didn’t dazzle offensively during his lone season at Duke averaging 5.2 points in 34 games. The 7-foot-1 Lively did shoot 65.8% from the field, averaged 5.4 rebounds and his 82 blocks were the second-most by a freshman in Duke history. Lively declared for the 2023 NBA draft on March 4.

“I wouldn’t even try to hinder Duke,” Lively said of his struggles. “I would put that on the mindset and the fit I had at Duke. I wouldn’t put that on Duke. But it’s more like a leap of faith to enter the draft. My life has always seemed like the hardest route and this route seems like a bumpy path. But it was definitely a leap of faith.

“I didn’t know if it would go good. I didn’t know if it would go bad. But I just felt like if I got 1% better each day, I could try to change things from good to better.”

Lively was selected with the 12th overall pick by the Oklahoma City Thunder before they traded his draft rights to Dallas. And shortly upon the Philadelphia native’s arrival to Dallas, he instantly connected on the practice court with Chandler, a teacher who had a similar build and game during his respected NBA career.

Chandler was the second overall pick in the 2001 NBA draft out of Manuel Dominguez High School (Compton, California). The 2012 NBA Defensive Player of the Year played in the NBA for 19 seasons, averaging 8.2 points, 9.0 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game. Chandler made his lone NBA All-Star Game appearance in 2013 with the New York Knicks. He also made the best of his one NBA season with the Mavericks, winning an NBA championship in 2011.

Chandler has lived in the Dallas area since retiring from the NBA in 2020. Intrigued by coaching, he rejoined the Mavericks as part of the Mavs Legends Program created by owner Mark Cuban. Mavericks coach Jason Kidd, a former teammate, welcomed Chandler with open arms. Since his arrival, the 41-year-old has worked with Mavericks centers including Dwight Powell, Moses Brown, Boban Marjanovic, Willie Cauley-Stein and some of the Mavericks’ G League players.

“He wanted to kind of get his feet wet to see what coaching is all about, so we have him on board for our Mavs Legends program,” Kidd said.

Chandler’s most intriguing project to date is helping Lively, who is 19 years old and has a similar height, build, defensive mentality and active offensive game. Lively said the tutoring from Chandler in pre-training camp workouts began his first week in Dallas. He also did his research on the internet to learn more about Chandler.

“I couldn’t put two and two together until I actually saw exactly who he was [online]. I was like, ‘Yes. Got you. I could see what they’re doing here,’ ” Lively said. “I just got more and more invested. The first thing I did was watch Tyson Chandler highlights. And then the more I watched, the more I was like, ‘Oh, OK, I could definitely see this role being exploited.’ And then you just kind of just take a deeper dive on his process throughout his career. The right fit fell into place …

“[The connection] was definitely natural. We just both have the same personality. We’re both always high energy, and there’s definitely days where he has more energy than me, which is insane. It was just like it clicked.”

Phoenix Suns center Tyson Chandler dunks in a game against the Los Angeles Lakers on Nov. 13, 2017, at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix.

Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

Dallas Mavericks center Dereck Lively II dunks in the first half against the Chicago Bulls at American Airlines Center on Nov. 1 in Dallas.

Tim Heitman/Getty Images

After entering the NBA at age 19, Chandler had his ups and downs during the first five seasons of his NBA career with the Chicago Bulls. Chandler said he had some “great vets” who helped him early in his career in Charles Oakley, Jalen Rose, Antonio Davis, Scottie Pippen and Othella Harrington.

Chandler hopes his guidance can keep Lively from facing the same adversity early in his career.

“He has a willingness to actually learn, listen and take in information,” Chandler said. “He has a great spirit. He reminds me a lot of myself. I feel the duty to actually be there for him and guide him as much as necessary. Whatever I can do …

“I want to give him the information of all the things that were tough on me, the roadblocks. I want to give him the gift of everything I learned along the way. I’ve told him to be patient with it and fall in love with the process. I really want him to have fun with the process of it, but not get all caught up in everything else, because his game is just starting.”

Lively said his learned a lot from Chandler about things such as setting proper screens and being a pro on and off the court.

“You always got to be a pro and in person and practice carry this persona that you’re a pro,” Lively said. “You always have to make sure that you bring everything you can to everything. That is the type of energy Tyson Chandler has.”

Lively didn’t make a notable impact in his first two games as a starter with the Mavericks. The Brooklyn Nets’ small lineups neutralized him to 17 minutes on Oct. 27. Five fouls limited Lively to 14 minutes on Oct. 30 against the Memphis Grizzlies. Lively, however, rebounded to make a strong impact in the Mavericks’ 114-105 win over the Bulls on Nov. 1 with 7 points, 13 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals and 1 block.

“After seeing what he was able to do in training camp and the preseason, I’m not surprised he is starting,” Chandler said.

Dallas (4-0) and the Boston Celtics (4-0) are the only undefeated teams remaining in the NBA. Chandler said Lively has already received some great experience so far and will grow even more with the challenge of guarding Jokić.

“The Joker has got everything you need,” Chandler said. “With him you got to be locked in and feel the game. What I mean by that is understand Denver’s offense, cutters, go-to moves, picks-and-rolls with Jamal Murray. The special thing about Joker is he’s not the norm. He will not force his will. He is going to make the right basketball play like LeBron James.

“But these are guys Dereck has to think about when he’s training, picture playing the greats and the guys at the top. All these are great experiences for him. Even in preseason playing Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert. They were great experiences. It’s logging information. You know what to expect next time.”

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.