Morgan State's Ian Chiles looks for a chance to prove he can play in the NBA
By By Aaron Dodson and The Baltimore Sun
Jun 22, 2014 | 4:02 PM
WASHINGTON -- Joel Chiles remembers taking his youngest son, Ian, to a carnival many years ago.
Ian was 10 years old, and he wanted to play the basketball game in which you win a prize for a certain amount of made shots. Joel gave Ian three $1 bills to play before he turned to talk to some friends. As time passed, Joel noticed that Ian kept shooting.
"I'm thinking to myself, 'I only gave him three dollars,' " Joel Chiles said. "So I went over there to see why he was still shooting, and the guy running the game said he kept letting him shoot because Ian had such a pretty shot. Ian might have shot the ball 50 or 60 times for three dollars.
"He only does one thing left-handed, and that's shoot the ball. So I already knew he had a unique skill set. He could shoot the ball."
Now 23 years old, Ian Chiles — a 7-foot-2, 260-pound center at Morgan State for the last four seasons — has spent the past month and a half practicing jump shots in workouts for teams as he prepares for Thursday's NBA draft.
Chiles, who said he has wanted to play in the NBA for as long as he can remember, know it's unlikely that he'll hear his name called Thursday. He's not listed in DraftExpress.com's Top 100 prospects, and there are only 60 total picks in the two-round draft. Regardless, he's that much closer to achieving his goal.
He shares his NBA dreams with the man who first put a basketball in his hands, the same man who gave him those three dollars more than a decade ago.
"I've wanted to play in the NBA since the first day I ever saw it. Since the first day I saw it on TV, that's what I wanted to do. That's what my father wanted to do," Chiles said as he leaned back in his chair after a workout with the Washington Wizards on Wednesday. "My father couldn't get there, so I told myself I wanted to get there one day.
"He's my biggest fan, so I wanted him to at least see me there. To see it happening now, it's kind of crazy."
Joel competed in basketball leagues and tournaments for years after playing at Edward Waters College in Jacksonville, Fla., and Langston University in Oklahoma, both National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics Division I schools. When he would go to the gym, a young Ian would tag along.
"I'd come home from work, go to play in the leagues and take Ian with me," Joel Chiles said. "He'd stay in the gym and just watch me. He was the kind of kid that wouldn't run around. He'd just sit there and watch the game. … So he understood the game before he could play it."
Chiles inherited his height from his father, who is 6 feet 8. At the start of his freshman year at Cliffside Park High School in New Jersey, Chiles was 6 feet tall. In one year, he grew an unfathomable 10 inches.
Though his height came quickly, his skills took longer to develop. Chiles called himself a "late bloomer" while recounting the first time he dunked a basketball in a game. He was 16 years old and 6 feet 10.
"His basketball skills had to catch up with his growth spurt," Joel Chiles said.
By the end of his sophomore year, however, Chiles' size and upside started to attract Division I schools. He immediately drew comparisons to a player a few years older than him — 7-foot-2 former Georgetown and current Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert, the 17th overall pick in the 2008 NBA Draft.
Chiles began playing for a local Amateur Athletic Union team, and his coach suggested that he transfer to a private school. He decided upon Paterson Catholic in Clifton, N.J., but just a month before the start of basketball season, Chiles broke his right leg in an AAU game.
Schools lost interest, even those close to home, like Rutgers and Seton Hall. Chiles then had what he called an "OK" senior year after sitting out his entire junior season. Though Chiles' potential was still apparent, no scholarship offers reached his mailbox during his senior year.
"Guys are saying now, when Ian was coming out of high school, he had more potential and was further along than Roy Hibbert was at the same time," Morgan State coach Todd Bozeman said. "But no scholarship offers being 7-foot-2, that's a little different."
Without playing Division I college basketball, Chiles' shot at playing in the NBA seemed as distant as ever. But he still had hope.
After graduating from Paterson, Chiles elected to go to prep school to improve and earn a chance to play collegiately. He attended Thomas A. Edison Job Corps Academy, and after a season on the court, he received offers from two schools — UMES and Morgan State.
"It didn't hurt that, at the time, Morgan was the No. 1 team in the conference and [UMES] was the worst," Chiles said. "So that wasn't too hard."
After his first three years with the Bears, Chiles was running out of time. He was progressing, but slowly. As a junior, Chiles averaged 9.2 points and 5.6 rebounds in 32 games, with just 54 blocked shots. With just one season left before he could enter the NBA draft, Chiles knew something had to change, and change fast.
"I had to put in a lot of work by myself," said Chiles, his feet propped up in a chair across from him. "It was me having to go out and run on my own, go find some pickup games somewhere and try and get in the best shape possible. I had to get stronger."
His work in the offseason paid off as things began to click for Chiles during his senior year. The left-handed center was second on Morgan State's team in both scoring and rebounding with 15.6 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. He also shot a team-high 55 percent from the field.
Chiles improved on the defensive end, too, during his last season in college. He blocked 92 shots, tied for 21st in the nation.
"He started to come on this year, for sure, as a rebounder and shot blocker," Bozeman said. "He had a game this year where he had seven blocked shots in a game. When he first got here, he wasn't going after shots like that."
New Mexico State center Sim Bhullar — at 7 feet 5, the tallest player entered in this year's draft — saw Chiles' versatility in matchups with him during the predraft workout with the Wizards.
"Defensively, he's a good player. He's really quick," Bhullar said. "Offensively, he has a nice little hook shot, a nice touch around the rim."
'We've all wanted this for me'
After Chiles walked off the practice court Wednesday, he crept up to the Gatorade cooler to get a quick drink before Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld interrupted him.
"Good work, big fella," Grunfeld said as he extended his hand.
The day officially was finished for Chiles, but his quest was far from over.
Grunfeld's reassuring words, similar to the ones he heard after workouts with the New York Knicks and Miami Heat, don't increase the chance that Chiles will be drafted. Chiles said he's fine with going undrafted. If that happens, he hopes to join an NBA team's summer league squad and sign as a free agent.
"He doesn't have any apprehensions," Joel Chiles said. "He knows it's probably a long shot."
Bozeman sees room for Chiles to improve before his time comes, but he commended his former player's work ethic as the draft draws closer.
"To be honest with you, he's probably a year or two away from actually being on a NBA team's roster. … I think his biggest challenge is he needs to improve his body and strength," Bozeman said. "AlI I tell him is to just keep working hard, and I think he's going to be fine. He's come a long way. I look forward to seeing him playing 82 games one day."
On Thursday, Chiles knows the chance of being selected is slim. Still, the thought of hearing NBA commissioner Adam Silver call his name in the draft makes him think — about his father, how far he's come and simply, 'What if?'
"Man, that would just be a dream come true. I, my family — we've all wanted this for me," he said. "It would just be a blessing."
He put his feet on the ground and sat up in his chair.
"It would be the best thing to ever happen to me, to be honest with you."