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Lander, perhaps Evansville's best player since Cheaney and McCarty, stays humble

Evansville Courier & Press logo Evansville Courier & Press 11/21/2019 Gordon Engelhardt, Evansville Courier & Press
a group of people posing for a photo: From left, Kiyron Powell of Bosse, Kenna Hisle of North, Khristian Lander of Reitz and Meredith Raley of Gibson Southern. © MaCabe Brown From left, Kiyron Powell of Bosse, Kenna Hisle of North, Khristian Lander of Reitz and Meredith Raley of Gibson Southern.

Khristian Lander’s mom still makes him take out the trash. His grandfather, Randall, texts him every day. Their message to the hoops phenom: Stay humble.

But it’s difficult when you’re considered perhaps the next Romeo Langford, or the best boys’ basketball player from Evansville since Calbert Cheaney and Walter McCarty.

“Yeah, I talked to Walt during the summer,” said Lander, a 6-foot-3 point guard from Reitz who is a 5-star recruit and considered the No. 11 player nationally in the Class of 2021 by 24x7sports and No. 13 player by rivals.com.  “I talked to Calbert on my IU visit and he gave me some pretty good advice. He was telling me about his experiences, what they had at IU.”

McCarty watched a handful of Lander’s Indiana Elite AAU games in the summer and told him what he was doing well and what areas in which he needed to improve. Lander has received 16 scholarship offers, including Indiana, Purdue, Kansas, Louisville, Michigan, Illinois and Ohio State. Memphis was the most recent school to offer, earlier this month.

Bosse’s Shane Burkhart, who has coached JaQuan Lyle and Mekhi Lairy and currently mentors Kiyron Powell, knows a little about Division I-level talent. But Lander is headed for the stratosphere.

“Lander is a once in a lifetime talent,” Burkhart said. “He really has taken his game to another level – one of which I don’t know if we have seen around here in a while.”

Burkhart said Lander’s recruiting is about to explode “on the biggest level there is with all the true ‘blue bloods.’ He already has Louisville and Memphis. North Carolina, Duke, Kentucky and Michigan State, these schools are going to come knocking on his door if they haven’t already.”

a person standing posing for the camera: Khristian Lander for Basketball Book 2019. © MaCabe Brown / Courier & Press Khristian Lander for Basketball Book 2019.

Burkhart noted that Lander was invited to USA Basketball's Junior National minicamp in July.

“He is just a phenomenal player whose upside is through the roof,” Burkhart said. “I can’t wait to see him take Reitz to some spectacular levels.”

Brandi Lander thought her son was a little arrogant in sixth and seventh grade. But she is proud of the way he has matured and how he has handled all the adulation.

“I just feel like I’m a pretty humble person,” said Lander, who averaged 22.2 points, 4.2 rebounds and 4.9 assists last season. “I don’t let all the attention get to me.”

Khristian knows his grandfather, Randall Lander Sr., a minister at Dove Chapel on the West Side, will never stop texting him to keep his head on straight. Khristian said he acts the same way he did before all the offers from big-time schools starting flooding in. Lander, however, did allow that getting all the attention was “pretty cool.”

a man playing a game of basketball: Reitz's Khristian Lander (4) takes a shot during the 2019 IHSAA Class 4A sectional championship game against the Jasper Wildcats Saturday, March 2, 2019. © MaCabe Brown / Courier & Press Reitz's Khristian Lander (4) takes a shot during the 2019 IHSAA Class 4A sectional championship game against the Jasper Wildcats Saturday, March 2, 2019.

He said when the adulation began to accelerate it was difficult.

“The pressure was hard the first time,” Lander said. “Now, I’m starting to take it all in.”

A student with a 3.8 grade-point average, Lander plans to major in mechanical engineering. He is accomplished enough along academically that he would only need to take a handful of classes next summer to graduate a year early and go directly to college -- if that's what he wants to do. However, the wiry 166-pounder needs to gain strength to make an early leap to college ball.

“All the other aspects of my game are pretty solid right now,” Lander said.

As for Reitz and improving immensely after a 12-12 season a year ago, Lander didn’t mince words.

“I feel like this year we shouldn’t lose to anyone. in my opinion,” he said. “We’re getting everything together, getting everything down.”

Trained by former Harrison track standout Chris Clark, the silky smooth left-hander with multicolored hair lets his flamboyant game speak for itself. Lightning quick off the bounce, Lander is a streaky shooter from long distance. 

If all of that isn't enough, he works out with Jackie Young whenever she comes to town. Young, the state’s all-time leading girls’ scorer with 3,268 points, helped lead Princeton to the 2015 3A state title and Notre Dame to the 2018 NCAA championship. She was the No. 1 overall pick in last summer’s WNBA draft by the Las Vegas Aces.

“She’s still humble,” Khristian said. “I met her during her junior year in high school. She’s a pro now."

First and foremost, Brandi Lander repeatedly emphasized that her son plans on concentrating exclusively on his junior year at Reitz.

“That’s his No. 1 priority,” she said.

He isn’t thinking about whether he will graduate a year early.

“I take everything as a learning experience in everything I do,” Khristian said. “Everything is going to come to me.”

Lander, Powell almost like brothers

Even though Kiyron Powell is a year older than Lander, he said they basically grew up together at Pocket City AAU and “just being friends with other people. We’ve always known each other in some type of way, some type of friends.”

In other words, they’re part of a brotherhood.

Trumaine Johnson standing posing for the camera: Kiyron Powell © MaCabe Brown / Courier & Press, MaCabe Brown Kiyron Powell

“I’m proud of him, and he’s proud of me,” Powell said. “We’ve had a friendly rivalry going against each other.”

Lander admitted that the 6-foot-10 Powell has blocked his shot when they played one-on-one.

“He thinks I’m a little boy in the paint,” Lander said.

Well, considering their seven-inch height differential and Powell’s 7.8 blocks per game, (which ranked among the national leaders last season, according to MaxPreps) that might be true.

While some may consider driving themselves relentlessly to be an arduous task, Powell relishes all the pain and all the sweat that goes along with striving for greatness.

“I just put a lot of time in the gym working hard,” said Powell, who averaged 10.6 points and 10.9 rebounds in leading Bosse to a 17-8 record. “Working hard is a big thing to me. It’s all I wanted to do. Basketball is my passion."

Playing and practicing the game puts him in a different world – in a good way.

“Being in the gym, I have a clear mind,” Powell said. “It’s something different for me, the love for basketball.”

His defensive prowess was evident from the first time he stepped onto the court at the varsity level. Although his offensive game lagged behind earlier in his career, Powell has worked on his footwork around the basket. He’s demonstrated he can step out and hit a 15-footer.

“I put up 500 shots a day,” Powell said. “Everybody wants to be great. No one wants to put in the work. So you’ve got to put in the work.”

a person holding a basketball: Bosse’s Kiyron Powell (52) takes a shot from behind the net during the Harrison vs Bosse game at Bosse High School Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019. The Bosse Bulldogs won 74-56. © MaCabe Brown / Courier & Press Bosse’s Kiyron Powell (52) takes a shot from behind the net during the Harrison vs Bosse game at Bosse High School Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019. The Bosse Bulldogs won 74-56.

While Lairy, now a sophomore at Miami (Ohio), was in the process of becoming the City’s all-time leading scorer (2,237 points), Powell stayed in the background. At the other end, however, he dominated.

“It’s always been my nature,” Powell said. “I’ve always loved defense. Being a defensive player has been a role I’ve always carried with me.”

Burkhart said Powell has done a great job expanding his range.

"I think if he averages 15 (points), 12 (rebounds), 7 (blocks) and 5 (assists), he has a legit chance at Mr. Basketball because no one can match that line," Burkhart said. "He has a chance to be Bosse's all-time rebounder if he averages 12 a game. The biggest key for us and him is foul trouble. The 'dumb foul' he must eliminate."

Powell said the atmosphere at the University of Houston was similar to what he has with Burkhart at Bosse.

“Going there, nothing is going to change,” Powell said. “It doesn’t feel like I’m losing anything. It’s another family atmosphere. I loved how coach (Kelvin Sampson) puts trust in me and my abilities.”

Kenna Hisle born to play basketball

During the recent photo shoot for this cover story, Kenna had difficulty spinning a ball on her fingertips.

“You’re Mark Hisle’s daughter and you can’t spin the ball on your fingers,” teased her mother, Laura.

a young man holding a basketball: Kenna Hisle for Basketball Book 2019. © MaCabe Brown / Courier & Press Kenna Hisle for Basketball Book 2019.

Mark Hisle, who played for Jim Crews at the University of Evansville, was happy to lend a hand when Kenna needed a little advice or to work on something.

"He's always helped me with drills since I could dribble," she said. "He's basically the reason I am where I am today."

Kenna, a 5-11 forward, averaged 14.6 points and 4.6 rebounds for North (13-12). Her father supported her decision to play for crosstown University of Southern Indiana instead of the Aces.

"He gives me the confidence," Kenna said. "But there's not much pressure to live up to him. He builds me up. He gives me the drive I have."

She relentlessly works on her ballhandling and shooting.

"I'm focusing on my one-on-one moves and getting to the basket and scoring in multiple ways," Kenna said.

She loves playing for North coach Tyler Choate.

"It's definitely fun. I like having a younger coaching staff," she said. "They can relate more to us players. He's always getting ideas from other coaches and morphs them into his own ways and new things to go on."

She enjoys the stability waiting for her at USI; Eagles coach Rick Stein is in his 21st season as head coach.

"He's been there a long time," Hisle said. "I know he's staying. I know it's a good program."

Raley overcomes injury

Meredith Raley is rounding into form after wearing a protective boot following a volleyball injury.

“I sprained my ankle and had a bone bruise,” said Raley, who has been undergoing physical therapy. “I use pain as my guide, see what I can and can’t do.”

a person posing for the camera: Meredith Raley for Basketball Book 2019. © MaCabe Brown / Courier & Press Meredith Raley for Basketball Book 2019.

A 6-foot senior, Raley averaged 19.6 points and 8.3 rebounds in lifting Gibson Southern to its first 3A sectional title in seven years, its third successive Pocket Athletic Conference championship and a 22-4 record.

Older sister Maddie is a senior at Missouri S&T, USi's rival in the Great Lakes Valley Conference. But she didn't try to get Meredith to follow in her footsteps.

“She just wants me to be happy,” Meredith said. “I could go wherever I want.”

She and Hisle were teammates on the Elite Swish AAU team. They can’t wait to join forces at USI.

“I think our (Gibson Southern) team can go pretty far,” Raley said. “I work pretty hard and we have to stay positive. I know people will come after us. You’ve got to stay humble and keep working.”

Contact Gordon Engelhardt at Gordon.engelhardt@courierpress.com or on Twitter @EngGordon

More: Reitz five-star guard Khristian Lander doesn’t mind the spotlight

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More: Reitz's Khristian Lander named Co-MVP of Underclassmen All-America game

More: Bosse basketball standout Kiyron Powell commits to University of Houston

More: Bosse's Kiyron Powell expands game, offers list grows to nine

More: North's Hisle has the drive to succeed, just like her father, a former UE player

More: Gibson Southern forward Meredith Raley commits to USI basketball

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This article originally appeared on Evansville Courier & Press: Lander, perhaps Evansville's best player since Cheaney and McCarty, stays humble

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