• Chrisman's Wheeler develops shot, leadership on way to 1,000-point career

  • When Nieka Wheeler scored her 1,000th career point, the William Chrisman senior forward was allowed a five-second celebration.

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  • When Nieka Wheeler scored her 1,000th career point, the William Chrisman senior forward was allowed a five-second celebration.
    “I scored my 1,000th point last week at Staley,” Wheeler said, referring to a 56-51 loss on the Falcons’ home court. “Before the game, Coach told me when I scored it, I could look at her for five seconds to celebrate, then I had to get back to work.”
    Her coach, Lindsay Thompson, chuckles at the that comment.
    “I told her we could both celebrate for five seconds, since I’m also a member of that club,” said Thompson, a former standout at Fort Osage High School, where she teamed with former WNBA Finals MVP and Rookie of the Year Betty Lennox to form one of the best guard tandems in area history.
    “We had the real celebration Thursday at Chrisman.”
    There was much more to celebrate last Thursday as Wheeler scored 22 points to lead the Bears to a 67-37 home win over Oak Park. She was presented with a special game ball that was signed by all her teammates.
    “That meant a lot to me,” Wheeler said. “I wish I could have scored my 1,000th point at home and we could have won the game, but at least we won the night of the celebration.”
    For two years, Wheeler was known as an outstanding athlete who just happened to play basketball.
    Through years of hard work, she is now known as a great basketball player.
    “It was hard at first,” said Wheeler, who discovered basketball while participating in the William Chrisman Bears Tomorrow program that allows youngsters to play in the Chrisman gym on Sunday nights.
    “I couldn’t really score when I first started. So I had to work on that part of my game.”
    As a freshman and sophomore, Wheeler had the touch of a jackhammer.
    “Nieka hates it when I tell this story,” Thompson said, casting a glance at Wheeler. “When I first saw her, I knew she was going to be a great athlete. But I didn’t know if she would ever be a great scorer because she had the hardest shot I’d ever seen.
    “She would shoot a layup and the ball would rebound past the 3-point line. Sometimes, I would go out near half-court.”
    Wheeler places her hand over face and shakes her head, chuckling.
    “But you know what? She kept working hard, and look at her today. Before he joined our coaching staff, Casey Dudek worked with Nieka and did everything possible to help her with her shot.”
    He finally came to practice with a large balloon, and challenged Wheeler to work on her touch. Wheeler would softly toss the balloon toward the basket, learning how to get a touch for the basketball.
    Page 2 of 2 - "If you didn't shoot that balloon softly," Wheeler said, "it wouldn't go anywhere."
    With her God-given athletic ability, she had the potential to become one of the best players in Bears history.
    Now, she is not only a member of the 1,000-point club, she is a great leader both on and off the court.
    “When you are a leader on this basketball team,” said Thompson, a steely competitor who led the Indians in floor burns, “you aren’t just a leader the 32 minutes of the game.
    “It’s 24/7, in the classroom, in the hallways, in the community. And Nieka has become a great leader. I know it wasn’t easy. I know it took her a long time to develop her leadership skills, but just look at her now. We’re all so proud of her, and we believe the best is yet to come over the next four years (she plays in college).”
    As a freshman, Wheeler could barely look Thompson or her senior teammates in the face.
    “I had to work hard to become a leader,” Wheeler said. “I had to work mentally and physically. Now, I can become a little bit bossy out there. I want my teammates to work as hard as I’m working, because when we all work hard, we’re going to win a lot of games.”
    The Bears have won three consecutive Suburban Middle Seven Conference crowns, and Wheeler doesn’t want that streak to stop her senior year.
    “Winning conference means more to me than 1,000 points,” she said. “We’re getting better each game, and we’re working hard.”
    And that has translated to a 3-2 conference mark, including Monday’s 48-13 victory over Belton in which Wheeler scored 19 points in just more two quarters of action.
    “The points don’t mean as much as the wins,” Wheeler said. “I never thought I’d score 1,000 points, but I knew we’d become a (conference) championship team.
    “And I want to contribute any way I can to make that happen again this season.”

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