Detroit — For a guy who hit probably the most-important, most-clutch and, yes, most-stunning shot of Michigan’s basketball season in 2015-16, it wasn’t enough to wash clean the ball of frustration that was Kam Chatman.
He barely played as a sophomore at Michigan, and when he did play, he didn’t really know his role, and when you don’t know your role, you aren’t likely to be much of a contributor.
After averaging 15.2 minutes as a freshman, he averaged only 7.2 his second year. And many of those were against weak nonleague foes, or in garbage time.
It was rare for Chatman to be on the court in crunch time, like he was that March day in Indianapolis. And, oh yeah, about that 3-pointer from the corner at the buzzer against top-seeded Indiana in the Ten tournament, a shot that likely got the Wolverines off the bubble and into the NCAA Tournament? That was one of nine he hit all season — and, fittingly, he shouldn’t have even had the ball. Derrick Walton Jr. admitted after the game he thought he was passing to somebody else.
“In some sense, yes,” Chatman said the other day, when asked if his frustration level had essentially reached fever pitch that season in Ann Arbor.
“Anybody coming in like me, playing a big role as a freshman and then basically not playing at all, it’s definitely frustrating.
“But I had guys that were always keeping my head up. And I knew at some time, something was going to happen, because I stayed in the gym and I never really lost focus or gave up.”
That time came at the Big Ten tournament, and it turned out to be his final act at Michigan.
He can only hope his first act at Detroit Mercy is as impressive.
After transferring and sitting out last season, Chatman is eager to be a leader in more ways than one for a Titans team that struggled mightily in 2016-17, Bacari Alexander’s first year as head coach, while all Chatman could do was sit on the sidelines and watch it happen, one loss after another piling up, a whopping 23 in all.
And there’s wasn’t a damn thing he could do to help, like when he was back at Crisler Center, sitting several seats down from John Beilein again, not a broken sweat on his body.
“You know, more than anything else as I reflect back on his last seasons at Michigan, he was more or less a guy trying to get settled into a role versus being happy or sad with a role,” said Alexander, who was an assistant under Beilein for six seasons, including Chatman’s two. “So a lot of that comes from a player being on that quest for self-discovery, if you will, in finding your game with the scheme of things.
“That system called on players to bring a multi-skill approach to the program. And you know, Kam was still a developing talent at that time.”
Tough to sit out
Sitting out a year is never easy, not for someone who’s played a sport, basically, for an entire lifetime.
Chatman acknowledged the last year was difficult, but also had the advantage of having been through it before. He sat out his junior year after the California high-school association oddly ruled him ineligible following a transfer to Long Beach. He then played his senior year in Portland, Ore.
So he’s been here before. And he knew the routine. Get in the weight room and work your tail off, and serve with fire and vigor on the scout team.
That’s what he did over the last year at Calihan Hall, sometimes working five days a week with strength coach Nick Wilson. Chatman called it a curse and a gift — the curse not being able to play, the gift using that time to get bigger and, probably, better.
The end result, as it should be: He’s stronger. The other result, not as common: He’s actually taller. Chatman actually had a growth spurt in the last year. He’s up to 6-foot-9, from about 6-6 when Alexander first saw him at Michigan.
“Which has been really nice,” Alexander said, with a chuckle. “I’ve seen throughout the college years a number of different young people grow significantly, believe it or not. So I guess it’s not surprising, but it’s certainly not the norm.”
Chatman is 224 pounds, about the same he played at Michigan, but it’s more muscle.
Given the added height, Chatman should only improve on something that already was a strength of his game, defensive rebounding. And shot-blocking.
But he’s also expected to be a scorer for Alexander, whose offense is uptempo, with the likes of shooters Corey Allen and Josh McFolley, and big man Jaleel Hogan, should he return for his senior season. Alexander has not commented on Hogan since the player tweeted after last season that he was leaving the program, only to take the tweet done. There’s still been no official word on his status.
If he stays, it’s a good one-two punch with him and Chatman. If he leaves, even more will be expected of Chatman, a veteran on a relatively young team that also includes sophomore Cole Young, and incoming freshmen Jermaine Jackson Jr. and Jack Ballantyne from Macomb Dakota. Fifth-year graduate transfer Roschon Prince adds another veteran.
Alexander shies away from saying he expects Chatman to be a leader, although he said he has a knack for making his teammates better with his basketball IQ and his passing ability. Chatman, though, embraces the idea of being a general, of sorts.
“Yes, I do,” he said. “Knowing the young guys, having the relationship I have with them off the court, and just the guys kind of knowing me, knowing where I came from, knowing I have experience and stuff like that. Being a leader, in general, is a big role. We don’t have the oldest team, so guys are looking at me, I think.
“And I’m definitely up for it.”
Game with old team looms
There’s something else Chatman is up for.
In late April, Olympia Entertainment announced a December college-basketball doubleheader for Little Caesars Arena. Michigan State and Oakland are playing in the second game. The first game? Detroit Mercy, Chatman’s new team, plays Michigan, Chatman’s old team.
The game will be Saturday, Dec. 16. And you better believe that date’s on Chatman’s cell-phone calendar.
“Definitely,” Chatman, 21, said with a laugh. “I’m definitely looking forward to that. Every game is kind of the same with me, you can’t really look past that. But I’ve been talking to some of the guys.
“I talked to D.J. (Wilson) before he entered the (NBA) Draft. Muhammed (Ali Abdur-Rahkman), Moe Wagner, I talked to (incoming freshman) Jordan Poole a little bit.
“They were really excited about it, too.”
And, of course, there’s been some smack talk among all those text and Facebook messages.
The schools have met 28 times in their history, but only twice in the Beilein era at Michigan — last in 2014. When Alexander got the job at Detroit Mercy, the two started talking about renewing the rivalry, and the doubleheader at LCA certainly gives it some nice thump in the exposure department. The two schools played the first-ever sporting event at Joe Louis Arena, and will play the first-ever college basketball game at LCA.
Chatman’s certainly excited to see some old friends, and his old coach, even if things didn’t go as planned at Michigan.
He told The News after transferring that his time at Michigan “wasn’t a waste.”
It wasn’t exactly smooth sailing, either, of course, outside of his one shining moment, in Indy, when he was as shocked as anyone to be passed the ball in the corner, with the game clock winding down, before the left-hander let it fly.
It went in, the Michigan bench behind him went ballistic, and a week later, Michigan was in the NCAA Tournament. And then, two weeks after that, Chatman was gone.
A fresh start is coming, at Detroit Mercy, with this added bonus: His dad, Canaan, is an assistant coach under Alexander.
“We’re definitely working toward something and have high expectations,” said Chatman, who cites consistency, in all areas, as his biggest goal for 2017-18, which won’t feature the easiest early season schedule — including the Michigan game, trips to UCLA and Virginia Tech, and Western Michigan. “I feel like there’s a high ceiling.”
Get to know ... Kam Chatman
Age: 21 (June 1, 1996)
Hometown: Portland, Ore.
At Michigan: Played 60 games in two seasons (2014-16), including 17 starts. He averaged 3.6 points and 2.5 rebounds as a freshman, and 2.8 points and 1.4 rebounds as a sophomore.
At Detroit Mercy: Sat out last season due to NCAA transfer regulations; served as a main cog on the scout team, often mimicking the opponents’ best player or scoring threat.