Michigan faces a new-look, motivated Kam Chatman

Friday, December 15, 2017 - 2:46pm

Kam Chatman will face his former team on Saturday afternoon.

Kam Chatman will face his former team on Saturday afternoon. Buy this photo
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Kameron Chatman remembers his first recruiting process as well as he does the second.

The first came with all the pomp and circumstance that comes along with being a consensus top-50 national prospect. The second, notably less so.

But Friday, when Chatman looks across the court to see his former coach and former teammates on the other side, he will do so a different player and person than he was when he arrived in and left Ann Arbor.

“It’s gonna be kinda funny, ya know?”

***

Few would have batted an eyelash had they been told Kam Chatman would be averaging 18 points and eight rebounds per game in 2017. The path he has taken to get here, though, has been anything but expected.

Chatman chose Michigan in 2013 over offers from Arizona and Connecticut, among others, headlining a five-person recruiting class with high expectations. And though he came into the program and started right away, something felt off. 

He had moved across the country from Oregon to Michigan. The Wolverines were coming off a dominant 28-win season and a regular season Big Ten title. Chatman expected to help lead the 2014-15 team back to those heights. But he struggled early and often. So did Michigan, losing to teams such as NJIT and Eastern Michigan and ultimately failing to reach the NCAA Tournament.

He shot just 31 percent from the field — and only 26 percent from three-point range — on his way to an increasingly diminished role. By the time the calendar turned, he had lost his starting role.

“I felt looking back on it,” Chatman said in a phone interview Tuesday, “honestly, I wasn’t ready.

“I feel I always had the talent, skill and stuff like that to play at the college level. Sometimes, my confidence lacked.”

He never earned back that starting job, either. After struggling through an uneven sophomore season, Chatman knew he had a decision to make: Stick it out at Michigan or find another place to play, taking a NCAA-mandated year off. 

“When I decided, it was very tough. I got a lot of input from a lot of different people,” Chatman said. “Obviously Coach (John) Beilein wanted me there. He asked me if I was sure I wanted to do this, and (told me) how much they wanted me there. It was absolutely no hard feelings. I still have the utmost respect for Coach Beilein and stuff like that. It was definitely tough telling him, but he understood.”

Chatman chose Detroit Mercy — a school he had previously never even bothered to consider. Now, though, the Titans had former Michigan assistant coach Bacari Alexander at the helm. Alexander had recruited Chatman to Michigan, so when he came calling again, Chatman was more than willing to hear him out. Chatman wanted to be wanted; he needed to be wanted. 

Alexander sold Chatman on coming to Detroit and being the guy. In return, Chatman knew Alexander would re-instill a confidence he desperately needed.

So he made the move 34 miles east, ready to re-write his college journey and eager to start anew.

First, though, Chatman had to sit out a year.

“Anybody that has something they cared about taken away from them, it’s gonna be pretty hard,” Chatman said. “It definitely took a toll on me. Sometimes I felt down and stuff like that, just wanted to play.”

He says he endured the year the only way he knew how: living in the gym. He wanted to get better for himself, but also to show everyone else what he could do.

Mission accomplished.

As Beilein and his staff prepare to square off against Detroit Saturday at Little Caesar’s Arena, Chatman’s name will be at the top of the scouting report.

Through 10 games this season, Chatman is just 15 points shy of matching his total in two seasons at Michigan (194) and has already matched his rebound total (81). He’s done so with the diverse offensive reportoire that made him so enticing to Beilein three years ago, shooting over 50 percent from the field and over 40 percent from three-point range.

“He’s a good player,” Beilein said at his press availability Friday. “He’s a very young player, was here two years and was developing, but he felt he could develop somewhere even more. But he was developing, you could see that happening, it wasn’t an overnight success — and most players aren’t — but he wanted to go elsewhere. But I like his development right now.

“I feel like we’re a big part of it, and now Bacari and his staff has continued that trend.”

Senior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman says he has maintained contact with his friend and former teammate. Abdur-Rahkman is the lone remaining Wolverine from the 2014 class.

“We’ve been talking about this (game) for awhile — me and Kam — because we still keep in touch, he’s one of my close friends,” Abdur-Rahkman said. “It’s just great to go out there and play against those guys and compete against them.”

Some will look at Michigan’s game against Detroit on Saturday as a bridge between the early-season schedule to the post-winter break conference gauntlet. It’s a matchup between master and protégé. It’s a matchup between the 36th-ranked team and the 294th, according to the KenPom rankings.

But don't tell that to Chatman.

For Kam Chatman, this is respectfully personal. With his newfound confidence, he’s on a mission to right his wrongs and re-write his future — to show his former program who he believes he really is. 

Any extra motivation?

“Oh yes. Definitely. I definitely want to win.”