INDIANAPOLIS — Kameron Chatman is listed at 6-foot-7 on Michigan’s official roster, and Aubrey Dawkins is listed at 6-foot-6. Chatman weighs 215 pounds. Dawkins weighs 210. The two have similar skin tones, and their hair is the same color, and perhaps most importantly, as Derrick Walton Jr. puts it, “they have similar haircuts.”
It’s not quite a flat top, but it’s flat top-ish — the kind of haircut that makes a person identifiable from across a room, or across a basketball court.
On any other day, it wouldn’t have mattered that, when you dress Dawkins and Chatman in an Adidas basketball uniform that the University’s official style guide says is a shade of blue called Pantone 282, they look vaguely, barely, somewhat alike. At first glance. If you’re squinting.
It mattered on Friday, when a million and one things needed to fall perfectly into place for Kam Chatman, the Wolverines’ least likely hero, to find himself with no choice but to take a shot that would decide Michigan’s season.
Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman had to foul out of the game, for one. If Abdur-Rahkman had been available, Chatman wouldn’t have found himself anywhere but the bench with Michigan and Indiana tied at 69 with 15 seconds remaining.
Abdur-Rahkman’s absence didn’t matter until it mattered. Derrick Walton Jr. found himself an open shot, one he would have taken on any day but this one.
But as Walton looked at the rim, he found Dawkins open instead. Walton whipped the ball toward the corner immediately in front of the Michigan bench, where he fully expected Dawkins to rise and sink the corner 3.
There was just one problem: Dawkins wasn’t on the floor. Dawkins was actually sitting on the bench, and Dawkins was actually Chatman, and Chatman had no time to find another open man.
“I hesitated a little bit,” Chatman said. “But then I (saw) how much time was left, and I was like, ‘Oh, I’ve gotta shoot this one. And when it left, it felt good. When it went in, it felt good as well.”
Walton admitted after the game that he had confused one sophomore teammate for another.
“They have similar haircuts, man,” Walton said. “I thought it was Aubrey. Once I passed it to him, I was kind of pleading for it back. No offense to Kam, but it’s just — you know, those types of moments. You dream of being in that moment. So for me to pass it up, I kind of regretted it. But the moment wasn’t too big for him.”
Why didn’t Walton shoot, anyway? He’s made big shots before, most notably a game-tying, buzzer-beating 3-pointer last season against No. 3 Wisconsin.
It was just Chatman’s luck that Walton completely lost his shooting stroke Thursday and Friday. In two games, he took 10 shots, and made none. Walton has said that his biggest fear is missing a game-winner, but it goes without saying that his fear of missing pales in comparison to his desire to play the hero.
For a minute, Walton decided to ignore those 10 shots. He’d busted out of slumps before. Why not try to bust out of this one with a game-winner, one that would flip Michigan to the right side the NCAA Tournament bubble?
“The crazy thing about it is, before I passed it, my mind was made up that I was shooting it,” Walton said. “Things happen, man. He was wide open.”
Don’t think for a second that Walton would have made the same choice twice. This decision was once in a career.
“Any other moment going forward, if I get the opportunity,” Walton said, “you can bet your bottom dollar that I’m shooting it.”
Instead of shooting, Walton wound up recording his Big Ten Tournament-record 12th assist of the game on a play nobody would ever have drawn up and that defies comprehension in every conceivable way. That Walton confused his teammates was simply too much for some to accept.
“I don’t know about that,” said junior forward Zak Irvin. “I mean, Kam had been in the game for about a minute.”
It makes no sense that Chatman was in the game, or that Dawkins wasn’t, or that Walton passed up the shot. Or that Chatman’s 3-pointer — just his seventh of the season — found bottom. But Chatman rose to the occasion, and he found Michigan a spot in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals and, more importantly, a potential spot in the NCAA Tournament.
“Some things you can’t understand,” Dawkins said. “They’re above us.”
Chatman was in the right place at the right time, and thanks to his haircut, Michigan will live to see another day. No matter what happens in tomorrow’s semifinal against Purdue, this shot will live on forever.
Here’s hoping Chatman tips his barber.