No one wants to peek out at the tunnel from the visiting locker room. No light exists there. To jog out onto the Blue D at center court is to willingly ship yourself off to battle. Tonight, you won’t have five opponents—you’ll have 9,319. Many of them will be donning white war paint, striped across their faces and down their arms. Their hair will be blue—whether dyed or wigged is a matter of personal preference—and they’ll have “DUKE” written across their chests. Some will scream profanities, though not loud enough for Mike Krzyzewski to hear. Others will target your most precious insecurities. All are looking for blood, death, and conquest.
There are a lot of places on this planet where hell manifests itself upon the soil. We all have our own versions of it—some seriously, some in jest. For a college basketball player, that place is Cameron Indoor Stadium.
There’s no shame in collapsing under the pressure of playing against the Evil Empire of the Atlantic Coast Conference. For the last 30 years since Krzyzewski took control of the Blue Devils, everyone has. Countless 18-to-22 year olds have come in with the hopes of silencing the Cameron Crazies. Few succeed. Even fewer do if Boston College is on their chest. The Eagles haven’t ever done that in Durham. In 21 meetings, they’ve only beaten Duke twice—once at Conte Forum, the other at a neutral site.
With the Blue Devils projected to be the No. 1 team in the nation, that streak will probably continue on Saturday, Jan. 7. BC will go down to Cameron Indoor, wait in that locker room, and avoid peeking. Delay the moment for as long as possible.
But Jordan Chatman won’t. He lives for these moments. He came to BC for these moments. Posting up for a 3-pointer with the Cameron Crazies screaming at his back isn’t the hard part. Chatman is a graduate transfer from Brigham Young and the latest piece in Jim Christian’s puzzle-in-progress. He spent two years away from the game on a Mormon mission and had to take a whole year to re-train back into game-time shape. He left his family in pursuit of the higher purpose of his faith. He even once got chased through a field by a man wielding a machete.
Jordan Chatman has been through the hard part. Now it’s time to catch-and-shoot.
The catch-and-shoot, deep threat from beyond the arc hasn’t always been the hallmark of the Chatman family. His father, Jeff, became legendary at Brigham Young for his strong game in the post. Despite his smaller-than-traditional stature—6-foot-6 as a big man isn’t cutting it today—Jeff dominated with his inside game. In the 1987-88 season, Jeff, then a senior, lifted the Cougars to a 26-6 record. He scored 19.5 points per game shooting a a 59.5 percent clip while playing in every game that year. That year, the Cougars topped out at No. 3, before falling in the second round of the NCAA Tournament and finishing at No. 19.
But when Jeff tried to pursue his own professional career, scouts saw his 7-foot-1 wingspan and 39-inch vertical—the latter of which, Jeff made very clear, is long gone—as a perfect perimeter player. He turned down tryouts with two NBA teams to play professionally in Switzerland. But Jeff didn’t enjoy that style of play and lacked the necessary skills to play at the one or two, so in 1989, he returned to the States to start a family with his college sweetheart, Leah, moving on to the other things that made him happy.
But Jeff made himself a promise. If his children wanted to play basketball one day, they’d be doing it as guards.
The Chatmans’ oldest daughter, Jocelyn, didn’t want that path—after graduating from BYU, she’s now a costume designer on Broadway. But Jordan and his younger sister Jessica let their dad know early on that they wanted to follow in his footsteps. Every morning at 6 a.m., the three of them would head outside to shoot around, each getting the other’s rebounds. Even from a young age, Jeff saw the potential for Chatman to become a big but nimble guard. He helped his son with the things around which he built a mystique at Brigham Young—how to guard on both the perimeter and in the post, and how to lock down on defense. But, knowing how tall he’d be—Jordan now stands at 6-foot-5—Jeff wanted him to learn the skills to shoot over his opponents.
When Chatman met up with Maco Hamilton, he developed his near-automatic stroke. Hamilton, now the head coach at George Fox University, was leading the charge at the newly founded Union High School in Camas, Wash. Under Hamilton, Chatman crafted a mid-range game that his former coach described as one of the best in the country. He got even better from not only beyond the arc, but from the NBA 3-point line.
“If Jordan was on, the whole team was going to be okay,” Leah said.
For most of his career, Chatman was the best player on the team, but he flew under the radar because of where he lived. That changed during the 4A Washington State Boys’ Basketball Championships. Chatman had already averaged 20.6 points and six boards per game during that season, but in the tournament, he bumped that average up to 27.7.
His most memorable moment came in the state semifinals. Late, down by six, Chatman hit a 3-pointer that sent the crowd in the frenzy. Everyone, from the announcer to the tape afterward, saw his foot was well beyond the line. Everyone, that is, except the ref. After calling it a 2-pointer, Union had to foul. With how little time was left, any chance at tying the game was for naught. The Titans lucked out because their opponent missed both free throws. In futile desperation and exasperation, Chatman chucked the ball crosscourt. From 80 feet away, it hit the bottom of the net, deepening the frustration. If the ref had just called that shot a 3-pointer, they still could be playing today. Nevertheless, the shot was awesome.
“You just got to move on when something like that happens,” Chatman said in an interview last week. “But it was cool, man, it was really cool.”
The Seattle media took notice of Chatman’s stellar performance, awarding him the Gatorade Washington State Boys’ Basketball Player of the Year Award. With his name on big boards across the country, the calls began to pour in. To Jeff, the most intriguing one came from Palo Alto. Jeff had instilled the importance of an education—his son reflected that by earning his associate’s degree in a community college program during high school. And no West Coast school combines academic and basketball respect quite like Stanford.
But Jeff also wanted Chatman to pick his own path, and that road led to Provo. Chatman loved the fast-paced offense of Dave Rose. He had grown familiar with BYU from constant trips and friends and relatives who also attended.
Most importantly, Chatman felt a higher calling. From a young age, his deep Mormon faith had been a determining factor in how he lived. Hamilton recalled that Chatman had a strong and convicted faith—it wasn’t outward, but it was deep and devout. Chatman had no fear of breaking out his Bible on road trips to better connect with the Lord. As a core of the faith, Chatman desired to take up a mission, the birthright of 18-year-old Mormons to spread the teachings of the LDS Church.
Only BYU would be patient with him as he chose this journey. Chatman filled out his application and waited for the church elders to select his destination. To his surprise, the leaders decided his path would take him Taipei, Taiwan. Considering to where he could have gone, Leah was thrilled.
“As a mom, I was like, ‘Yes, a country that has no weapons,’” Leah said.
Chatman headed off to a training center for about two months to learn Mandarin Chinese before preparing for his journey. His father, who grew up a Southern Baptist and was too old to take up a mission, couldn’t have been prouder to see his boy sent off on the conviction of his faith. Of course, that’s when reality sets in.
“And then the pain hits,” Jeff said. “For two years, my son will be gone.”
Chatman felt that shock, too, the second he landed in Taiwan. He struggled to fully grasp the language at first, and noticed the culture shock of a lack of diversity. With only one email a week and two Skype days—Mother’s Day and Christmas—Chatman longed for his family. The biggest change would come in basketball. After spending every day of his whole life with a ball in his hand, Chatman’s practice time would be restricted to a few hours, one day a week. He stayed in shape by walking and biking everywhere, but his physical skills diminished as his body grew unbalanced.
So Chatman threw himself into his work. He taught English once a week at the mission, helped out at local libraries, and picked up trash in the community. Of course, the core of a Mormon mission is proselytizing the local community. It’s an arduous and specific process to convince people that the Mormon faith is right for them—Mario Dias of the LDS training center in Sao Paulo explains it better than I can. That path is made more difficult in an area like Taipei, where many locals are Buddhist or Daoist. The message becomes harder to relay, Chatman said, when locals have little to no knowledge of Jesus Christ or the Christian conception of God.
He recalled one story of a man who had converted to the faith prior to his arrival in Taipei, but had strayed from the church in recent years. Chatman and a few other missionaries went to the countryside to find him. But when they were there, they found a cast of characters that weren’t exactly receptive to missionaries. That included a man who wildly waved a machete at them through a field, and a woman with one eye who demanded they get off her doorstep.
Eventually, Chatman found the man and helped to reignite his faith. He believes the core message of what makes Mormonism most appealing—at least to him—revolves around happiness and a family-oriented base. That’s what attracted him to make his faith as strong as it is. And though only in his early 20s while abroad, Chatman thinks the journey helped make him the man he is today.
“It doesn’t matter how experienced you are, if it’s a true message and true faith, anyone at any age can share it,” Chatman said. “You really grow up in those years.”
Pay no attention to what the BC roster says Chatman’s grade is. He doesn’t fall into any traditional category. Unlike most graduate transfers, Chatman has three years of eligibility remaining. Because of that, the 23-year-old must be listed as a sophomore.
Though he is technically going to depart BC at the same time as many of his teammates, like team cornerstones Jerome Robinson and A.J. Turner, everyone sees Chatman as a leader. He chooses to guide not by yelling and clapping, but in silence and by example. Every shot Chatman takes in practice, he watches intently. If it goes in, he smiles and turns back into line. If it’s off, he’ll watch where it’s going off the rim or boards, and make the proper adjustment for the next one. He never strays from that even-keeled demeanor, something his father believes has made him a natural winner.
“He can slam dunk a basketball and have the same expression as when he misses a wide-open layup,” Jeff said.
Equally as important to this young BC lineup, Chatman provides a foundation of what you want to be when you grow into adulthood. He can connect with the younger guys—he watches all the same shows and listens to rap, though only the clean versions, no curses.
But Chatman is already married and preparing to start family life. He has already been through some tough decisions in his life, like the transfer to BC. Chatman had wanted to stay at BYU to go to law school, but when the program wouldn’t make adjustments for a part-time schedule, he adjusted course to do what’s best for his future. One of those changes involved realizing his passions lied more in business, not law. He has it all planned out, too—after he graduates with his MBA, Chatman wants to attempt to play professionally in China and may go into the business world over there. It’s the kind of future plan that Turner and his teammates respect and will model themselves after.
“Guys our age, some of us struggle getting mature,” Turner said. “Having him around, he’s like a fatherly figure.”
Chatman is a funny paradox for Jim Christian. On one hand, maturity-wise, Chatman is the man among the boys. He has a deeper understanding of where to be on the court, and can accept criticism better than anyone.
On the other hand, in a purely basketball sense, Chatman is as young as everyone else. He learned from great players at BYU, such as Kyle Collinsworth, the NCAA’s triple-double record-holder, and the Cougars reached the NIT semifinals last season. Coming off his redshirt re-training year, Chatman didn’t play too much. He averaged 10 minutes a game, with 2.6 points and a rebound. While he played in 36 of BYU’s 37 games last season, it will still take time for Chatman to build up those minutes. He currently isn’t projected to crack the starting lineup, and still may need time to be a consistent bench threat for long stretches.
But as his father pointed out, when Chatman does come in, he’ll make a huge impact. Chatman actually led BYU in average plus/minus last season, adjusted to 40 minutes per game. When he plays, his team wins. And, while he may be young in an on-court sense, he has no fear of hostile environments. Chatman has had doors shut in his face and his life in danger. He’s been through the best the West Coast Conference had to offer—Gonzaga and St. Mary’s on the road are no joke. The Cameron Crazies aren’t going to stop him. No matter the challenge, Chatman will be the same cold-blooded shooting threat who can inspire through example by silencing a crowd with his deadly shot. With his faith at his back, Chatman is ready for anything.
“He is who he is,” Jeff said, “and he is whoever the Heavenly Father wants him to be.”
Now, the Heavenly Father wants him to be in Chestnut Hill. The hardest part of Chatman’s journey is over. He has experienced the world, grown closer to his faith, and is ready for the next step. Regardless of where and when he plays. for Chatman, it’s time for the fun.
Just pass him the ball from beyond the arc. He’s ready to step back and fire away.