When it comes to the basketball of father and son Chatman, sometimes you’re the one giving an assist and sometimes you’re the guy needing one.
Rodney Chatman Jr. – who was playing basketball at Southern Cal for coach George Raveling – had come back home to Florida in the summer of 1989 and was taking part in an intramural game in the gym at Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach.
Keeping score that day was Glenda Barnes, who, unbeknownst to him, played on the BC women’s basketball team.
“As soon as I saw her I said, ‘I want to meet that girl right there!’” Rodney Jr. remembered.
“We kind of locked eyes, but he didn’t want to come over and introduce himself,” Glenda smiled. “So he introduces himself to one of my friends and asks her to introduce him to me.”
She started to laugh: “And here we are some 29 years later.”
The couple recounted the story Saturday night while they stood in the concourse of UD Arena waiting for their son, Rodney III, the Dayton Flyers new point guard, to emerge from the locker room after scoring 14 points and handing out a team-high eight assists in UD’s 90-61 victory over Charleston Southern.
Three of his assists set up dunks for Obi Toppin, who led UD with 21 points and 11 rebounds. Ryan Mikesell added 14 points. Jalen Crutcher had 12 points and seven assists and Trey Landers chipped in 10 points.
One of the scenarios evident Saturday was the continuing development of a Flyers offense that features Chatman and Crutcher, the point guard the past two seasons, playing side by side out front.
“I like what they bring,” Coach Anthony Grant said afterward. “It’s a dynamic for us that we haven’t had.”
In the media room after the game – as he talked about the season ahead and especially his basketball past – Chatman claimed his mom was “the best athlete” in the family.
Never mind that Dad had turned down a Notre Dame football scholarship to play basketball at USC or that he himself had played two seasons at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, averaging 13.3 points and 32.3 minutes per game as a sophomore, sixth highest in the Southern Conference.
He still went with Mom, who – like her twin sister, Brenda — had been a two-sport athlete growing up in Brunswick, Ga.
“Besides, I’m a Mama’s Boy so I’m always going to give her the credit,” he smiled.
Rodney Jr. agreed with his son: “I’m gonna go with Mom, too.”
Glenda does hold sway in their family – which also includes older daughter, Alexis. and 11-year-old son Bryce — especially when it comes to Rodney wearing that clear plastic mask on the court.
In an open gym session in June, he caught an inadvertent elbow from 6-foot-9, 248-pound freshman Moulaye Sissoko that shattered the orbital bone in his right eye.
Glenda said she came to Dayton from the family home in Georgia for Rodney’s surgery,
“The severity of it hadn’t hit me until I got here and actually saw the X-rays,” she said. “I saw how the bone was shattered in pieces and I just lost it.”
Rodney now has a long, thin crescent-shaped scar beneath his eye and his mom said the doctor told her it could be a year until the bone completely mends.
His dad said the family has found great reassurance in their many calls to and personal interactions with UD trainer Mike Mulcahey: “He’s been great.”
As for the mask Rodney III said: “It’s my mom’s decision. She doesn’t want me to take it off because she’s scared I could get hit again. So I’ll probably wear it until she is comfortable.”
“I think it makes him look cool,” Glenda said. “I want him to keep it on.”
Just before Saturday night’s game, an issue from another injury caught the eye of one of the officials.
He noticed the gray trim on the sleeve of an undershirt Chatman was wearing beneath his white UD jersey and promptly sent him back to the bench.
“Usually you can’t have color showing,” Chatman said. “We explained it was for an injury. I had an AC sprain in my left shoulder in practice and it’s on-going. I get treatments for it and I wear stuff that makes it feel better.”
By game’s end he also was wearing a black pad on his elbow.
“I had been bleeding,” he said. “I guess I got scratched. That happens a lot.”
One thing you notice during a game. The 6-foot-1, 178-pound Chatman hits the floor a lot, whether it’s from scrambling for a loose ball, taking a charge, driving the lane or, as was the case with just nine minutes left in the first half, when was flung to the court by Charleston Southern defender Sean Price after he’d hit a three-pointer.
Chatman promptly got up and completed the four-point play with his free throw.
“He is fearless,” his dad said.
‘He loves it’
Glenda said they first let Rodney, who was small for his age, play basketball when he was five:
“But they were so wild and crazy out there I was afraid he was going to get hurt so I pushed him toward baseball instead. And he was really a better baseball player than he was in basketball.”
Rodney Jr. said his son didn’t return to basketball until he was 11 or 12:
“I knew he’d be a late bloomer. He was small and not strong enough, but then in high school he got better and better. He loves to work and that separated him from the other people.”
A star at Lithonia (Ga.) High School, Chatman went to play for Matt McCall at Chattanooga. As a freshman he mostly came off the bench and averaged just over 20 minutes and five points in 31 games.
After the season McCall left for the Massachusetts job.
“We were kind of devastated, we had come to really like Matt,” Glenda said. “I told Rodney to wait around for the new coach and see what it was like.”
Lamont Paris took over the Mocs program and Chatman became the starting point guard in what ended up a 10-23 season.
“We’d changed the offense and things weren’t really working out for me so I decided to find a new school,” said Chatman, one of four players to transfer.
Another casualty of the McCall departure was Crutcher, who had committed to Chattanooga out of his Memphis high school, but then opted to come to UD.
Chatman was recruited by Dayton and Virginia Tech.
“We already had a history with Coach Grant,” Glenda said. “When my husband was coaching at New Smyrna Beach, he recruited one of their players.”
Grant was on Billy Donovan’s staff and landed New Smyrna Beach High star LaDarius Halton, the runner-up for Florida’s Mr. Basketball.
“We knew with Grant being here and the direction we wanted to go with Rodney that Dayton would be a great fit,” Glenda said. “And he loves it.”
‘Engines’ of the team
After sitting out last year to meet NCAA transfer rules, Chatman moved into the starting lineup this season and Grant calls he and Crutcher the two “engines” of the team.
He said they both still are learning “to play off each other” and will just keep getting better. He said one thing though already is clear. Chatman has made it easier for Crutcher on the court:
“Last year we had a lot on Jalen’s plate. He had to try to initiate offense for us and be a prominent scorer. (Now) he has someone who can generate easy baskets for him.”
Chatman said what people are seeing now is just the tip of the Flyers iceberg:
“This is just our second game. We’re just seeing what works and what doesn’t. We’re still developing our chemistry. We’ll be better in February and March than we are now.” Glenda agreed: “Dayton doesn’t know yet what they have in Rodney.”
One thing already is evident though.
It has a guy who – like his dad – knows what a good assist can get you.
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