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'The gospel is for everybody,' says former BYU basketball great Jeff Chatman

Published: Thursday, Aug. 23 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

One of the most extraordinary periods of Jeff Chatman’s life came during BYU’s 1987-88 basketball season.

The 6-foot-6 forward was BYU’s best inside defender and a master of the turnaround jumper, which he claims was never blocked. As team captain, Chatman averaged 19.5 points and 7.6 rebounds. The Cougars won their first 17 games and climbed as high as No. 2 in the national rankings. Members of the national media were following Chatman and his teammates around campus in search of interesting story angles.

But there was something more significant going on.

Unbeknownst to many at the time, it was early on that season when Chatman joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“I don’t want to seem cocky, but I loved the attention,” Chatman said between bites of pizza at the Brick Oven, one of his favorite restaurants near campus. “I wanted us to be good in a national setting and all that was great. At the same time, studying the gospel and investigating the church was a natural thing. I wasn’t overwhelmed by it all. It’s what I was living for; it was awesome.

“I would say that was one of the best times of my life when that was happening all at once.”

Chatman’s conversion didn’t happen overnight. It started with an inspired recruiting effort by then-assistant coach Roger Reid and continued at BYU with several influential examples. Since his baptism, Chatman has remained active in the LDS Church, raised a family, found success in business and maintained close ties with the BYU program. He is grateful for the events that guided him to where he is today.

“The gospel is for everybody,” he said.

Feelings, impressions

As a senior at Munford High in Talladega, Ala., Chatman led the Lions to county and area championships twice while finishing his career as the school’s all-time career scoring and rebounding leader in 1984. To top it all off, he was invited to play in the Alabama all-star basketball game.

The event was usually held in July, but for some reason it was moved to March, the same weekend BYU was playing at the University of Alabama-Birmingham in the opening round of the NCAA tournament.

The Cougars were supposed to lose Thursday night, but they upset UAB 84-68 to advance and play Kentucky on Saturday. BYU assistants Roger Reid and Carl Ingersoll heard about the all-star game on Friday night and decided to attend.

Reid said the rosters were loaded with talented players who had committed to play for major colleges all over the South. Then there was Chatman, who scored 16 points, grabbed seven boards and blocked 11 shots to earn game MVP honors. “I had an inkling, an impression, to go to this all-star game,” Reid said. “Jeff caught my eye, but with the way he played in that game, I thought he was committed somewhere.”

Chatman had offers from several smaller schools, such as East Tennessee State, Tennessee-Chattanooga, Alabama State, Auburn University-Montgomery and Samford, but he was holding out hope for a bigger opportunity.

That opportunity came the following Monday as he sat in his pre-calculus class. Chatman looked up to see his high school coach walk in with a big smile on his face. He informed Chatman that BYU was on the phone.

“At first I was excited, but remembered my coach was a practical joker. BYU was all white guys, all Mormon, way out in Utah. I thought he was joking,” Chatman said. “He said, ‘Seriously, they are on the phone.’ I got on the phone with Roger Reid. He invited me to come for an official visit, and if I liked what I saw, they would offer me a full-ride scholarship. I was blown away.”

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