'The gospel is for everybody,' says former BYU basketball great Jeff Chatman
Basketball was about the only thing that seemed normal to Chatman. Off the court, he felt like he was in a foreign country.
“My brothers had been to college and had told me what night life at college was like,” Chatman said. “It was absolutely amazing to me how many people didn’t drink, smoke or have premarital relations. ... I knew that it was because of their commitment to their religion and God.”
It wasn’t difficult to adjust because his parents had already raised him to live similar standards. As he became more familiar with his surroundings, he quietly observed the actions of those around him.
Chatman was astonished to learn that Haws and Andy Toolson were giving up their hard-earned scholarships to serve missions. Their dedication deeply impressed him.
“I never told them, but I was blown away. As I watched people leave the team to serve missions, their devotion stuck with me for a while,” Chatman said. “When they came back, I noticed all of them were better people. That stood out to me.” Chatman also developed a friendship with Floyd N. Johnson, BYU’s longtime equipment manager who also doubled as a spiritual adviser to countless athletes.
“In a nice, sweet way, he would ask when I was going to get baptized,” Chatman said. “I joked with him that when I did, he could give the talk on baptism. He said it was a deal.”
All BYU students are required to attend religion classes. “Chat,” as he became known among his friends, remembers sitting in Ed J. Pinegar’s Book of Mormon class. He was completely lost in regards to the teachings and doctrines, but appreciated how welcome and comfortable Pinegar made him feel. He later had a similar experience in a religion class taught by Reed Benson, son of the late LDS Church President Ezra Taft Benson.
“He (Pinegar) went out of his way and treated me like a member of the church in there,” Chatman said. “He was a huge influence.”
Pinegar’s class stood out for another reason. One day a pretty girl started talking to Chatman and he thought she liked him. Once they became friends, he wanted to ask her out but didn’t have the nerve. Then she surprised him with a conditional invitation to dinner.
“She invited me over for dinner, but first I had to attend church with her,” Chatman said. “I was crushed. I thought she liked me, but she just wanted to take me to church and get me baptized.”
It wouldn’t be his last invitation. Because of his high profile and magnetic personality, Chatman received all kinds of special requests to attend church, to meet the missionaries and even experience a fireside. What an interesting culture, he thought.
“When I got invited to a fireside, I really pictured a group of Mormons sitting around a bonfire preaching and singing stuff. I put that in my mind and I never went because that’s what I thought they were doing,” Chatman said. “People would say, ‘Come play basketball at the stake center.’ I thought, that’s cool, you got a steak house with a basketball court in it.”
The turning point
Chatman, No. 24, cracked BYU’s starting lineup as a sophomore in 1985-86. A fierce competitor, he averaged 17.5 points and 5.2 rebounds per game to help head coach LaDell Andersen’s Cougars to a record of 18-14 and an appearance in the National Invitational Tournament.
As a junior in 1986-87, Chatman posted similar numbers as BYU finished 21-11 with an opening-round loss in the NCAA tournament. Going into his senior year, Haws said Chatman’s combination of personality and talent made him a leader on the team.
“On the court he led by example, but he was more than that,” Haws said. “He broke barriers. He was a big-time leader in the program and a big-time influence.”
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