Sy Chatman rounding into form for UMass after five-game hiatus

  • Sy Chatman, top, of UMass, shoots against Western New England defenders Kenny Flynn, left, and Mike McGuire during an exhibition game, Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2019 at the Mullins Center. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 12/3/2019 7:51:08 PM

AMHERST — On Nov. 23, Sy Chatman ran onto the court with his teammates for the first time all season.

The sophomore forward missed UMass’ first five games due to an undisclosed personal issue, but he was back on the bench for the Minutemen’s biggest test of the season. The rust was evident for Chatman in the two games at Mohegan Sun Arena as he scored just one point and collected seven rebounds in 28 combined minutes in the pair of losses in Connecticut.

Chatman responded Friday with a career-best 16 points in UMass’ loss at Rutgers, a performance he said was sparked by the game starting to settle down for him once again.

“The game was really sped up for me, everything was just moving so fast and I didn’t have any feel or rhythm (against Virginia),” Chatman said. “(The difference at Rutgers was) me slowing down on offense and waiting on my opportunity to attack the basket. I don’t think I was being aggressive enough toward the basket when I was playing Virginia and St. John’s.”

Entering the season, Chatman was someone many inside the program were pegging to make a huge jump from last season. He had grown physically between his freshman and sophomore campaigns and showed an improved form on both ends of the court in the exhibition game against Western New England. But a week later, Chatman was not in the Mullins Center for UMass’ season-opening win over UMass-Lowell.

Chatman said he needed to take a step back from basketball and social media to deal with “some personal things that I needed to handle and figure out with my family.” He said the time away from the team was good for him because it helped him refocus and re-energize himself behind the purpose basketball brings to his life.

“I think missing those five games was honestly good for me,” said Chatman, who will make his home debut Wednesday when UMass (5-3) hosts South Carolina (5-3) for a 7 p.m. tipoff at the Mullins Center. “It just got me in a space in my head where I can take a step back and look at the game and what am I doing this for? Taking the time off really helped me do that.”

McCall scoffed at the notion that the time off stunted Chatman’s progression from last season, but admitted it wasn’t ideal. The coach said he believes Chatman is fully capable of growing into the player he expected him to be this season, but that it requires Chatman to buy into the role that he has within the team.

Roles were a popular talking point this week for McCall to his team, and he said Chatman started to showcase some of that commitment to his role at Rutgers.

“He got the ball in and around the basket some,” McCall said. “Once the floor moved, he had some opportunities where he could drive and make some spin moves and get in the lane. He got a couple of deflections in the press as well, and just really understanding and play to his strengths as a player. Sy’s a good shooter – he’s not a great shooter – but he can be really, really good down inside and around the basket, finishing and using his athleticism.”

Chatman said he had fun watching the UMass games in his room while hollering at the television, but that watching the success gave him a burning desire to return to the court. Once he came back, however, he had to re-integrate himself into the UMass lineup in a manner that wouldn’t affect the flow the Minutemen had created.

He said the team is playing slightly differently than how it played during the preseason as it adapted to not having Chatman on the court, so he has to adjust to being able to be functional within that style.

“The game is being played a different way because they played five games without me,” Chatman said. “I got to just adapt to the way my teammates are playing and just try to play the best way so we can go win.”

One area where Chatman’s return has helped is giving McCall an added body on the bench to help boost the Minutemen’s depth. Injuries to John Buggs and Kolton Mitchell left UMass with just nine scholarship players until Chatman was available again, putting a slight damper on the taxing style of play UMass is utilizing this season.

McCall said it’s vital for UMass to keep fresh legs on the floor at all times, and Chatman’s addition has helped make that easier for the coaches. Now the staff needs to do a better job at ensuring that the Minutemen are as rested as can be at all times on the court.

“It’s been good to have him back in the flow here, it makes us deeper and we have to utilize our depth,” McCall said. “Certain guys’ minutes need to go up and certain guys’ minutes need to go down, not because they’re playing bad, but because we need to be fresh at all times out there on the floor. When you press, you’ve got to be fresh; when you’re trying to push the ball in transition, you’ve got to be fresh. We need to do a better job with our substitution patterns and making sure we’re a fresh basketball team out on the floor.”

Josh Walfish can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @JoshWalfishDHG. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at

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