Sy Chatman regaining rhythm as he returns to UMass men’s basketball team

Sophomore had 16 against Rutgers

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Parker Peters/Daily Collegian

By Amin Touri, Collegian Staff

Welcome back, Sy Chatman.

Having missed the first five games of the season, the sophomore made his return for the Massachusetts men’s basketball team last weekend, with a handful of minutes against both No. 7 Virginia and St. John’s at Mohegan Sun. Chatman’s return helps bolster a UMass (5-3) frontcourt in need of a little depth.

“We talked a lot these last few days about roles,” UMass coach Matt McCall said. “And his role, as far as how good he can be inside with his back to the basket and scoring and shooting jump hooks over guys with athleticism, and just his effort defensively too. It’s been good to have him back in the flow here, and it makes us deeper, and we need to utilize our depth.”

After struggling at times through those first two games — Chatman was a combined 0-for-6 from the field with just one point and four turnovers — he exploded after Thanksgiving. On the road at Rutgers on Friday, Chatman went for a career-high 16 points on an efficient 7-of-11 from the field in 25 minutes, a major turnaround from his first two appearances.

“I’m feeling good, everything’s great,” Chatman said. “It’s just finally getting my rhythm back, getting back into the heat of things and practicing and everything. It was hard being away, but it’s fun to be back and helping the team out.

“The game was really sped up for me [those first two games], everything was just moving really fast. I didn’t have really any feel or rhythm, but I think I’m getting it back.”

Chatman had an up-and-down freshman campaign for the Minutemen, putting up 3.7 points and 2.2 rebounds a night in his rookie season. An elite-level athlete, Chatman had his fair share of highlight-reel blocks and huge dunks, but struggled down low on both sides of the ball against older big men. McCall and company had raved about Chatman’s growth this offseason, but the fruits of that summer labor had to wait until he returned — the third-year head coach still thinks he’s ready to make a jump, even if the time off wasn’t ideal.

“It definitely didn’t help, not playing,” McCall said. “To say it ‘stunted’ — I don’t know, he had his career high against Rutgers. I think that obviously we’d have loved to have had him, but I don’t think his growth got stunted. Did his wind get affected, did his being in game shape get affected? Probably, yeah. But he can still get back to the same player that he was and that this team needs him to be.”

Chatman rejoins a team that looks much different than it did a year ago all the offseason roster turnover and the adoption of a much faster style of play. He’ll likely see plenty of minutes at the four alongside either Djery Baptiste or Tre Mitchell — or perhaps as a small-ball center when McCall messes with his lineups — and McCall wasn’t shy about throwing Chatman into the mix, playing him for 25 minutes against Rutgers.

The Minutemen started 5-0 without Chatman, who watched from his room as UMass got off to its best start since 2013-14.

“It was fun. I’m in my room, screaming and yelling at the TV, just watching,” Chatman said. “Like when Sean [East] hit that crazy shot, I was literally in my room screaming. It was fun watching them play, and that just made me even want to get back out here and just be on the court even faster.”

The undisclosed personal reasons that led to Chatman’s early absence fueled plenty of speculation, from transfer possibilities to potential academic issues; according to the man himself, it was just personal.

“I was just going through some personal things that I just had to handle and figure out with my family,” Chatman said. “I just had to take a step back from like social media, everything, just get my life together and make sure I’m mentally good.

“I’m doing great. Just happy to be out here, ready to play tomorrow.”

UMass will host South Carolina at the Mullins Center on Wednesday night at 7 p.m.

Amin Touri can be reached at [email protected], and followed on Twitter @Amin_Touri.