Mr. Chapman’s incredible hoops journey

Sports

The date is March 9, 1996. A 22-year-old, beardless Kyle Chapman (I know, it is hard to imagine) watches from the sidelines as time runs down in the Big East Championship game. He can feel the sweat dripping down his temple as he perches on the edge of his seat. His team, the University of Connecticut men’s basketball team, trails 74-73 to Georgetown as Ray Allen receives a dribble handoff from fellow Husky Ricky Moore. As Allen drives to the paint, he’s cut off by Big East Defensive Player of the Year Allen Iverson. The future Middle School English teacher and boys basketball coach can feel his nerves beginning to pile up as Allen is forced to throw a prayer at the rim. 

Mr. Chapman cannot bear to watch, and yet he simultaneously cannot pull his eyes away. As the ball floats towards the basket, he cannot believe it as Allen’s prayer dances on the rim before dropping. His teammates and the many UConn fans in attendance at Madison Square Garden erupt as UConn goes up by one and eventually holds on to win the game. This event, as remarkable as it was, was just one of the many that happened over the course of Mr. Chapman’s unbelievable basketball career.

Mr. Chapman’s astonishing basketball journey, which began when he was just six years old, not only impacts his life but also improves the lives of all those he engages with, students and colleagues alike, in the KO community.

While basketball is a vital aspect of his life today, this was not always the case for Mr. Chapman. Growing up in Ledyard, Conn., he enjoyed going outside and simply playing whatever sport was in season. “We played a lot of sports as kids,” he recalled. “My neighborhood was filled with kids, so we just went outside and played sports all day. The sports rotated throughout the year, so there would be soccer time, then there would be football time, then there would be basketball time and more.”

Although Mr. Chapman had a passion for all of the sports he played growing up, the summer after sixth grade marked a turning point in his athletic career. He had plans to attend Camp Slamma Jamma, a basketball camp held at Central Connecticut State University, with many of his friends and looked forward to this opportunity to develop as a player alongside familiar faces.

Just before it was time to go to camp, however, disaster struck. “Everybody kind of just bowed out at the last minute,” Mr. Chapman explained, “and so I ended up going by myself.”

What initially seemed like misfortune soon became a blessing for him. “At first, I was really sad because I didn’t know anybody,” Mr. Chapman expressed, “but in the end, it was a great thing because I just locked in on basketball. That week really changed things.”

Mr. Chapman came home from camp a completely different player. The fact that he was able to focus solely on basketball and progressed greatly while his friends were not able to do the same meant that when he returned, he had a new standing amongst the players in his town.

“Before, I was literally like the middle of the pack,” he described, “but a month later, I was the best player in the town by a long margin.”

Mr. Chapman enjoyed this feeling of being good at something, as well as the frequent praise he would receive from his peers about how much he had developed. This made him lock in on basketball and dedicate the rest of his life to the sport.

After making great strides in the summer after sixth grade, Mr. Chapman continued to have success on the basketball court. During his freshman year at Ledyard High School, he made the varsity team, a feat that had only been accomplished once before him at the large public high school he went to. 

You might be wondering: How could he possibly follow up this success? The answer is by scoring and scoring a lot. During his sophomore year, Mr. Chapman played a major role on the varsity team and scored many points.

His junior year, however, was when his mindset about the game began to change. “I feel like I started to put a lot of pressure on myself,” he said, “and then it kind of felt more like a job. Even as a junior, if I didn’t play well, it ruined my whole week…” 

This caused his love for the game to diminish. “By the time I got to my senior year, I was like, ‘I don’t even know if I want to do this anymore,’” he detailed. “It wasn’t healthy.”

His love for the game and desire to play waned further once he went to Keene State, a DIII school in New Hampshire, to play basketball. “I went to Keene State…and it was miserable,” he expressed. “I was miserable there…and 3-28 was our record. And I wasn’t even playing on a 3-28 team, so I was done, and I decided to quit.”

That looked like the end of Mr. Chapman’s basketball career. Little did he know, however, that there was much more basketball waiting for him in the near future. 

After Mr. Chapman decided to quit basketball, he chose to transfer from Keene State to the University of Connecticut. It was at UConn where the basketball fire inside of him was rekindled. 

“The first year I went to UConn… I was in the field house where everyone played pickup basketball, and I was playing there,” Mr. Chapman recalled. “After the game was over, this woman came up to me and she was like, ‘Hey, my name is Megan Patterson. I’m the assistant coach of the women’s team here at UConn.’”

Coach Patterson told Mr. Chapman about a method that women’s basketball coaching legend Geno Auriemma was looking to incorporate into his program. “She said that Geno was looking for some boys to come to practice and play against the team to give them a little more of a physical presence,” he recounted, “to play against people that were faster and stronger than maybe some of them were. Not all of them, but some.”

This tactic had been used by the University of Tennessee’s women’s basketball team, who at the time, was the best team in the nation. Mr. Chapman really appreciated this experience, and it helped to get him back into the game of basketball.

“It was their first championship of the [Rebecca] Lobo years,” he said. “They took me to the Final Four, and I got a championship ring and everything was a really cool experience.” 

One year later, during the 1995-1996 season, after playing pickup basketball with the team throughout the offseason, Mr. Chapman walked on to the UConn men’s basketball team. 

This meant that in his two years at UConn he got the opportunity to play alongside and against future basketball Hall of Famers such as Ray Allen, Rebecca Lobo, and Allen Iverson, to be coached by two legendary college basketball coaches – Jim Calhoun and Geno Auriemma – to be crowned a Big East Champion, to play at Madison Square Garden, and to make an appearance in the Sweet 16 of the 1996 NCAA men’s basketball tournament. In the span of two years, he went from quitting the sport entirely to having an experience basketball fans and players everywhere could only dream of. 

His incredible basketball journey did not end there, however. While his playing career came to an end, his life in basketball was nowhere near coming to a close. 

After becoming close friends with NBA player Travis Knight in college, Mr. Chapman met several icons in the world of basketball. “[Knight] was a year ahead of me, so he did his rookie year in L.A. while I was a senior in college,” Mr. Chapman described. “I used to go out there and visit him. He was a rookie with Kobs and Derek Fisher, so I knew them.”

Not only did he meet household names like Bryant and Fisher, but once he graduated from UConn, Mr. Chapman moved in with Knight, who had just been traded to the Boston Celtics, and lived with him for the duration of his NBA career.

“I lived with Trav for like eight years while he played for the Celtics,” he recalled. “Then he went back to the Lakers, and then he came to the Knicks, and I lived with him all along all those different stops. During that time, I was around everybody. Shaq, Kobe, everyone that came through town.”

Even after this period came to a close in 2008, Mr. Chapman still managed to surround himself with NBA superstars, as he coached current Brooklyn Nets point guard Kyrie Irving when he was in eighth grade.

Along this unbelievable basketball career, Mr. Chapman picked up many lessons that have shaped him into who he is today.

One of the most important lessons he has learned is one that he tells all of the players that he coaches. “You can’t hide in sports…” he explained. “You could tell everybody that you’re this or that or you could pretend that you’re this or you’re that, but as soon as sports start, as soon as the game starts, everyone’s going to know who’s good and who’s not good, and who belongs out there and who doesn’t.”

This lesson is important to him because it has always pushed him to get better. Whenever Mr. Chapman felt like he was making improvements and developing greatly, he could always find someone better than him. Having this in the back of his mind drove him to be the best player he could be, and he still applies the work ethic he learned from this to his coaching and teaching career today.

The second lesson he has learned throughout basketball career goes hand in hand with the first. “You get what you put into it,” he detailed. “You can’t fake the work, you can’t go out and say ‘Well, I’ve practiced for an hour.’ If it’s not good practice, if it’s just like shooting in your driveway, that’s not really going to payout. And so whatever you put into it you get out of it.”

This second lesson relating to effort and work ethic also applies to how he teaches and coaches today. The work ethic that allowed him to become a DI basketball player is the same one he puts into being the best teacher and coach he can be.

One final lesson that Mr. Chapman has learned over the years relates to the team aspect of the sport. “I also learned lessons about dealing with other people that you get in sports or working with your teammates to deal with different coaches in different scenarios,” Mr. Chapman explained. “All of these were great learning experiences that I took so much, both positive and negative, from, and that helped me become who I am.”

The impact that basketball has had on Mr. Chapman’s life is immense, and through his coaching, Mr. Chapman tries to pass on that impact on to his players. 

One of said players is KO freshman John Kumpa. John played for Mr. Chapman on last year’s Middle School boys A basketball team. It was John’s first year playing basketball and throughout the season, he developed not only as a player, but also as a person.

“He mainly taught me the fundamentals, but also passed down the values that he played the game with,” John said. “I also learned to always play the game hard in practice or in game situations because that’s what he tries to instill in all his players.”

John also appreciated the fact that Mr. Chapman always did what was best for his team. “He was kind of strict, but that’s just because he wants to get the best out of his players,” John recalled. “Sometimes, you need a little bit more push than what the players are giving you.”

Freshman and fellow player on last year’s Middle School team Elijah Wells was also appreciative of Mr. Chapman’s coaching. Even though Elijah is a much more experienced player than John, he still felt like he progressed under Mr. Chapman’s training.

“I learned a lot of wisdom from him,” Elijah claimed. “Of course, he has a lot of experience in the game, so I picked up on some of those little tips and tricks. Everything makes a difference in the game of basketball. It’s important to do the little things right, and that’s what he enforces.”

While Mr. Chapman’s coaching helped Elijah develop on the court, the lessons Mr. Chapman taught Elijah about life through basketball impacted him the most. “He taught me what the game did for him a little bit, and how it’s a great experience to be on a team,” Elijah added. “He taught me lessons that went beyond basketball, and I appreciated that.”

Both appreciated the fact that Mr. Chapman has an extensive background in the sport of basketball. The fact that he shared this background with them made him seem like a more trustworthy coach and made it clear to them that all the information he shared with them was for the betterment of their basketball careers and their lives as a whole.

Mr. Chapman’s basketball journey was, and still is, incredible. The fact that he was able to interact with so many different people, from NBA icons like Ray Allen and Kobe Bryan to students at KO, and use the sport of basketball to teach lessons and improve the lives of others is nothing short of amazing.

To this day, basketball impacts every part of his life, from the activities he does in his free time to even the way he teaches English. “I teach like I coach,” he said. “A basketball coach and an English teacher are the same thing to me. It’s all about figuring out what to say to everybody in front of you that’s going to get the best out of them.”