Brooklyn Boro

Roosevelt Chapman: The best player Brooklyn never heard of

July 12, 2021 Andy Furman
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He just might be the best basketball player to have ever come out of Brooklyn.

And you probably have never heard of him.

Yup, that’s a pretty hefty statement considering the likes of Connie Hawkins (Boys High), Billy Cunningham (Erasmus Hall) and Bernard King (Fort Hamilton).

But Roosevelt Chapman easily makes the list.

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Maybe you didn’t hear of him when he was tearing up the PSAL “B” Division at Westinghouse High School.

His coach, Irv Turk, knew of his talents when he told the Eagle years ago, “Roosevelt can play for any college in the country and be a star.”

He did – and he was.

But Westinghouse? Why not play in the “Suicide Division” with the likes of Erasmus, Boys and Jefferson?

“Actually,” he said the other day from his South Dakota home, “I really didn’t know what school to attend. I lived on the border of Bedford-Stuyvesant and Williamsburg, on Tompkins Avenue, and most of my friends played for Boys and Alexander Hamilton. Honestly,” he added, “I just wanted to play against them.”

Roosevelt Chapman in action with Dayton. Photo courtesy of Andy Furman

Boy, did he ever. 

The 6-4, 200-pound Chapman averaged 27 points and 21 rebounds per-game as a senior and said he had close to 150 college scholarship offers. He was now living at 5 East 40th Street.

“I had Michigan State, Providence and Georgetown, to name a few,” he said, “and I really wanted Georgetown.”

But when he had a conversation with friend Arnie Hershkowitz, he was sold on, gulp – the University of Dayton.

“When Arnie told me Dayton, I said, ‘where’s that, Florida?’”

And when he visited the Ohio school, he said he fell in love with it.

“Dayton,” he said, “was the exact opposite of the others. Schools like Michigan State had big campuses and outdated arenas. Dayton had a small campus, and I fell in love with their 13,000-plus arena.”

And Dayton fans fell in love with the kid they nicknamed “Velvet,” which is both a play on his first name and a description of his smooth playing style.

As a freshman in 1980-81, Chapman averaged 12.8 points per game and 5.8 rebounds as the Flyers posted an 18-11 record and advanced to the second round of the National Invitation Tournament (NIT).

As a sophomore, those numbers improved to 18.1 points per game and 8.0 rebounds, and the Flyers again earned an NIT berth and advanced to the third round. He was named the team’s Most Valuable Player.

As a junior, he again was the team’s MVP averaging 23.0 points per game, and in his senior year – 1983-84 – he again was MVP.

That season, his numbers were 21.8 points per game and 9.1 rebounds. He became – and remains to this date – the all-time leading scorer in Flyers history, surpassing Don May’s previous record of 1,980.

Chapman eventually totaled 2,233 points and remains eighth in career rebounds with 956.

That senior year remains intact with many Flyer fans. Dayton was in the NCAA West Regional final game of the 1984 tournament. Their unexpected run started in Salt Lake City with a 74-66 win over LSU. It was followed two days later with an 89-85 win over Oklahoma – highlighted by Chapman’s 41 points.

The next weekend, Dayton defeated Washington 64-58 to advance to the Elite Eight. The Flyers eventually fell to eventual champion, Georgetown, 61-49.

Chapman scored 105 points in the four tournament games as the Flyers’ season ended with a 23-11 record.

That Flyer team was coached by Hall of Famer Don Donoher.

“He’ll be 90 real soon,” Chapman reminds us.

And Chapman hasn’t forgotten his Dayton roots.

“I was back in Ohio on St. Patrick’s Day, shooting a television commercial with former Ohio State football star Keith Byars and Olympian Edwin Moses,” he said.

The commercial spot, which is airing now in the entire state, focuses on community health services, blood and PSA levels, he said.

“I watch my cholesterol,” he said.

And if Roosevelt Chapman thought the move from Brooklyn to Dayton was a culture shock, try South Dakota.

“I was a teacher and basketball coach at the Crazy Horse School on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation,” he said. “And I met a woman and settled down.”

He gives private basketball lessons to both young boys and girls, and admits the talent level in the state is “nowhere near Brooklyn – but is adequate.”

Today his competition is primarily in pool – yes, billiards.

“They have some pretty big leagues here. We travel to Minnesota, Iowa and Wyoming for our matches.”

Chapman said he learned the game from Shane Van Boeing, who is a Number 1 performer and has won three U.S. Opens and has a total of five championships.

South Dakota and shooting pool are a far cry from Westinghouse High, where Chapman poured in 49 points and pulled-down 24 rebounds in a playoff win over Alexander Hamilton, 109-100.

 

That Hamilton squad featured the likes of “Ice” Reynolds.

Boys High was the Achilles heel for Chapman.

“In my senior year we played them three times – and lost all by a total of five points,” he said. “And in a playoff game at Brooklyn College, Westinghouse lost to Boys at the buzzer, and I had 24 points in the first half.”

Chapman was drafted in the third round of the 1984 NBA draft (54th pick overall) by the Kansas City Kings.

“I had better deals overseas,” said the soon-to-be 59-year-old Chapman. “And I played 12 years in places like Italy, France, Spain, Turkey, Israel and for the National Team in Sweden.”

Today, he tours with a pool cue – but his basketball feats are remembered with a plaque at Wingate Park on Clarkson Avenue.

“The Best Basketball Player to Play Here,” it reads.

And he just might be the best basketball player to have played in Brooklyn.

Andy Furman is a Fox Sports Radio national talk show host. Previously, he was a scholastic sports columnist for the Brooklyn Eagle. He may be reached at: [email protected] Twitter: @AndyFurmanFSR


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