‘We’ve been underdogs all our lives’

Eagles challenge tournament expectations
Mar. 20, 2014 @ 10:44 PM

If the doubters are right this time, N.C. Central University point guard Emanuel "Poobie" Chapman will wrap up his college basketball career late Friday, somewhere around midnight.

You see, the Eagles really and truly don’t belong in the NCAA Tournament, just here because they won their conference tournament — that’s what the doubters say — and Iowa State is going to prove that in just a matter of hours (9:50 p.m., TNT).

Iowa State University is a No 3 seed in the East Region of the tournament. The Cyclones average 82.9 points per game and get 17 of them from point guard DeAndre Kane — 6-foot-4-inch, 200-pound DeAndre Kane.

Chapman’s just 6-foot-1, doesn’t weigh but 160 pounds. He is thin and gangly.

“Chapman doesn’t look like a Division I basketball player,” Howard University coach Kevin Nickelberry said.

Chapman said the same thing about himself.

The kid sure can ball, though, Nickelberry said.

After NCCU last week beat Norfolk State University and advanced to the championship game of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Tournament, a reporter during postgame interviews wanted some perspective on the seven assists that Eagles forward Karamo Jawara dished out. Jawara is one of those rare big men who really can distribute the basketball, so it was a good question.  

The reporter set up his query about Jawara by subtly dropping in a disclaimer that everybody knows how good of a passer Chapman is.

“Do we?” Chapman quipped.

That little zinger went largely unnoticed. Chapman was slick with how he said it, that deftness perhaps having something to do with those 613 assists that make him the all-time leader in that category in NCCU history.

Chapman’s remark came from a place that has fueled him ever since he was a little boy. He’s one of those effervescent people, so that particular place hasn’t made his calloused.

But he’s got a chip on his shoulder.

“I feel like I have to prove myself every time out,” Chapman said.

Chapman, from Raleigh, used to run with dudes like Rodney Purvis, Dez Wells and some guy named John Wall.

Purvis plays for the University of Connecticut. Wells hoops for the University of Maryland. Wall is an NBA All-Star with the Washington Wizards. They’re all great guards, and Chapman used to run with them — sort of.

“We go in the gym,” Chapman recalled, and “of course, they’re the ones who get picked.”

Chapman said he’d go to basketball courts where nobody had ever seen him play and wouldn’t get picked when sides were chosen. He didn’t look the part.

It was a different story after Chapman got the ball in his hands.

That’s how it’s been for NCCU. The Eagles don’t necessarily look the part of a Division I team, at least not on paper. They’re not particularly big, and NCCU coach LeVelle Moton has said that his squad can’t really shoot the ball all that well and lacks the type of players who can make up a lot of slack with their athleticism.

“We accept that,” Moton said. “We embrace the underdog role. We’ve been underdogs all our lives, anyway. We’re just trying to find comfort in discomfort.”

NCCU this season beat N.C. State for its first win in school history over an Atlantic Coast Conference team.

NCCU has played Division I ball since the 2007-08 season, but rejoined the MEAC in 2011. NCCU was in the MEAC when the league competed in Division II.

This past Saturday, NCCU won the MEAC Tournament. It was NCCU’s first Division I conference-tournament championship.

Bigger than that, winning the MEAC Tournament put NCCU in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history, allowing the Eagles to buck naysayers. It underscored why Chapman is the perfect face for the program.

“I’ve got earn to everything, and I think that’s the same way with (NCCU senior Jeremy Ingram). And I feel like it’s the same with every player on this team,” Chapman said. “We’ve got to prove ourselves, and I think that’s that chip that everybody’s talking about, and we’re just trying to use it.”

Before Chapman became pals with Wall and Purvis and Wells, his Winnie the Pooh stuffed animal was his best bud.

“I used to carry around the Pooh bear,” Chapman said. “I loved the Pooh bear.”

Chapman couldn’t say Pooh Bear, though. His daddy gave him that nickname, but Chapman only could utter, “Poobie.” That’s the best he could do, and the name stuck.

Ingram, the player of the year in the MEAC and the most outstanding performer in the league tournament, calls Chapman something else.

“He’s a chemist with that ball,” Ingram said.

Ingram and Chapman met during a North Carolina high school all-star game. Ingram, out of East Mecklenburg High School, represented the western part of the state. Chapman went to Enloe High School and was on the East team.

Neither Ingram nor Chapman got a lot of serious attention from college basketball recruiters. Moton gave them a shot.

During that all-star game, Ingram launched and landed some deep 3-pointers. Chapman said he knew then that they’d do something special together at NCCU.

That’s confidence. That’s Poobie, Moton said.

Before the season started, Chapman declared that NCCU would beat N.C. State, Moton said. Chapman had a score to settle: N.C. State’s coaches were right there in Raleigh and didn’t recruit him.

Doubters.

Chapman’s dealt with them his entire life.

That’s changing.

“He’s crafty. He’s good,” said Kane, the Iowa State point guard. “He doesn’t turn the ball over. He’s averaging seven assists, and that’s top 10 in the country. He runs the team. He’s a leader, and he knows when to take shots, he knows when to get guys the ball. He’s the of type guard you want on your team.”