Walk-ons earn place through trusting coach

Blake Nash, Staff Reporter

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Senior Dylan Chatman and junior Luke Norman have made the most of their opportunity since walking on to the Eastern men’s basketball team.

Both players began their collegiate careers at Southwestern Illinois College in Chatman’s hometown of Belleville.

Chatman was being recruited by a couple of Division II schools by the end of his sophomore year, but none of them were close to home. Spoonhour arrived with an opportunity that Chatman would take.

“He told me that he had a player the year before, who was Taylor Jones actually, who earned playing time after walking on,” Chatman said. “He got playing time, but he had to play defense.”

Jones, now a graduate assistant coach for the Panthers, was one of the first walk-ons of the Spoonhour era, but he wouldn’t be the last.

“I walked on for Coach Mike Miller, and (Spoonhour) took over my senior year but I was always a walk-on,” Jones said.

Jones also started several games his final season as a Panther.

Spoonhour told Chatman that if he could come in and play defense, that he could earn playing time, but it would not be guaranteed.

Playing time wasn’t guaranteed because Chatman’s position was full of talented players at Eastern.

“When I first got it here, it wasn’t guaranteed that I would play at all,” Chatman said. “I had four good players in front of me. I had to stand out in practice, and one thing I stood out in was defensive-wise.”

Chatman began seeing some playing time early in the 2013-14 season, but it wasn’t until the Northwestern game that Chatman would truly show the Panthers what he could do.

“I didn’t start at Northwestern, but I showed them that I could play, Chatman said. “That was the first game that I actually played well, and it was on a big stage.”

Chatman would be a member of the starting lineup once Ohio Valley Conference play began, and earned a scholarship from Spoonhour for his hard work.

“A good effort is always important in this game because you don’t do well without it,” Spoonhour said. “Dylan contributed a good effort, and he earned his scholarship last year.”

Chatman said he knew in his mind that he would be a starter, but could not believe it when Spoonhour let him play against the Wildcats.

“In my head I knew I was going to start,” Chatman. “I wanted to start the whole time, but I didn’t think coach, that easily, was going to let me be in there by the Northwestern game.”

Norman, on the other hand, was being recruited by Spoonhour during his high school career at Freeport, IL. Despite this, he first enrolled at Southwestern Illinois, where Chatman was also playing.

Eventually the injury bug found its way to Norman, and he was forced to have leg surgery, more than once.

“Last year and my freshman year of (junior college) I had surgeries both years,” Norman said. “So he kind of backed off, which he probably should have.”

Norman ended up finishing his career at Highland Community College, where his father Pete, a long-time coach for the program, was the athletic director.

Although he had another surgery, Norman received a call from Spoonhour last summer.

“During the summer he called and asked if I wanted to come walk-on for him, and have a chance at earning a scholarship,” Norman said.

Throughout the summer and the preseason Norman competed as a point guard, but freshman Cornell Johnston was assigned the starting role for this season.

However, Spoonhour awarded Norman with playing time, and Norman knew what his head coach wanted from him on the floor.

“He wanted me to handle the ball and make good decisions,” Norman said. “Play hard on defense, be tough, and when the team needs a break, give them a good break.”

Following an 84-73 victory over Belmont two weeks ago, Spoonhour said that he wished that Norman, who scored a season-high 10 points that day would shoot the ball more because he is a good shooter.

“I think he’s conflicted with the coaches because he thinks ‘every shot is probably not a good shot or ‘is this what coach wants?’” Spoonhour said. “He needs to knock that off because he can really shoot.”

Norman said he wants to get his team involved rather than look for his own shot. Spoonhour has asked him to be more aggressive, and shoot if he has open looks.

“I’ve learned that when I’m open I’ve got to knock them down because it’ll open the floor for us,” Norman said.

When open gym season began last spring, Chatman played his own role in recruiting when he asked Spoonhour if they could invite his former teammate and now the Panthers’ leading scorer Trae Anderson to open gym.

“With Spoon it doesn’t matter if you’re a walk-on or on a scholarship,” Norman said. “he’s going to play you, if you can prove you can go out there and play,”

Blake Nash can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]