Family-first Chapman reflects on his former UK family
“Where are they now” is a periodical series that will take a look back at the careers of former Kentucky basketball stars and John Calipari-coached players and find out what they’re doing post-college. Today we catch up with Rex Chapman, a two-year star at Kentucky from 1987-88.
The majority of Rex Chapman’s time at Kentucky was spent in the air. Usually he was either rising straight up for a majestic 3-pointer or soaring over defenders for an athletic dunk. His athleticism and nose for the basket were a big part of why he enjoyed a 12-year NBA career after being the eighth overall pick in the 1988 NBA Draft.
More than 20 years later, however, Chapman’s superhuman leaping ability from his playing days seems to have abandoned him.
About four years ago during what would be the last of many father-son pickup games in the driveway, Chapman’s son Zeke got the better of his dad. In the middle of the game, Rex realized that Zeke had “gotten a lot better all of a sudden.” When Rex decided to step up his game and “embarrass him a little bit” with an up-and-under move, disaster struck.
“I crouched down a little too low and instead of gathering myself and jumping up, I just kept going down, like slow motion – down, down, down, right in to the garbage can underneath our basketball goal,” Chapman said.
Rex would recover from the spill but go on to take his first and last one-on-one loss to Zeke.
“I hurt my back but there was no way I was going to let him know it,” Chapman said. “I was embarrassed, completely embarrassed. After that, never again. I’ll go out there and show him this or that when he wants to but I had to retire completely after that.”
Chapman’s playing days may be over, but he is perfectly fine with that. After close to 15 years of competitive basketball, including two memorable seasons with Kentucky, the former Wildcat has decided to shift his focus to what matters most to him: his family.
Chapman now lives in Scottsdale, Ariz., with his wife of 20 years, their three daughters and one son. The permanent move home has made it easy for him to be around for some memorable moments in his children’s lives.
His son has made quite a name for himself on the basketball court. He recently signed with Ball State University and is currently enrolled as a freshman. Retiring from basketball allowed Rex to watch every game of his son’s senior season of high school basketball last year. He has found that with fatherhood come the ups and downs of watching your son play from the stands.
“Watching your kids do something is so much more nerve-wracking and emotionally draining than it ever was to play,” Chapman said. “Playing was easy; you could have some sort of control of what was going on out there.”
With Zeke all set for his freshman season at Ball State in Muncie, Ind., his dad’s anxious-ridden days of watching his son play ball are far from over – although if the most recent father-son one-on-one game is any indication of Zeke’s future at Ball State, Rex shouldn’t have much to worry about.
Chapman plans on making it to as many of Zeke’s games as he can this year. In fact, he hopes to make the 180-mile commute from Muncie down to Lexington once or twice to see the Cats play this year as well.
“I don’t think I’ve been back there (Lexington) to see a live game since John (Calipari) took the job,” Chapman said. “Hopefully the travel to Muncie will allow me to work in some Lexington trips as well. I always like getting back to Lexington.”
As a former fan favorite in one of college basketball’s most historic programs, it’s not hard to understand why he enjoys making it back to Lexington. Chapman’s two years at UK made for a lot of great memories not only for the fans, but for himself as well.
Many fans’ favorite moments of Chapman’s playing days might involve his high-flying dunks or 3-point stroke. However, Chapman’s favorite times are the two games he didn’t find himself in the starting lineup – on his teammates’ senior days. For Chapman, playing UK basketball wasn’t about any one player. Seeing his older teammates like James Blackmon and Paul Andrews get to start on their special night was unforgettable.
“It was just special,” Chapman said. “Everyone in Rupp was alive and singing “My Old Kentucky Home.” That’s just Kentucky basketball. Getting to enjoy the crowd from the bench and seeing my teammates I love so much having their special night was probably my greatest memory.”
The senior day atmosphere at UK is unlike any other in college basketball. Chapman remembers the emotions he and his teammates felt back then like it was yesterday.
“I can remember our teammates talking about it back when I was in school, ‘No way I’m gonna cry, no way I’ll cry.’ And every one of them, every single one I’ve ever seen has teared up,” Chapman said. “I know they’re out there thinking about their four years at Kentucky and all the fans. It’s just a magical place.”
In hindsight Chapman would have liked to have stuck around for a senior day of his own, but after averaging 19.0 points a game and shooting 41.5 percent from 3-point range his sophomore year, the NBA Draft was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.
He was drafted by the Charlotte Hornets but also spent time with the Washington Bullets and Miami Heat before ending his career with the Phoenix Suns. In his 12 years in the NBA, Chapman averaged 14.6 points per game and 2.7 assists. He made one playoff appearance with the Heat and three more with the Suns.
After retiring from the NBA in 2000, Chapman wasn’t ready to completely let go of basketball. He stayed close to the game with a brief stint as a color commentator for TNT.
“I enjoyed the TV stuff,” Chapman said. “It was very natural, kind of like just watching a game with your buddies, but it didn’t quite scratch the competitive itch.”
Chapman scratched that competitive itch by becoming the vice president of player personnel for the Denver Nuggets in 2006. His five years with Denver saw some exciting Nuggets teams and was a great way for him to stay competitively involved in basketball without the daily physical rigors of playing.
However, before last season, Chapman decided that the time had come for him to retire from his VP role with the Nuggets and become a full-time dad.
“I always commuted between Denver and Scottsdale so I missed a bit more than I would have liked to of some of my kids’ stuff,” Chapman said.
There is no doubt that Chapman has left his mark on UK basketball for years to come. This summer he was inducted into the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame. The induction obviously means a lot to a guy that was born and raised in Kentucky.
“It was a great honor and awfully flattering and humbling at the same time. I’m sure I’ll feel the same way when Mitch (Barnhart) puts my jersey in the rafters in Lexington,” Chapman said jokingly.
That same sense of humor has helped Chapman reconnect with the Big Blue Nation and basketball world through his newfound social media legacy.
Close friend and popular talk show host Jim Rome recently convinced Chapman to start a Twitter account. Without much prior knowledge of what Twitter even was Chapman has caught on quickly, racking up nearly 12,000 followers in a matter of a couple months. His sense of humor and ability to laugh at himself has made him a huge hit.
“I just kind of followed his lead and people seem to like it so I guess I’ll stick with it for awhile, anyway,” Chapman said.
Just over a month ago, Chapman stumbled upon an old home video from a family vacation around 10 years ago. The trip to Disney World included a stop at a make-your-own music video shop. After a little encouragement and a few dares from his family, Chapman decided to do his own hilarious rendition of the popular 1980’s Prince song “When Doves Cry.” Much to the chagrin of his children, he decided to put the video on the internet.
“We found those videos so I thought I’d throw them up there (on YouTube),” Chapman said. “The next thing I know like 30,000 people had watched it. It was crazy (because) the video was so bad.”
It’s not hard to see why Chapman was adored so much during his time at UK. It’s obvious that Chapman knows how to have a good time and entertain. But his comments on Coach Cal make it clear that the “family” aspect of UK basketball is very serious and real to him, even years after his time here.
“Man those few years right before John got there were tough, not only for the fans, but for players past and present,” Chapman said. “When he got there, I can’t even explain it. What a welcome sight he was. I do feel like he was the absolute perfect guy for the job.”
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