Maybe you’ve been watching Emmanuel “Poobie” Chapman, III, too; especially back in March when the Enloe Magnet High School alum helped catapult the N.C. Central University Eagles to a historic, first-ever spot in the NCAA championship tournament – after winning the MEAC Championship.
I’ve been watching him, too, not because I know his mom, Jackie Davis, a Raleigh native and author featured here a while back. And it’s not because I’m an Eagle by birth and marriage, or because I can recite Chapman’s career statistics as a standout point guard at NCCU. I mean, my peers report he’s statistically sound on the basketball court and my friends say, “Poobie can ball!” I trust them on that.
I’ve been following something else; a personality and magnetism, a spirit that transcends basketball and reaches into the depths of leadership, and widespread impact that’s hard to ignore, or replicate.
Thing is, as NCCU Men’s Head Basketball Coach Levelle Moton said he told his recruiters who are out looking for someone to replace Chapman, who graduated earlier this month: “He wouldn’t be special if you could find another one. There are no replicas. You’re not going to find another Poobie Chapman.”
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I see it in television and social media clips surrounding the recent NCCU championships, and I felt it when I met Chapman for the first time last month when he returned to Washington Elementary School with other alumni to chat with current students about then and now.
Moton explains what he’s seen from Chapman, the son Davistookto Moton’s basketball camps and has attended every game since, while working two jobs. Chapman’s father, Emmanuel “Poobie” Chapman, Jr., was himself a starting point guard at St. Augustine’s University.
“To this day, the kid sleeps with a basketball and he will carry a basketball with him everywhere he goes – and that’s no exaggeration,” said Moton, also an Enloe alumnus, who is in his sixth season as head coach at NCCU, his alma mater.
“Yet, there is not a student athlete on any campus anywhere that has had more impact on their university than Poobie Chapman, from the lives he touched to the overall energy of the university.
“He’s able to unite a campus. I haven’t seen that in this generation. He’s an incredible kid,” Moton said.
At NCCU, Chapman had a distinguished career, leading in steals and assists. He broke the school’s record in assists with a career 410 and, by season’s end, racked up over 600.
Chapman, whose quarter-sleeve of tattoos reminds us home is where his heart is, already has signed with an agent and is likely headed to play overseas.
“Right now, it’s all about finding the best fit for my game, and what’s best for me financially and culturally,” Chapman said, acknowledging Enloe’s “melting pot” helped him appreciate different cultures.
At Enloe, Chapman became known as one of the most dynamic point guards in the Triangle, amassing MVP, All-Star and Player of the year titles on conference, state and district levels throughout his senior season.
Progression is what it took. With each team, from Ligon Middle School to NCCU, Chapman recognized the importance of team-building to the height of success he experienced only in the last year of middle and high school, and college. “Everything to me is about transition. It’s about progress.”Chapman said. “It’s about progress and, through it all, it’s all about building a bond.”
The same was Chapman’s goal while he played off-seasons with three AAU teams with teammates and opponents now listed on ACC and the NBA rosters, including the Washington Wizards’ John Wall, the L.A. Lakers’ Ryan Kelley, and the Clippers’ Reggie Bullock. He also played with the University of Maryland’s Demine Wells.
“It’s his spirit; he puts his heart into everything he does,” said Wells, Chapman’s friend since both were toddlers. “He’s a good guy. You can always go to him and talk about anything and you know you’re going to get a genuine answer – and he’s fun to be around.”
The friends met on the court for the first time, though, in this year’s NCAA tournament. “We talked a lot of trash,” said Wells, 22, who is starting his senior year. “It was fun.”
Applauding Chapman’s academic accomplishments at NCCU, Chancellor Debra Saunders-White - who Chapman affectionately calls “Chance” – also applauds Chapman’s undeniable presence on campus, his poise in front of television cameras and his importance to the Eagles’ success.
“Emmanuel is full of energy and a delightful person to engage in conversation,” she said. “He’s obviously a leader on the court, but with his bigger-than-life persona exhibited off the court, this young man personifies the word leadership, and he’s just a pure gentleman.”