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He blew his horn, then made the team

Stored in his closet next to his basketball lies Rodney Chatman's favorite instrument. "I don't play it much anymore," Chatman said. "But there are times when I need to rely on it. It is a soothing medicine for me."

He plays the trumpet now only when the mood strikes him _ which it did this spring when he tried out for the 19-under AAU Suncoast All-Stars.

After being cut during tryouts _ despite being a key member of the team last year _ the trumpet became Chatman's comfort zone. It helped him ease his mind and forget about basketball, if only for awhile.

"I was disappointed in myself," said Chatman, who played trumpet in the Boca Ciega band for four years. "I had to turn elsewhere because I was highly discouraged by my performance. I just needed some time."

But Chatman needed more than time. He needed a different tune.

"I'm a pretty quiet player and person," said Chatman, who averaged 19.8 points per game and 10.2 rebounds a game during the season for Boca Ciega. "Maybe I need to play some tunes every now and then to sound off."

That's exactly what helped Chatman this spring after he stopped playing basketball and started playing his trumpet.

Because he was a graduating senior and had just received a basketball scholarship to play at Eckerd College, everyone assumed Chatman was too old to play on the Suncoast AAU 17-under team _ including Chatman.

"Here I am thinking I'm too old and can't play anywhere," Chatman said. "Then all of a sudden I get this idea as I'm standing in my coaches' office. I could hear the sounds of my trumpet as I'm looking down the roster."

The doors opened again for the 6-foot-3 Pirates post man. Looking at the roster he began to notice several other 17-year-olds he had played with during the season.

Chatman is only 17 and didn't play basketball as a high school freshman. So he still legally has a year of high school eligibility remaining, and his birthday isn't until Dec. 22. AAU rules say you cannot be 18 before Aug. 1 and you must have one year of high school eligibility to play for the 17-under team.

Chatman asked assistant coach Randy Shuman to be included on the AAU team.

Shuman had no idea Chatman was 17 and immediately contacted coach Dave Redding. Soon, Chatman was back in business.

And this weekend, he'll help lead the Suncoast All-Stars in the AAU state tournament. Suncoast is one of the top four seeds. The winner of the tournament will be designated Team Florida for the under-17 division and will qualify for the national tournament in Jonesboro, Ark., in July. (The Pinellas-based under-19 AAU team won its division state title last month, and the Clearwater 14-under team won its category's state championship last weekend.)

"We just didn't invite him to our tryouts because we assumed he was already 18," Redding said of Chatman. "I think everyone assumed it. It was definitely an oversight. Once we found out we got him right away."

Chatman has been the Suncoast All-Stars' biggest surprise in five scrimmages. At 6-3, he buries himself inside at the post position and is currently the team's second-leading scorer. In five games, Chatman has scored 83 points and grabbed 39 rebounds.

"Rodney is relentless," Redding said. "you need a player like Rodney to win."

One reason Chatman is successful inside despite his small size is his keen sense of sound.

"I hear the shot and I react," said Chatman. "I try to use my instincts to make up for my lack of height. Still, the challenge inside for me has always been fun because that's what I was used to playing at Boca Ciega.

"I have to hold my own," Chatman said. "I just have to listen to myself and take over on the court."

AAU team roster

Name School Pos. Hgt.

Anthony Brown Lakewood Forward 6-5

Carlton Bryant St. Petersburg Forward 6-4

Rodney Chatman Boca Ciega Post 6-3

Mike Harvey Boca Ciega Guard 6-1

John Heilman CCC Forward 6-2

Dametri Hill Dixie Hollins Forward 6-7

Tellas Lampley Boca Ciega Guard 6-2

Bill Millman Largo Post 6-7

Antwan Smith Gibbs Post 6-7

Marques Tampa Lakewood Guard 6-1

Shane Vogt Chamberlain Guard 6-0

Coaches: Dave Redding, Northeast; Randy Shuman, Boca Ciega; Paul Chorney, Northeast; Tom Schonau, Boca Ciega.