A 6-foot-2-inch shooting guard for Chapman stepped up to the free-throw line. He wiped his hands, caught the basketball from the referee and took a deep breath. Chapman was tied at 69 points with the University of Redlands, with two seconds remaining in the game.
Swish. The first free throw fell through the net. The referee retrieved the ball from under the hoop, passing it back to the shooting guard at the line. He took another deep breath. Swish. The second shot dropped, like any of the near-100 free throws he made over the course of that year.
But that wasn’t any shot, and it certainly wasn’t any shooter.
After that second shot rippled through the net and the buzzer sounded, Chapman fans, players and coaches erupted in cheers. Chapman’s men’s basketball team was the 2015-16 Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) champion.
The shooter at the line was Cam Haslam, a freshman from Seattle, Washington. Haslam cemented himself as Chapman’s star player early on, scoring 40 points against Brigham Young University, Hawaii in the fourth game of the season. He finished the season as the leading freshman scorer in Division III, with 19.5 points per game.
“He came on the scene, not out of nowhere, but for him to do what he did as a freshman obviously exceeded our expectations,” said assistant coach Dan Krikorian. “We could feel it coming on from the inside. You could see our team shaping around him.”
But that was two years ago. Since that stellar freshman year, Haslam has played just seven games. At the start of his sophomore year, he suffered a Lisfranc injury in his foot, sidelining him for the first few weeks of practice. He returned as his usual self almost immediately, dropping 26 points at George Fox University in his second game.
But three weeks later, Haslam was sidelined again. After a 24-point performance against La Sierra College, Haslam tore his left-knee’s meniscus for the second time during a practice. When he went down, Chapman’s season went with him.
The team finished 5-11 in the SCIAC, at one point losing five straight games and missing the playoffs for the first time since Chapman joined the conference in 2012.
Haslam flew back to Seattle for surgery to repair his meniscus, giving him a four-to-six month return period. He underwent three months of scheduled physical training followed by strength-building exercises.
But when this year began, Haslam was absent from the team’s roster. After playing during the summer, Haslam said he realized he wasn’t fully healthy, and after consulting with close friends and family members, he told the coaching staff he was not returning for the upcoming season.
“It was tough, because I’d built relationships with the coaches and the guys on the team,” Haslam said. “I wouldn’t say it was easy, but it would’ve been harder for me to go out there not 100 percent. It made it easier to be real with them and not just play to make other people happy.”
In this past year, Haslam said he’s gone through a period of self-discovery, going without organized basketball for the first time since fourth grade. A devout Christian, Haslam dove into a number of causes, including cancer fundraising program Relay for Life, and Alpha, a program for nonreligious and nondevout individuals that he helped launch at Friends Church in Orange.
While the recovery process was difficult, Haslam said he enjoyed it. He said he thrived with each step, something that was recorded in a documentary by Dodge College of Film and Media Arts students this semester.
When Haslam talked about his recovery, a broad smile crossed his face. He flexed his knee about 120 degrees – the furthest he’d been able to stretch his leg for weeks after his surgery, he said. He smirked again as he stretched his leg straight, demonstrating his now-full range of motion.
“It was so fun; I have a video on my phone of the first time I jumped,” Haslam said. “(It’s) something that most people are like, ‘Oh, that must be terrible.’ (I enjoyed) the process of baby steps and physical healing, but also emotional and spiritual. It’s a pretty unique, awesome process.”
Less than two weeks ago, Haslam told the Chapman coaching staff and players on the team that he will return for the upcoming season.
“I’m so excited to be back out there,” Haslam said. “But I’m definitely glad I didn’t play this season. Going through healing with my knee and also who I am and figuring that out – outside of basketball – was what I needed. I have a new perspective on why I play and have a lens on who I am.”
Reed Nakakihara, a junior point guard, said that he and other players on the team were in contact with Haslam throughout the season, often taking trips together to the beach or the movies. Nakakihara, who transferred to Chapman sophomore year, said he was struck by Haslam’s honesty when he met him. Haslam knows how to criticize other players positively and constructively, he said.
“You can tell he’s one of those guys who’s really real with you,” Nakakihara said. “He’s always going to do what’s right.”
Krikorian had stayed in contact frequently with Haslam throughout the past year. While Krikorian said he wants to manage expectations of Haslam, he couldn’t hide his excitement at Haslam’s return.
“I could tell he was excited about the chance to play again, and as a coach, you want to feel that,” Krikorian said. “I know as a staff, we’re excited to have Cam the person, first and first and foremost, back in our program, and the basketball is going to take care of itself.”