UW basketball player Jason Chappell was in high school when he decided to take some extra T-shirts laying around his parents' store and print "Chappell Sports" on them. The plan was to give some to his friends at school.
The shirts ended up being a big hit, as his parents loved the free advertising and his friends loved being seen wearing the latest fashion trend to hit New Berlin West High School.
Inspired by that success, Chappell — already a seasoned artist after years of art classes — set out to take the shirt-making endeavor to the next level.
"My freshman year here, I got the idea … if I can make all these Chappell Sports shirts, why not start making my own shirts," Chappell said.
With that idea, J-Cheezy clothing was born.
"I just made a couple shirts for myself and started wearing them around, and people around here were like, 'Yo, that's pretty cool. Can you get me some of those?'" said Chappell, who was given the nickname J-Cheezy by friends at prep school.
Chappell agreed to print some shirts the next time he returned home, and as he puts it, "It just kind of grew from there."
"It" is a full line of T-shirts bearing different designs — all originally crafted by Chappell himself — that have become the shirts to wear on the UW basketball team and have found a growing nationwide niche. Joanne Chappell, who owns Chappell Sports with her husband Len, said she has received orders for shirts from as far away as Colorado and Florida.
"Everybody has at least three of them," Chappell's fellow starter Kammron Taylor said.
Well, maybe not everybody.
"The coaches still haven't gotten their shirts yet," assistant coach Greg Gard said, adding he was planning on holding out and pushing for a personally designed shirt from Chappell.
Because of NCAA stipulations that prohibit athletes from receiving compensation from or promoting their business ventures, Chappell serves as an unpaid designer, with all sales going through Chappell Sports.
That may change soon, however, as Chappell's eligibility expires at the conclusion of this season, allowing him to become more involved in the business if he chooses to.
"I would like to get a website started where I can actually sell them online as soon as I get done with the season," Chappell said. "With some of the NCAA rules, I can't go around saying, 'J-Cheezy, J-Cheezy, I do this …' so I might do some more of that and then just take it from there.
"Just get a website up and see where it goes from there," Chappell continued. "Maybe if it starts getting a lot more popular, maybe just add a few more things here and there. I don't have any long-term goals; I'm just going to have fun with it, because that's really all it is right now."
If Chappell ever decides to expand his selection, UW assistant coach Howard Moore knows one thing he would lobby his pupil for.
"If he comes out with J-Cheezy suits for coaches, I'd buy a couple of those," Moore said.
Gard and Moore are not the only ones to throw their two cents in about possible designs. Chappell said he gets recommendations for new designs all the time from friends, some of which border on ridiculous. Truth be told, Chappell probably doesn't need any help when it comes to designs.
"A lot of times I will be just drawing in class in my notebook; … if I find one I like, I'll try to fool around with it and see what I can do with it," Chappell said. "It's weird — you get the inspiration from the strangest places."
Perhaps Chappell's best work can be found separate from the T-shirts. According to Joanne, Jason has several pencil drawings of reggae icon Bob Marley that have drawn interest from people wanting to purchase them.
Chappell has put his love for Marley's work in ink as well, in the form of a tattoo on his left arm. The tattoo, which was designed by Chappell himself, features a man holding a basketball and wearing a cross. Over and under-arching the character is a quote from Marley: "This is not a religion, this is the life."
"When he was saying it, he was talking about his religion and how a lot of people looked down on his religion and just didn't feel like it was right.
"He was just saying this isn't my religion so much as it is my life. I just threw the basketball in there because it's part of my life. Just that kind of philosophy where you shouldn't always think that yours is the best or the right way, but just try to be a good person."
Since Mickey Perry transferred from UW at the end of the first semester, Chappell's arm art is the only of its kind to be found on the team.
"Coming into the year, Mickey was the only other guy, and when he transferred, it was like, 'You're the only guy with a tattoo.' It's kind of funny with a white guy being the only one with a tattoo."
For most of his young basketball life, Jason Chappell was better known as Len Chappell's son. That's the case when your father was a two-time Player of the Year in the ACC, the all-time leading scorer in the conference and an NBA all-star, as Len was during his career with Wake Forest and several NBA teams in the '60s.
A certain amount of pressure comes with a lineage like that, and Len did everything in his power to try and alleviate that pressure. Even so, Chappell still sometimes felt the need to prove to others how good he was.
"Maybe I used to a lot more when I was younger," Chappell said. "It was tough, but he's proud of me no matter what I do, so it's not really that I needed to be the best or whatever. I just always try to go out and play my hardest, and that's about all you can ask."
As a starter the last two years, Chappell has done just that, excelling on the defensive end and consequently drawing the opposition's best post-player on a routine basis, including Greg Oden of Ohio State and Aaron Gray of Pittsburgh, something Chappell loves.
"You always want to go against the best, because that's the only way to know how good you are."
On offense, Chappell plays the role of a blue-collar player — something vital to Bo Ryan's offense.
"Chap does a lot of the intangible things: making good passes, moving the ball offensively, crashing the offensive boards, … all the dirty work things," Moore said. "He just brings his lunch pail every day and helps us in a lot of different ways."
His overall game has left an impression on more than just coaches.
"Jason is a much more complete player," Len Chappell said. "He doesn't just shoot — I was a shooter."
Defensively, Chappell has used that same effort to become a very solid defender. Talk to any of the UW coaches, and you will get a similar answer as to what his greatest strength is defensively.
"For one thing, he's got great feet," Moore said, doing his best impression of a podiatrist. "And he's 6-10, so he's got the size, and he's able to move around and fight around in the post to try and take away angles on the inside."
"He's very good with his feet," Gard echoed. "As he's gone through his career, he's added strength and improved his balance in terms of taking away angles, countering people when they try to establish low post position."
Gard also suggested a key component to Chappell's defense may have come from guarding former Badger Mike Wilkinson — one of the best post players in school history — every day in practice. Another advantage Chappell has had dating back to his pre-UW days is his familiarity playing against other players his own stature, something many big preps do not.
When they weren't capturing a state championship as teammates at New Berlin West (a moment which Len said he will never forget), Jason and his older brother John (also 6-foot-10) went at it many times in games on the backyard court.
"We always had the sibling rivalry, wanting to outdo the other one," Jason said. "It definitely helped [playing against another big guy]. He was a really good defender and shot blocker. Going up against him, … you had to figure out different ways to get a shot off.
"We had some pretty intense battles one-on-one."
Battles Joanne characterized as John's defense against Jason's shooting.
"His brother was always stronger than he was," Joanne said of her younger son. "But Jason was always a better shot. I will say that finally this year [John] admitted he didn't think he could beat Jason up any more."
As Senior Day approaches, Chappell's collegiate career winds down and his professional career — whether in J-Cheezy or not — waits on the horizon. Quite fittingly, his Senior Day contingent of 20 or so family members will be wearing individualized J-Cheezy shirts.