Culture / Sporting Life

Mistake Eraser — Tulsa Tough Reggie Chaney Gives No. 1 Houston the Fight It Needs to Win On

By Never Pouting and Staying Ready, UH's Bruising Senior Forward Provides Plenty of Answers to a Saint Mary's Puzzle

BY // 12.04.22

FORT WORTH — Six-foot-10 Saint Mary’s center Mitchell Saxen is certain he finally has an easy layup, a freebie to pull his team within three points of No. 1 Houston and give the Gaels a chance to play the foul game in the closing seconds. Reggie Chaney has other thoughts.

And as Chaney flies in at the last moment, seemingly coming out of nowhere to turn away Saxen’s should be sure thing at the rim,  another truth becomes apparent. If you’re in a difficult, trying game, you’d better have a Reggie Chaney on your side.

“It’s the toughness,” University of Houston coach Kelvin Sampson says when I ask about Chaney’s impact. “Reggie personifies Cougar basketball. It’s who he is.”

Chaney plays a season high 23 minutes in No. 1 Houston’s 53-48 turn back of an upset minded, very game Saint Mary’s team. He finishes tied for the team lead with a plus nine plus/minus rating in a game where every point matters. When his teammates need him most, the bruising forward with the giant Tulsa tattoo on his arm plays every bit as tough as his hometown.

Which is saying something considering Reggie Chaney could have went into this game pouting. A lot of players in a lot of college basketball programs would have. After all, Chaney is a senior who found himself usurped as a potential starter, a senior who only played 10 minutes in Houston’s last game. In fact, Chaney didn’t crack the 20 minute mark of playing time in any of UH’s first seven games.

But Reggie Chaney didn’t pout. He never complained or whined about his fate. He enjoyed the winning, celebrating his teammates and waited for his chance to make a bigger difference.

On a Saturday night in Dickies Arena, UH’s North Texas home away from home, that opportunity comes. With super freshman Jarace Walker (two points, three rebounds), the type of natural NBA level talent Reggie Chaney will never be, struggling to find his openings in a wrestling match of a basketball game, Sampson turns to the toughest dude on his roster.

The Cougars will lean on Reggie.

If you want to wear the crown — and shoulder the expectations and pressure that come with being the No. 1 ranked team in the game — you’d better have the ability to find different answers to problems. Reggie Chaney is a problem solver for Kelvin Sampson’s most talented UH team.

When there’s a hole in the wall, this 6-foot-8 rock of a forward is a heck of an option to help plug it.

“He’s so ingrained with us,” UH assistant coach Kellen Sampson tells PaperCity of Chaney. “There’s so many things he does naturally that are great for us. He’s the best teammate. He’s our best ball screener. He’s our best roller. He’s our best pick and roll defender.”

On this night, Chaney and fellow veteran forward J’Wan Roberts are also often these star-stacked Cougars’ best offensive options. With Roberts showing off the hook shot he worked so tirelessly to develop and Chaney finding openings to roll to the rim, the duo combines for 23 points on 10 for 14 shooting from the field.

On a night when the other six UH players who play go a combined 11 for 43 (26 percent shooting), a night in which Saint Mary’s limits Houston’s elite guard trio better than almost anyone ever has, Chaney (eight points, four rebounds) and Roberts (15 points, eight rebounds and two blocks) emerge as the lifelines.

Kelvin Sampson turns to the toughest dude on his roster. The Cougars will lean on Reggie Chaney.

It turns out that No. 1 Houston is much more than just Marcus Sasser (4 for 12), Jamal Shead (2 for 12) and Tramon Mark (3 for 10). These Cougars are much more than the highly touted freshmen too. They’re also tough, scrappy and determined.

Reggie Tough. Reggie Scrappy. Reggie Determined. It’s one of those games. One of those all-out fights. Break glass and insert the pit bull.

“Having Reggie sitting over there,” Kelvin Sampson says. “That’s a credit to Reggie’s attitude. When it’s a pretty game, Reggie doesn’t always get to play a lot. Those other guys can play in a pretty game. Not everybody can play in a mud bath. A blood bath. A mud hole game.

“Reggie’s pretty good playing in mud hole games.”

Seeing UH win this mud hole of a game is enough to make Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett compare these Cougars favorably with the No. 1 ranked Gonzaga teams he’s faced regularly over the last few years. Gonzaga teams with future Top 5 NBA Draft picks in Jalen Suggs and Chet Holmgren.

In fact, Bennett gives this UH team the edge over those Gonzaga super squads in a few important categories.

“These guys are quicker,” Bennett says after watching these No. 1 Coogs force his usually disciplined team into 17 turnovers. “. . . I would say Houston, they’re just quick everywhere and they’re well coached. If the ball’s on the floor, they’re getting it.

“The best thing about their program — and they do a lot of things right — is their toughness and their togetherness. You can feel it. You can see it. That’s the way it should be. (Sampson) takes no BS from his guys. His guys are trying to be good. That’s the way it should be.”

Reggie Chaney, The Ultimate Cougar

In some ways, Reggie Chaney symbolizes what Kelvin Sampson has built even more than the blinding talent of a Jarace Walker being at Houston does.

You don’t come up through Tulsa — a much tougher city than many realize, especially the area where Reggie Chaney grew up — without emerging with some snarl and fight. Chaney is proud of where he comes from, proud to be part of this Houston team too.

“He’s the best teammate. He’s our best ball screener. He’s our best roller. He’s our best pick and roll defender.” — UH assistant coach Kellen Sampson on Reggie Chaney

The block that seals this win is pure Chaney. He volunteers that he was caught out of position on the play at first. So he makes up for it with pure hustle and skill.

“I just want to win,” Chaney says. “So that play right there. I just had to go make that play. I made a mistake, so I had to make up for it. Playing hard always makes up for mistakes.”

UH Coogs beat Norfolk State 100-54 at the Fertitta Center
University of Houston forward Reggie Chaney provides inside muscle. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

In a grind of a night, it’s fitting that two of UH’s biggest grinders make the difference. J’Wan Roberts hasn’t shown much more skill to go with his relentless rebounding this season by accident. His Houston teammates marvel over the work Roberts put in over the offseason, the pre and post practice sessions with UH assistant Kellen Sampson, who tutors the UH big men, that have continued into the season.

“He’s put in countless hours,” Sasser tells PaperCity about Roberts. “Working on everything. His shot. His passing. His dribbling. He’s just working hard every day. To see him show off in a game, it’s something I expect.

“Because he’s been working for it.”

Sasser is unable to finish this game, going to the bench with what Kelvin Sampson describes as a subluxation of his left shoulder. UH associate athletics director for sports medicine John Houston spends the final minute of the game, frantically working on the shoulder, spraying it with a cold solution.

“It kind of popped out and went back in,” Sampson says of the injury. “He’ll be fine.”

Houston’s No. 1 ranking should be fine and secure for another Monday round of polls too. Thanks to the gritty guys. Saint Mary’s guard Logan Johnson — a defensive game changer — helps make life somewhat miserable for Shead, who Bennett describes as “the head of the snake.” But Chaney is there, popping off the bench to play his best game of his senior season so far.

Get a chance. Will fight.

Reggie Tough. Reggie Scrappy. Reggie Determined.

That’s a major part of the No. 1 team in the land too. You don’t win a game like this without a Reggie Chaney.

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