Community college transfer thrives in laker blue

Archive / Mohamed Azuz
Chaz Rollins bringing up the ball to score against Olivet (in November).

Archive / Mohamed Azuz Chaz Rollins bringing up the ball to score against Olivet (in November).

Jay Bushen

It takes the right combination of athleticism, attitude and aptitude to be an authoritative rebounder in the game of basketball.

Grand Valley State University junior forward Chaz Rollins is proving he has all of the above and, since becoming the team’s leading rebounder from the bench, has thrived in the starting lineup as a 6-6 de-facto center.

Rollins, a transfer from Lakeland Community College (Ohio), seems to attack the glass with a chip on his shoulder.

“I was a real good player in high school. I led the state of Ohio in rebounding my senior year,” he said. “I was underrated. I wasn’t getting the offers and the looks from D-1’s and D-2’s like I deserved, so I went to CC and played hard, worked my butt off and stayed positive.”

His persistence was on full display for his family and friends to see when GVSU traveled to take on Walsh University on Thursday night.

The Cleveland native more than tripled his season averages with 26 points and 18 boards on 12-of-22 shooting while being matched up with Walsh’s 7-1 forward Hrvoje Vucic.

Rollins had never scored more than eight points in a single game as a Laker prior to the outburst.

“I couldn’t help but hear my brother and dad yelling from the stands. It was a big boost,” he said. “It was crazy; I scored in a variety of ways. I got several baskets off the glass, the pick and roll, running the floor hard, posting up, and drives from the wing.”

The team eventually fell 75-66 in the game, but the stat line showed that it was one of the best individual efforts by a Laker in more than a decade.

In fact, it was the first time a GVSU player notched 25-plus points and 15-plus rebounds since 2003 when Jason Bauer recorded 28 and 17.

“Our rebounding has not been one of our strong suits, and Chaz really helps,” head coach Ric Wesley said. “I have confidence that he can jump above the crowd, and that’s been a real positive. He has gotten better in terms of defense and execution, but the bottom line is he produces.”

The production and playing time have been similarly on the rise.

Rollins suddenly averages 7.3 rebounds per game, which is good enough for the sixth-highest mark in the GLIAC. He has pulled down six or more in nine straight contests.

“He can always be a monster on the boards,” fifth-year senior guard Rob Woodson said. “He is finding his spots and has good confidence right now. He’s in there playing with a free spirit and isn’t thinking too much.”

Rollins said he is comfortable running the floor and hopes to add versatility to the starting rotation. He also makes his teammates more comfortable by adding humor to high-pressure situations.

Sophomore forward Ricky Carbajal was about to take the potential game-tying free throws with less than a minute to play against No. 12 Findlay University on Jan. 4 when Rollins approached his teammate in an attempt to quell his nerves.

“He looks at me and says, ‘There’s no pressure,’” Carbajal said. “Then he looks at me again and says, ‘I’m just kidding — there’s a lot of pressure.’”

Carbajal hit them both.

Rollins said he may be a fun-loving guy, but it took him a few years to get acclimated to the lifestyle of a college basketball player. He said he has been going through a bit of a maturation process, but he wants to learn what it takes to be successful on the court and in the classroom.

If he continues to manufacture success in both areas, he figures to have many more opportunities to showcase his potential as a tenacious rebounder in the starting five.

“It feels great,” he said. “I’ve been waiting for this for two or three years — really for the past 20 years of my life.”