GVSU’s Rollins emerges as dominant rebounder

GVL/Luke Holmes
Chaz Rollins (no.25) reaches for the jump ball at the start of the game. The Lakers lost to Lake Erie College 78-84 on Dec. 5.

GVL/Luke Holmes Chaz Rollins (no.25) reaches for the jump ball at the start of the game. The Lakers lost to Lake Erie College 78-84 on Dec. 5.

A.A. Knorr

Chaz Rollins wears his life on his arms.

On the right, a tattoo of an angel and the names of his mother and two sisters – the most important women in his life. On the left, a basketball with wings and a halo, wrapped in the words “God’s Gift.”

Family. Basketball. Chaz Rollins.

The 6-foot-8-inch senior grew up in Cleveland, which, by his own admission “was rough at times.” The son of a former Akron University basketball player, and the brother of an Ohio University women’s basketball player, Rollins had the game in his blood from day one.

“I had two parents that held everything together in the household. My parents guided me and kept me out of trouble and kept my on the right path,” Rollins said. “Basketball was something I was passionate about and my parents supported me.”

Out of high school, Rollins headed to Lakeland Community College in Kirtland, Ohio, where he posted consistent double-doubles and earned looks from a number of Division II schools. Grand Valley State recruited Rollins the hardest, and he decided to take his talents to Allendale.

Immediately, Rollins established his place as the best rebounder on the squad. Three years later, that title remains.

In the 2013-14 season, Rollins was a fresh face for the Lakers, yet in his junior season of eligibility. He appeared in all 27 games, and, despite making just eight starts, hauled in a team-high 5.9 rebounds.

“Young players make the mistake thinking they have to be Michael Jordan, they have to be all-around good at everything,” said GVSU head coach Ric Wesley. “And certainly that’s great if you are, but very few players are. If you’re not great at everything, have something to hang your hat on.”

Rollins’ hat, generally representing a Cleveland sports team, is perpetually hung on his rebounding ability.

In the second edition of his senior season — he missed the first after suffering a right ankle injury — Rollins is pulling down boards with the best of the GLIAC. His 8.5 rebounds per game rank fifth in the conference.

In a Dennis Rodman-esque thought process, Rollins attributes much of his rebounding ability to anticipation and positioning. Despite his obvious height, he’s often not the tallest player on the court. Between positioning, tenacity and a desire to stay on the court, Rollins has no second thoughts about his on-court forte.

“For whatever reason I always could just rebound,” he said. “I have a knack for rebounding and I guess you could say I have a passion for it at this point. If you want to play, especially as a big guy, rebounding is something that will always keep you on the court.

“Whether you’re hitting shots, whether you’re scoring, whatever’s going on, if you can get your team an extra possession or if you can control the possession by getting a defensive rebound, that’s a big deal.”

In addition to his 8.5 rebounds per game, Rollins is putting up 9.8 points per game and a team-best 1.1 blocks per game. During his time at junior college, Rollins averaged a double-double with ease, but the adjustment to the Division II game can be tough for many junior college transfers.

Junior college basketball stresses fast pace, high scoring and gaudy numbers. Players are often looking to make a name for themselves and garner looks from four-year programs, and therefore do all they can to drop 20 points each game.

NCAA basketball, regardless of division, plays more naturally to half-court sets, defense and passing. Rollins’ numbers were more flashy once upon a time, but now he has filled in as a consistent starter and key piece to GVSU’s team.

“He’s goofy. There’s never a dull moment with Chaz,” said fellow transfer Aaron Hayes. “We’ve been thick as thieves since we got here. He keeps everybody laughing and on the court he switches it up. He’s a beast down low.”

What lies ahead for Rollins remains to be determined. He’s open to the possibility of playing basketball overseas, and doesn’t see his career ending at the end of the season. Basketball, inked on his left arm, may be temporary. Family, inked on his right, is permanent.

When Chaz Rollins goes up for a rebound, he soars and extends his arms to the sky. In those moments, anyone in the gym can get a good look at his life.