On Monday, the Houston Chronicle reported that Reggie Chaney, the former Houston Cougar and Arkansas basketball player, has died at age 23. Official details are forthcoming, but one source has heard from those closer to the situation that Chaney was found unresponsive in his apartment hours after complaining of fever and not feeling well. This continues what may go down as the most tragic offseason in modern Razorback sports history given the previous passings of Ryan Mallett, Alex Collins, Chris Smith, Charles Balentine and Dion Stutts.
In this case, the burden of grief will be shared by two college sports programs. Chaney, a Tulsa native, played his last three seasons at Houston and helped do for that program what many Arkansas basketball fans wished he had helped done for the Razorbacks – lead it back to national prominence. While it didn’t work for Chaney at Arkansas, where he practiced alongside his high school teammate Connor Vanover, it absolutely worked out for him in Kelvin Sampson’s program.
In the last three seasons, Chaney and the rest of the Cougars (including current Razorback Tramon Mark) racked up an overall record of 93 wins and 14 losses. That includes a Final Four appearance, an Elite Eight appearance and a Sweet 16 appearance. Chaney was set to leave the U.S. late next week to begin his professional basketball career playing for AE Psychiko in Athens, Greece.
Over the course of the last three seasons, the Arkansas basketball program has also broken back into the national elite, making it to a couple Elite Eight appearance and last year’s Sweet 16 appearances. Very rarely does a transfer work so obviously well for both parties, and with Monday’s news we wanted to recall Chaney’s Razorback legacy from the 2018-19 and 2019-2020 seasons.
Chaney was a soft-spoken, freshman on the Hill whose friend circle included Desi Sills and Keyshawn Embery-Simpson, said Jeff Daniels, who was on Mike Anderson’s Arkansas staff as director of student-athlete development. Daniels in particular remembers Chaney would open up to engage with others despite his introverted nature during community service events.
Shortly after the 2018-19 season ended, he recalled stocking a pantry with Chaney in Fayetteville through the Cooperative Emergency Outreach, a group of churches who provide emergency services to those in need. While working, their phones starting blowing up with news that Mike Anderson had been fired. Daniels remembers that Chaney’s first instinct was not to worry about himself or what a new coaching staff would mean for his playing time, but instead asked Daniels if he and his family would be alright.
That is the side of Reggie Chaney that Mike Anderson remembers, too:
Of course, there was the basketball side. He averaged 4 points and 2.9 rebounds in 167 career collegiate games but made his biggest mark on defense, where he was likely his team’s best pick and roll defender for Mike Anderson and later Kelvin Sampson. Indeed, as a freshman, Chaney earned the most minutes per game of his career and finished multiple games with 10 or more deflections.
You can get a better sense of his game in the below column written by Tommy Foltz. It originally published after he announced his transfer:
Oh, What Could Have Been: Reggie Chaney As a Hog
June 24, 2020
Well, it’s official. After entering the transfer portal, Reggie Chaney has found a place to land next season and that’s with the Houston Cougars.
I’ve been pretty hard on Chaney the past two seasons at Arkansas. Not because I thought he was worthless, but because I thought he could’ve been so much more. He has a body and athleticism about him that might make Corliss Williamson envious. Big, strong, quick and a good vertical are all good qualities to have on a basketball court.
But, so is consistency and that’s one thing he did NOT have.
Last season, in 29 games, he posted a 17 points and 11 rebounds in a loss to Missouri and 14 lints in a win over Vanderbilt. I might add that those 14 points came in a game where he hit 6 of 6 from the floor and 2 of 2 from the line. However, in 10 of his 29 games last season he booked 0 points.
Reggie Chaney’s Background
Chaney came to the Hogs as a 3-star recruit, but never really showed us a whole lot.
To his defense, he was in a precarious situation and it just may have been a situation that turned out to not be his time to play at Arkansas.
Last year, he was the tallest contributor on the team and was forced to play out of position at center rather than power forward. Next year, he would’ve been a middle of the road guy when it comes to size. At 6’8”, he’s shorter than grad transfers Vance Jackson (6’9”), Abamyomi Iyiola (6’9”), Jaylin Williams (6’9”) way shorter than Connor Vanover (7’3”), and a smidge taller than grad transfer Justin Smith (6’7”).
So, where would he have fit? Probably right at the end of the bench. It sounds harsh, but it also sounds true. Sometimes we all land in the wrong place at the wrong time, so we do what we can to find the right place at the right time.
You’ve got to look out for number one because no one else is.
Leaving Arkansas Basketball the Right Way
If nothing else, we lost a guy with some class. On his Twitter feed he thanked both Anderson and Musselman, as well as his teammates for pushing him in practice and for “All the memories we have, I will cherish….” He thanked the fans and called it a “pleasure to play at Bud Walton Arena.”
If there’s a better way to craft a goodbye message, I don’t know what it would be. And, it shows that he’s a man and not some disgruntled punk who thinks he got a raw deal.
Having complimented Chaney on the classiness of his departure, we still have to beg the question. Is his message a true sign of growing up? After all, between his freshman season and the beginning of his sophomore season, he found a way to get suspended for his first three games this year.
He’s already underachieved for two coaches in two years. It’s hard to imagine what great change could’ve occurred that will guarantee success in Houston. Like many extremely gifted high school athletes, my guess is that Chaney was given free reign to out jump, out muscle and out score everyone else while the coach got out of his way.
Reggie Chaney’s Next Step
But it takes a level of maturity for players to realize that the playing field is leveled in college and that doing what a coach asks can make the difference between sitting on the bench and making all-conference. We don’t know if that level of maturity has crept into his psyche as of yet, so we can’t predict that he’ll score 15 and grab 8 boards per game at Houston any more than we could predict it here. Again, we wish the best for him, but he needs to know what’s best for himself in order to be successful. Inevitably, that means listening and learning how to play his position based on how his coach wants him to play it.
Reggie Chaney has eyes just like the rest of us do and it would’ve been hard not to see the writing on the wall. And, keep in mind he had the benefit of playing against some of these guys in practice and knows the level of sheer size and talent coming in.
It would be hard to imagine where he would really fit in on this new team when it was so hard to imagine where he could’ve fit in on last year’s team.
The bottom line is that he’s got to do what he’s got to do for himself. No one begrudges him that. He landed in a good spot and we should wish him well as he joins a team that finished in the Top 25 last year. However, if he doesn’t take the coaching that’s offered he may be just as disappointed in Houston as he was in Fayetteville.
Houston Basketball Update
The Houston basketball coaches were far from disappointed. Over the Cougars’ three-year run, Chaney embraced a bench role similar in minutes per game to the one he played at Arkansas. Battling a bothersome back and nagging injuries, he became “the steady hand that Kelvin Sampson turns to in tough environments and when he feels his uber talented team needs some more toughness on the floor,” Paper City’s Chris Baldwin wrote in February 2023. “Instead Chaney seems to get a kick out of being part of something bigger — the type of dream team that even this winning machine of a UH program isn’t likely to see the likes of again anytime soon.”
“This particular 24-2 Houston team is a rare combination of players… And Reggie Chaney is no small part of the unselfish ethos that pulsates through this rare team.”
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Look at the stellar assist from new Razorback Tramon Mark at the :21 mark below: