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How Chaz Lanier went from 5-foot-6 to Tennessee's biggest name in the transfer portal

IMG_3593by:Grant Ramey05/24/24


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Chaz Lanier was stuck in a situation he couldn’t control. He was short, standing at just 5-foot-6 as a frustrated freshman in high school, and couldn’t understand why he wasn’t growing.

“I was just like, why am I this small?” Lanier said.

Lanier, who committed to Tennessee on Friday, traced both his physical growth and the growth of his basketball game, and the patience required with each, during a recent appearance on the ‘No Ceilings’ NBA Podcast with Stephen Gillaspie.

The frustration came from having a 6-foot-5 dad, Thomas Lanier, who played college basketball at Lipscomb. And from having a brother that Chaz estimates is around 6-5 or 6-6. 

His mom, Stacey Lanier, played college basketball, too, at Alcorn State. But with her son, she stressed patience. She knew what was coming.

“I was like, mom, I don’t think I’m going to grow,” Lanier said. “She was like, honey, just stick with it. You love the game. It’s been in your blood. Just stick with it. I was like, OK, I’m gonna trust you.”

He didn’t know at the time just how right she was going to be.

Lanier went from 5-6 as a freshman at Nashville’s Ensworth School to 5-10 as a sophomore. Then kept growing as a junior and senior.

“It was a blessing in disguise,” Lanier said, looking back, “because when you’re that small, you’re forced to be a point guard. So I was able to take those skills and keep them and sharpen up my skills as I got taller.”

“… I started getting taller and taller and then I had those skills and I added my athleticism that I gained as well. And I kept pushing in the weight room.”

Lanier last season was listed at 6-foot-4 and 199 pounds on the University of North Florida roster

After waiting his turn the previous three years, he came up huge as a senior for the Ospreys last season, averaging 19.7 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game while shooting 51.0% from the field and 44.0% from the 3-point line.

Lanier had grown into one of the most efficient scorers in college basketball and instantly became one of the biggest names in the NCAA Transfer Portal when he entered in April. 

First, though, was getting to North Florida.

Surviving a slow recruitment, staying down for the moment

Lanier described his recruitment out of high school as “slow.” He said he had one offer during his senior season and it was from Division II Alabama-Huntsville. There were only a couple Division I offers on the table by March of that year.

“I remember on my mom’s birthday, that’s when I committed to North Florida,” Lanier said. “I was choosing between Campbell in North Florida and I ended up rolling in North Florida because the coaches down there in the program.

“It was still a blessing to be able to go to college for free. My mindset was really like, I stayed down for this moment, so I might as well take advantage of it and shine.”

The blessing didn’t come without more patience. 

Lanier averaged just 1.7 points in just 9.3 minutes per game as a freshman. He went up to 21.0 minutes per game as a sophomore, but still averaged just 4.5 points. He averaged 4.7 points as a junior but his minutes slipped to 19.7 per game.

“I remember coming in my freshman year and just practicing,” Lanier said, “and I was like, man, the pace is so fast.” 

So fast that he could tell he wasn’t ready. When he would catch the ball on the wing, he would recognize he had a shot only for it to be gone “in one split second.”

“I was like, oh man, it’s a little bit different,” Lanier said. “The pace is different, but I’m going take this year and really learn and grow from it. So really just stay down and be patient from my moment and keep working, working every day working.”

When he did start playing more during his sophomore and junior seasons, he was still stuck behind a senior guard in Jose Placer, who averaged 14.0 points per game two seasons ago, and junior Darius Hicklen, who averaged 12.5.

Then the seas parted as he entered his senior season.

“We had three all-league guys leave,” Lanier said, “and the opportunity was there for me to really step into that role and be that guy. And then my coaches really put that confidence in me and then I had to have the confidence in myself to really take that jump.” 

Lanier’s exit meeting with North Florida coach Matthew Discroll after his junior season came with a message.

“He was like, man, you work for this moment,” Lanier said, “and if you do what you’re supposed to do your senior year, you’re going to have a really beautiful story to tell. 

“And I just thought about that every night before I went to sleep, man. And I truly trusted in him and trusted in myself and then we made it happen.” 

‘It was not an overnight thing’

Lanier still remembers the game. It was Thursday, November 9. North Florida at Charleston Southern in the second game of his senior season. 

He scored 30 points on 9-for-15 shooting from the floor, including 4-for-7 from the 3-point line. He added three rebounds, a couple assists and a couple steals and had just two turnovers in 33 minutes. 

Everything was starting to click. 

“I was like, oh man, this season can really be the season,” Lanier said. “Because coming into it, I didn’t really know what to expect. In the summer I was kind of that guy, but I didn’t know how many points and how many assists I’d average and what that looked like. But after that second game, I was like, oh man, I can be something serious. And that’s when I really start gaining that confidence. 

“But, man, it was not an overnight thing. I’ve been working at this for years, just trusting the process, staying down and being patient.” 

He put up 22 at Florida State in December. He had 25 against Kennesaw State, 33 against Bellarmine and Austin Peay and 35 against North Alabama. 

The scoring kept going up, but Lanier managed to keep his turnovers down, helping him finish first in offensive efficiency according to Synergy Basketball.

He averaged 1.20 points per possession, averaging his 19.7 points on 16.3 possessions per game. 

“One of the things my coach really emphasized to us is simple is better than sophisticated,” Lanier said. “He really taught us to play the game the right way. Growing up, my dad really taught me to play the game the right way and just make the easy play. Make the easy read. 

“Somebody’s just on your right shoulder, just use your left hand, make the easy play. You don’t have to force anything. And I feel like that’s why I was so efficient this year because I just make the simple plays. I really didn’t force anything.

Lanier had a season-high five turnovers at Iowa in November. He had four turnovers in a game just twice and three turnovers two more times. He had two or fewer in North Florida’s other 27 games. 

“When you go out there and play with confidence, it’s just makes everything a little bit easier,” Lanier said. “When you really trust and believe in yourself, you can take yourself to a different level.”

Lanier described his final year at North Florida as “just a wonderful season” that he thanks God for every day. His coaches trusted him, he trusted himself and the rest took care of itself. 

“It’s been a long journey, a crazy journey,” Lanier said. “But it’s just getting started. It’s the beginning.”

It has to continue at Tennessee. The Vols aggressively pursued him in the portal to fill the scoring void Dalton Knecht left after averaging 21.7 points per game last season.

Don’t expect anything to change for Lanier. He’s going to keep doing what he knows he’s capable of doing. And what he waited so long to do. 

“I’ve been an underdog my whole life,” Lanier said, “and I still consider myself to be an underdog.”

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