When it comes to versatility and athleticism, no Grizzly embodied those traits more in the early years of the program than Chris Rollins. A member of Missouri State University-West Plains' men's basketball team from 1995-1997, the 6-foot, 4-inch product from Winnsboro, La., showed Grizzly fans what a swing player really was, effectively scoring from the perimeter as well as under the basket.
"He was very athletic, one of our first true athletes," former Grizzly play-by-play announcer Jay Gentry said. "One play I recall, Chris came down the middle of the floor and grabbed the ball after it had bounced off the front of the rim following a missed shot by one of our other players. He grabbed the ball right after taking off from the free throw line and slammed it home with one hand without ever touching the floor again. That's the type of talent and skill he had. He could elevate, jump, just do a lot of things. He showed us the type of player we wanted to develop on our team."
"Chris was a great player," Grizzly color commentator Dean Smith added. "We didn't truly know his capabilities until he arrived and played here. He was a great scorer and rebounder. He also was a team player. He wasn't afraid to pass the ball."
"He was a slasher, a multifunctional player, a complete player," added Russ Gant, Rollins' Adopt-A-Grizzly "dad" his freshman year. "He was one of the top athletes we had recruited up to that point. He was a very explosive player, and he could create his own shots. He didn't have to wait for them to develop."
Rollins came to the Grizzlies after leading his Winnsboro High School Wildcats to a 22-11 record and the Triple A State Championship his senior season. A first-team all-district and second-team all-state selection, he began his collegiate career showing coaches and fans exactly what they were getting when he sank two clutch free throws in the season home opener in 1995 against Mineral Area College to seal an 83-81 win. He scored 20 points, including 12 off four three-pointers, to lead the Grizzlies.
"That season home opener against MAC is one of my best memories of being a Grizzly," Rollins said. "It really set the groundwork for what the program was going to be in the future. Until then, I don't think many people took our program seriously, but when we defeated Mineral Area, which was nationally ranked at the time, they could see we were for real."
Published accounts of the games in which Rollins played record numerous double-double performances. Some of his best efforts came in games against the Grizzlies' biggest foes, such as a 17-point, 11-rebound performance against Indian Hills Community College in spring 1996; a 22-point, 12-rebound effort against Marshalltown (Iowa) Community College in fall 1996; and a 20-point, 10-rebound game against Three Rivers Community College in the semifinals of the Region 16 Championship Tournament in spring 1997.
Many fans also credit Rollins for turning the three-pointer into an art form in those early years of the program. One of the most prolific three-point shooters at that time, he hit four of four in the first half of the game against Marshalltown and five of six against Iowa Western Community College in fall 1996. In all, he would hit 79 treys during his Grizzly career. Although other Grizzlies would surpass that number, Rollins set the tone.
Rollins finished his career at Missouri State University-West Plains with 13.7-point and 7.4-rebound-per-game averages, and he stands fourth in the Grizzlies' all-time record book in career rebounds with 481 and fifth in most rebounds in a season with 253 (1996-97). He earned Region 16 Player of the Year honors in 1997, and he became the first Grizzly basketball player named to the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) All-American team as a third-team honoree that same year.
These statistics and accolades, as well as his ability to improve throughout his career at Missouri State-West Plains made Rollins the most recruited player in the history of the program at that time. He had offers from at least eight schools before he finally settled on the University of Alabama Crimson Tide, the team for which he had always wanted to play as a child.
After receiving his Associate of Arts in General Studies degree, Rollins transferred to Alabama where he helped lead the Crimson Tide to 15-16 and 17-15 season records in 1997-98 and 1998-99, respectively, and a first-round appearance in the 1999 National Invitation Tournament. Although he was sidelined by a wrist injury midway through his junior year, he came back his senior season to finish the year third on the team in scoring (10.7 points per game) and rebounding (5.3 rebounds per game).
"Seeing him move on to a school like the University of Alabama was a statement that validated our program," Gant said. "You never know when a Chris Rollins or a Jason Detrick or a Terrell Everett will go through your program, so when it happens, it's really fun to be a part of it."
Rollins currently lives near St. Louis where he works as operational manager for Old Dominion truck lines, but he said he has fond memories of his time as a Grizzly and of his teammates and the fans. "My roommates, Robert Guster, Kevin Winn, Steve Mitchell and Brian Bunche, and I would all sit around in the room and talk for hours, staying up late. I made some really great friendships there, and I still talk to most of them. I talk with Robert almost daily," Rollins said.
"I loved it in West Plains. It was great. Everyone was super nice, everyone got along, it was a family," he continued. "The fans were great, too. It was the first time where I was in an environment where everyone loved basketball. It was comforting, and I really appreciated it."
The fans appreciated him just as much, Gant said. "He was one of the most polite, nicest young men we ever had. He was always pleasant, he always had a smile on his face, and he could take a good ribbing from the coach and keep on smiling. Our children were little when he came through the program, and he would always get down on the floor and play with them. Our kids really liked him."
As for the future, Rollins said he is engaged, and he plans to return to college this year to obtain a degree in physical education so he can one day become a coach. "I've been through a lot in my life, and I realize now things can get harder. But my years with the Grizzlies and my time in West Plains gave me the confidence I needed to move on to the University of Alabama and on with my life. I consider it an honor to be named to the Grizzly Athletics Hall of Fame."