By Tony Jimenez - When Coach Jeff Reinert took the College of Southern Idaho job – to be sure, one of the blue bloods of juco hoops – back in the early summer of 2019, he didn’t have a single player on his roster and few players on the horizon for the coming season.
But his days of hard work, patience and diligence as a coach paid dividends if you talk to Dinos Trigonis, an AAU coach in California. Trigonis called Reinert about a player on his radar; that player had very little game experience, but a world of promise.
Reinert came to mind because Trigonis remembered Reinert worked well, no matter how polished they were, with big players. Oh, the fact that Chayce Polynice stood 6-10 and was the son of an NBA player (Olden) didn’t hurt. The AAU coach, who first saw Chayce about three years ago, remembers him as a “late bloomer.” He had lots of potential and was improving but had not filled out body-wise. Said Trigonis: “He was not a final product by any stretch of the imagination.”
“All he needed, Dinos told me, was an opportunity to play,” said Reinert. “I met with Chayce and his family and it really went well. I really liked his size and knew what he could be. His parents knew that Chayce needed some time to develop and that he would be best served going to a juco.”
Mom (Raechel), Dad (Olden) and son (Chayce) were at that meeting, and Reinert offered Chayce a scholarship to CSI in Twin Falls without seeing him play. Said Reinert: “I needed players who had potential and I was not in a position to turn down a 6-10 player whose dad was an ex-NBA player.”
Chayce had gotten a letter of intent in the mail to attend Utah State Eastern a couple of days before that meeting. “I was ready to sign with them,” said Chayce. “But Coach Reinert was starting fresh. He was a new coach and it just felt right.” Now that Chayce is finishing his career at CSI, he said it was “one of the best decisions I ever made. I had no second thoughts. It was a blessing. I have gotten a lot better at everything since I got here.”
Twin Falls is where Evel Knievel tried to jump across the canyon in 1974 on a steam-powered rocketcycle. The town of about 50,000 in central Idaho is consistently known as a hotbed for juco hoops. Chayce is the only player on the roster who has been with Reinert all three years he has been the coach.
Reinert still remembers places Chayce needed to improve his game. “The biggest difference in his game was the pump fake,” said Reinert. “He finally bought into what we were telling him and that was a big step for him.” In his early days at CSI, Polynice didn’t know when to go and what to do in games at times. But now he plays with far more purpose and poise. Given Chayce only played two seasons at Grant high school in Van Nuys, Calif. it says a lot that his game has advanced so rapidly. So much so that last summer, Reinert said, Chayce began playing “with a motor.”
Carrying 220 pounds on his frame, Polynice began his stay at CSI at only 175 pounds. He credits his weight gain to hitting the weight room longer and harder. He has gotten leaner and meaner slowly but surely in his time at CSI. “Before last season (Chayce’s second at the College of Southern Idaho) you could see that the talent was there, but that he was out of shape for the college game,” said Reinert. “He was no college athlete.”
Still, Chayce began working diligently on his game. He says, “It was like a switch flipped. The more I played the better I got.” He began to realize that if he played his cards right, the game could carry him a long way. Maybe, like his father, to the NBA. “At first that hurt me,” said Chayce of being the son of an NBA player. “I didn’t want to be in anyone’s shadow. I wanted to be my own person, my own player.” Right now he’s got his mind on CSI and then Long Beach St. where he has committed for the next two years.
A number of players at the juco level have had their relatives play in the NBA. The Navarro, Texas teams of Coach Johnny Estelle 2008-09 through 2013-14 had loads of name relatives. Matt Pressey, the son of Paul Pressey, was on the 2008-2010 teams; Demarcus Gatlin, the son of Alvin Robertson played on the 2010-11 team; and Jaleel Cousins, the brother of DeMarcus Cousins, was on the 2012-2014 roster.
Virtually everyone thinks Chayce’s best days are ahead, including his father, who lives in Los Angeles and coaches the San Diego Moguls in The Basketball League. Olden was drafted No. 8 in the 1987 NBA Draft by the Chicago Bulls, then traded to the Seattle SuperSonics for Scottie Pippen. He said now that he doesn’t talk to Chayce as “a son, but as a player.” Chayce’s transformation to a player came with his height spurt. Olden said Chayce was 6-2 as a high school sophomore, 6-8 as a junior and 6-10 as a senior. Said Olden: “He has a tremendous upside. He has no bad habits and no wear and tear on him because he started the game so late. He’s just trying to get better. Keep an eye out for him.”
“He’s one of our leaders,” said teammate Daylen Williams, who has spent two seasons with Polynice and has seen him go from reserve to starter. “He’s always positive and hard working. He does the little things that are right, both mentally and physically. He gets you moving and gives you an encouraging word when you need it. He has a lot of upside. He plays a much better game. He is smarter and more verbal this season.”
Marcellious Lockett, another teammate of Polynice’s for two years, agrees. Says he of Chayce, a 10.8 point and 6.8 rebounder per game: “He’s a lot better player now and much more consistent. His aggressiveness is better, too.” And says Lockett, “He keeps things light on the floor. You have to have someone like that, someone with a good sense of humor who picks you up when you are down. It helps the team a lot."
The College of Southern Idaho has lost twice to Salt Lake, Utah (79-69 on Jan. 12) and (71-51 on Jan. 29), in Scenic West Conference games. But the fact that a Cleveland Cavaliers scout was at the Jan. 29 game to see Chayce says a lot about his future.
It’s not the first time this season that NBA scouts have seen Chayce. It won’t be the last. Said Salt Lake Coach Kyle Taylor: “Chayce is a really talented post player who is capable of stretching the floor and making threes, as well as scoring around the basket. He has great length and size and can really protect the rim and affect shots at the basket. He has developed a lot in his time at CSI.” Said CSI associate head coach Ryan Lundgren: “Chayce is a fluid big man who can play inside and outside. His growth has been steady over the past three years, which is to be expected considering he started playing basketball halfway through high school.”
Reinert, most likely, won’t start future seasons with a bare cupboard. But if he does, starting with a player like Polynice – who has gone from nowhere to somewhere in virtually no time – will help. A lot.
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