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Why Do Houston Cougars Have a No. 32 Patch on Their Jerseys?

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Part of the joy of March Madness is seeing the scope of teams thrust into the spotlight. If you’re an ACC fan, for example, you might not get a great deal of exposure to teams playing elsewhere in the country. And those squads will enter the NCAA Tournament with their own unique styles and stories.

Consider the Houston Cougars, who have reentered the limelight decades after the Phi Slama Jama stole the show. During the 2023-24 campaign, they’ve been taking the floor with a No. 32 patch on their collective chests.

And if you aren’t too familiar with Houston, you might be wondering what that jersey detail represents. Plenty of teams use memorial patches to honor dearly departed legends, but those players are usually long removed from their time on the hardwood. For these Cougars, though, the loss of No. 32 hits much closer to home.

Houston No. 32 Jersey Patch
L.J. Cryer of the Houston Cougars drives to the basket against Andersson Garcia of the Texas A&M Aggies on Sunday in Memphis, Tennessee. A No. 32 patch can be seen on the Houston jersey.

Justin Ford/Getty Images

Houston Remembers Reggie Chaney With Patch

Over the years, plenty of big-time names have suited up for Houston. And while names like Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler may loom large in history, no one associated with the modern program will forget about Reggie Chaney.

After starting his NCAA career at Arkansas, the forward joined up with Houston ahead of the 2020-21 season. He wasn’t a nailed-on starter (he was in the Cougars’ first five 13 times that year, and that number decreased with each passing season), but he immediately became a key part of the team’s rotation. Chaney took part in 32 games that campaign and followed it up with 37 appearances in 2021-22 and 35 in 2022-23.

The Oklahoma native never really stuffed the stat sheet—his overall NCAA average was 4.0 points and 2.9 rebounds per outing across five seasons—but he still earned plenty of recognition. Chaney claimed 2022-23 American Athletic Conference Sixth Man of the Year honors and, after leaving school, was poised to play professionally overseas.

But that foreign debut never arrived.

The forward died on August 21, 2023. Eventually, “the Tarrant County Medical Examiner said Chaney, 23, died from fentanyl toxicity,” according to the Houston Chronicle. His death was ruled an accident.

His former collegiate team promptly paid tribute to him and his legacy.

“I told them Reggie’s always going to be in our hearts,” head coach Kelvin Sampson said, according to Chris Baldwin’s Paper City magazine story. “That’s why we have memories. While someone near and dear to our hearts left us, we have his memories. And we’re also going to put No. 32 on our jerseys this year so he’ll be close to us.”

And when the chips were potentially down during a tricky NCAA Tournament meeting with Texas A&M, Chaney’s memory helped his old teammates get over the hump. Sampson mentioned the late forward during his halftime talk, and the Cougars responded.

“We play every game for Reggie,” Ryan Elvin explained after that victory, according to Jason Munz of the Commercial Appeal newspaper in Memphis, Tennessee. “Tough games like this, you know, we know he’s with us. This was his type of game, for sure. Reggie was one of the toughest dudes, if not the toughest dude, I’ve ever been around.

“When it’s hard games like this, we think about him a little bit more. But he’s always with us,” Elvin said.

How far can Houston go in the tournament? For better or worse, trying to predict March Madness is a fool’s errand. But no matter how long this journey lasts, the team won’t forget Chaney’s memory.

His number, after all, is present every time the Cougars take the court.