North Texas Daily

Former top-ranked recruit J-Mychal Reese settling in with men’s basketball

Former top-ranked recruit J-Mychal Reese settling in with men’s basketball

January 28
03:25 2016

Alex Lessard| Associate Sports Editor

@alexlikechexmix

Due to stiff recruiting competition, the chance to grab a former No. 1, nationally ranked prospect doesn’t come often for North Texas.

But when junior guard J-Mychal Reese was looking for a new basketball home after spending two seasons at Texas A&M University, the interest to join the Mean Green was mutual.

Like many kids across the country, Reese had a love of basketball from an early age. Once he began to play more often, he and his peers realized his level of talent was something special.

North Texas junior point guard J-Mychal Reese (52) drives the basket against Marshall. Colin Mitchell | Senior Staff Photographer

North Texas junior point guard J-Mychal Reese (52) drives the basket against Marshall. Colin Mitchell | Senior Staff Photographer

“I was taller than everybody else, but at the same time, I could just do more,” Reese said. “I was good at dribbling and stuff like that, anything. It just didn’t look right at my age.”

Reese grew up in Bryan, Texas, often surrounded by the sounds of sneakers squeaking on the hardwood. His father, John Reese, was Bryan High School’s head boys’ basketball coach since J-Mychal was seven years old. As a result, Reese’s everyday life was centered around the sport he would grow to master very quickly.

While his classmates went home after school let out, Reese would go straight to the gym to watch his father run practice. Off to the side, he’d practice his shooting touch and dribbling, envisioning himself out on the court proving he could hang with kids above his age level.

“Sometimes it just felt like I wasn’t a regular kid,” Reese said. “I couldn’t just be like all my other friends at times. But at the same time, I really didn’t understand it when I was that young and what it all meant.”

The more games he played, the more impressed people were with his natural abilities. By the time he reached the sixth grade, Reese had become the top-ranked player in the country according to Hoop Scoop, a nationally recognized scouting website. From there, he was featured in a full-length ESPN The Magazine article in July of 2006, where he was compared to a young LeBron James. He even made an appearance in a TV commercial with former NBA star Steve Nash.

As the various leagues, camps and tournaments piled up on his resume, Reese met plenty of coaches over the years. In the summer before his first high school season, he went to a camp loaded with future NCAA talent and played on a team led by current North Texas head coach Tony Benford, who was an assistant at Marquette University at the time.

Even though Reese was a mere 4 feet 10 inches back then, his knack for getting anywhere on the floor with ease genuinely impressed Benford.

“That’s rare at that age, and that’s why he was head and shoulders above everybody,” Benford said. “He wasn’t a great shooter at the time, but he could get to the basket anytime he wanted to.”

North Texas junior point guard J-Mychal Reese (52) take a three-point jumper against Jarvis Christian. Mitchell | Senior Staff Photographer

North Texas junior point guard J-Mychal Reese (52) take a three-point jumper against Jarvis Christian. Colin Mitchell | Senior Staff Photographer

Reese’s skills translated to the high school game seamlessly. Under the tutelage of his father at head coach, the Reese won two district MVP’s, averaged over 28 points per game as a junior and went into college recruiting as the 54th ranked player in the nation. Even after an injury sidelined him for his entire senior year, he still received letters from plenty of big-name schools, including the University of Kansas and the University of Louisville.

Ultimately, the southpaw decided to attend Texas A&M  – a thriving program close to home where his father had recently taken an assistant coaching job. Although Reese had lived under the brightest of spotlights for as long as he can remember, it never diminished his desire to play with the best of the best at the collegiate level.

“I guess that’s what I wanted,” Reese said. “From being there to being here, I can tell that there’s not too much of a difference with anything. At the end of the day, it’s still basketball.”

Due to what Reese said was a bad schematic fit in College Station, he looked to transfer somewhere with a coach familiar with his skillset. Once Benford reached out to him about coming to Denton, his decision was made.

North Texas junior point guard J-Mychal Reese (52) dribbles up court at the beginning of a possession against Jarvis Christian. Mitchell | Senior Staff Photographer

North Texas junior point guard J-Mychal Reese (52) dribbles up court at the beginning of a possession against Jarvis Christian. Colin Mitchell | Senior Staff Photographer

Graduate forward Eric Katenda also transferred to North Texas from a top-tier program at the University of Notre Dame, sharing a similar path as Reese coming from a power conference. After playing a couple pick-up games before the season, Katenda thought Reese was just as talented as any guard he’d seen his entire career.

“When you come from a school where you’re in this big pond with a bunch of fish that kind of look just like you, then you come out here and you’re above the competition, it gives him the confidence to just go out there and do what he does,” Katenda said.

After announcing his transfer in summer 2014, Reese had to sit out a year because of NCAA rules. But his determination to come back strong caused Benford to name him one of the team’s two captains  before even playing a game with the Mean Green.

Thus far, Reese is averaging 14.6 points and 4.1 assists per game, both good for top-15 marks in Conference-USA.

“Early on, he was putting too much pressure on himself,” Benford said. “But I think right now, he’s understanding that he’s got to get everybody involved, run the team, and set the tone offensively and defensively.”

Reese may not have lived up to the sky-high comparisons to LeBron as a middle schooler, but he said he still has his sights set on playing professionally. And while the winding road he’s traveled has had some unexpected twists and turns, the stop in Denton has brought along plenty of positives.

“I’m definitely happy to be where I am right now,” Reese said. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

Featured Image: After a disappointing home loss to WKU, Junior point guard J-Mychal Reese (52) look toward the scoreboard. Colin Mitchell | Senior Staff Photographer

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