VIDEO: J-Mychal Reese Running The Show
Feature Story About Junior Guard J-Mychal Reese
North Texas knew they had something special back on June 26, 2014, when thy announced the signing of former top-100, four-star guard J-Mychal Reese, who had transferred from Texas A&M.
Two years earlier, Reese had been named the top point guard in the state and was the No. seven-rated point guard in in the entire country coming out of Bryan High School. He had offers from multiple big-name schools including Kansas, Louisville, Memphis, Baylor and Texas to name a few. Reese ultimately chose to stay at home with his father John Reese, who was an assistant coach at Texas A&M.
"J-Mychal Reese is a tremendous kid," head coach Tony Benford said. "We all know about his ability. He was kind of a child prodigy when he was growing up. At one time in the eighth or ninth grade, he was rated the number one player in the country by Hoop Scoop. I have known his dad for a long time. His dad, John, was a high school coach and is still a high school coach. He comes from a great family."
Reese had received tremendous amount of exposure at a young age starting back in 2003 as a young fourth-grader when he was ranked as the second-best player in the nation by hoopscooponline.com. One summer later, Reese had moved into the No. 1 spot as the top sixth-grader, and the NBA flew him to Denver for a youth exhibition game during the 2005 all-star weekend.
That weekend, Reese was in a TV commercial with former NBA MVP Steve Nash. On March 8, 2005 the city of Bryan, Texas, proclaimed it J-Mychal Reese Day. Publications were proclaiming Reese the next great superstar, and he was even featured in an ESPN The Magazine article on July 31, 2006.
"My father had been a high school coach since I was three years old so just always being around the game," said J-Mychal Reese. "I used to always want to go to practice when I was younger and I couldn't even make shots at the goal but I was still trying to shoot while they were still practicing. I fell in love with basketball and as I got older I started training taking it serious."
Fast forward four years to when Reese first met Tony Benford at a camp leading into his freshman year of high school. The relationship grew from there. And that relationship played a key role in Reese eventually finding a home at North Texas.
"I had a chance to work with J-Mychal when he was going into his freshman year," said Benford. "He was at a camp with Rasheed Sulaimon, who's at Maryland and Isaiah Austin, who was at Baylor. I had a chance to work that camp along with some other college coaches and I'll tell you what he was the best player at that camp."
Reese continued to play with confidence, playing for his father, who was his coach during his three years of high school at Bryan. He led his team to a 30-3 mark during his freshman season. He then led Bryan to the state playoffs as junior, averaging 28.3 points per game, 6.1 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 2.5 assists, scoring a career-high 52 points in a district win over Belton.
Reese missed his senior season due to a knee injury suffered during the summer of 2011, but he still finished as the No. 54-ranked player in the class of 2012 by ESPN.com.
"Being able to be on the varsity team my freshman year was a great experience," said J-Mychal Reese. "My freshman year we went 30-3 but it was probably the best team I had in high school."
Reese also experienced a lot of basketball playing AAU for the Houston Hoops team.
"I met so many people through AAU, including head coach Tony Benford," added Reese. "The first time we met I was just entering my freshman year at a camp. Some of the players I remember playing against in AAU were John Wall (Washington Wizards), Yogi Ferrell (Indiana) and Marcus Paige (North Carolina)."
Reese played two seasons for Texas A&M before going through some adversity that left him looking for a fresh start. Reese played in all 33 games, making 25 starts during his freshman campaign with the Aggies. Reese was suspended the first four games to start the 2013-14 season due to a violation of athletic policy and only appeared in six games with his last game coming Dec. 14, 2013.
"He was one of the best point guards in the country coming out of high school," said Benford. "He could have gone to any school in the country but decided to stay at home at Texas A&M. It didn't work out. He went through some adversity there. But like I told him, it's not how you start; it's how you finish."
Reese would get that fresh start with the Mean Green, but he would have to wait 334 days after having to sit out one year due to NCAA transfer rules. Reese felt comfortable in his new environment and was grateful for the opportunity.
"Having that relationship already with coach Benford was a big factor in coming to North Texas," said Reese. "Also coming on my visit getting to meet all the coaches like Rob Evans, Scott Monarch and David Anwar really made my decision easier to come here."
Reese watched 31 games from the North Texas bench last season but was able to practice and get better every day.
"I just worked out and coach Benford told me to treat practices like they were games so every practice I went in and worked hard," added Reese. "I knew I had to get ready for next year so I made sure to get extra work in whether before games or weekends. I needed to stay in shape and keep my game focused."
Reese would play on the scout team and continued to show his talent level by competing with the starters from last season.
"It was very difficult and I told him that every day was his game," said Benford. "I told him that's how you have to approach practice. You come out every day and try to get better and approach it like it was his game. That's how he looked at practice, and he did. His team, the White team, beat the Green team every day so sometimes it was tough on the Green team to get any continuity. The one thing that Colin (Voss) said before he left was that he was going to miss the opportunity to play with J-Mychal."
After all the practice and workouts, J-Mychal still hadn't played against Division 1 competition in a year and a half. Just seven days before the first game of the 2015-16 season, head coach Tony Benford had seen all he needed to see and named J-Mychal Reese a co-captain.
"I was a captain of the team when I played, and it's an honor," added Benford. "And there's a lot of responsibility that comes with that. I talk to him and Jeremy (Combs) about that, and I think they set the right tone for us with their work ethic and attitude in the weight room and in individual workouts this summer. So that's why I decided to name him and Jeremy captains because of the leadership that he demonstrated."
In his first game at North Texas, Reese was stellar in leading the way to a 112-point outburst orchestrating the offense to a victory. Reese finished with 16 points, four rebounds, four assists and was a perfect 6-for-6 from the free throw line.
"I kind of felt like a freshman again myself," said Reese. "I was nervous just to play against somebody else having not played in so long but was happy and blessed to be out there again."
Eleven games into his junior season, Reese leads the team in scoring averaging 13.9 points per game and he has also dished out 42 assists. The growing pains are still there, having committed 29 fouls and 44 turnovers, but the good has outweighed the bad early on.
Reese recently had a stretch of eight-straight games in double figures and has scored 10 points or more in nine of 11 games. Reese is shooting 47.7 percent and has hit 15 three-pointers to go along with 34 rebounds from the point guard position.
"I look at him as an extension of me out there," said Benford. "He's a coach's son. He understands game, time and the flow of the game. He knows that we really want to push the pace but there's a fine line. You want to push it but if the defense is set, you have to pull it out and run a half-court offense. He understands that and he's always talking to our guys about being patient."
Reese had his best game of the season in the spotlight again on a TV broadcast game on the road at Southern Illinois on ESPN3. Reese set a new career high with 25 points, including 21 in the second half on 10-of-16 shooting.
"It is nice that my teammates and coaches believe in me being able to have the ball in my hands at all times," said Reese. "They trust me to make good decisions with it. I try to see the next defender from my eyes and read the court seeing where everyone is at. I try to get the ball in spots where my teammates can score. I like getting my teammates involved because it gets us going as a team."
Known by his teammates as a quiet leader, "J-Mike" has been not been quiet in his play with his aggressive style in getting to the basket. Reese has been explosive and his percentage when driving or shooting two-point shots is almost 60 percent at 59.3 (38-for-64).
"I keep telling people that he's one of the better point guards in our league," said Benford. "I still believe that and I think the numbers will bear that out. We understand that we have to win games and I think he understands that. As the point guard, he has to put us in a position to win games and so he has to set the tone defensively with great ball pressure and doing a good job out front, and then offensively with running the team, pushing the pace and getting us into half-court offense, and really encouraging the younger players to stay positive."
Reese has come full circle as he looks to make the most out of his two seasons with the Mean Green. The expectations have come down since being touted the next rising star, but the goal of making to the NBA is still an attainable one.
"He's been through a lot," added Benford. "Watching him when he was in the ninth grade to today, you can see how he's matured. He's had all this pressure and everybody has followed him around. He did a commercial with Steve Nash when he was young. So everybody was expecting really big things out of him. So he's writing a new chapter here at the University of North Texas, and we're just very fortunate and blessed that he's here. He's been a joy to coach. I'm looking forward to him continuing to lead us to a very successful season."