Friar Basketball

AJ Reeves’ Journey to Providence

AJ Reeves Signing Day

It doesn’t take long to see why Ed Cooley fell in love with the game of AJ Reeves. Not since Ricky Ledo committed to Cooley in the summer of 2011 has Providence signed a guard with this type of offensive arsenal at this stage of his development.

Reeves can score on you in any number of ways. He rocks defenders to sleep before pulling up at the top of the key. He looks equally comfortable shooting from deep off of the catch or after a couple of dribbles. Inside the arc he makes use of an exaggerated right to left crossover to free himself, shoots fadeaways from various spots on the floor with ease, and isn’t afraid to mix it up inside.

Catching up with Reeves after his Brimmer and May team wrapped up practice last week confirmed what I’d observed over the past four years: there is a charisma and unique confidence to the 6’5 Roxbury, MA native.

Reeves somehow balances being grounded while telling you that he knows he’s as good as any player in his class.

He doesn’t shy away from sharing his athletic goals — and they are ambitious ones — returning Providence to the Final Four and one day playing in the NBA. There’s nothing measured in how he speaks. There’s honesty, aspiration, and a subtle competitive streak that seeps through when reflecting on going cross-country with his Mass Rivals AAU program, taking part in elite camps, and playing in the toughest prep league in the country.

Setting the bar high? He’s found the right coach. Ed Cooley certainly wasn’t measured in his introductory press conference at PC. Cooley spoke of winning a national championship and dared those who said he couldn’t win at Providence to “come play us.” It was music to the ears of a fanbase repeatedly told that it was simply too difficult to win with any consistency at their school.

During my conversation with Reeves and Brimmer and May head coach Tom Nelson, I was struck by how open they were about his goals, and before getting to my car on the way out of the gym I thought back to Cooley setting a vision that few thought possible at PC.

A Coach’s Impact

Brimmer and May is a tiny day school of roughly 400 students (pre-K through high school) on the doorstep of Boston College in Chestnut Hill, MA. It’s a pretty campus in an upperclass neighborhood that borders the historical Longwood Cricket Club (home to tennis’ first ever Davis Cup).

Nelson has produced a handful of Division 1 players over the past decade, but make no mistake, this isn’t one of those basketball factories that popped up overnight.

On most nights, Brimmer doesn’t have the depth of many of its opponents in the hyper-competitive NEPSAC Class AA — a league filled with boarding schools, top 100 talent, and rosters littered with Division 1 players.

Minor Dunk

Reeves celebrates a Jordan Minor dunk

Brimmer’s top three players are Division 1 prospects. Jimmy Yfantopulos is an aggressive, left-handed point guard who committed to Colgate the night that I was at practice. A year ago, they didn’t have any size, and the addition of the bouncy 6’7 Jordan Minor has freed Reeves up during this, his senior season. Minor is tough. He can block shots, does dirty work in the paint, and has seen interest from Ivy League schools, as well as UMass.

Later this week, Reeves will cross the 2,000 point mark and become the school’s all-time leading scorer in the process.

In an era in which so many elite players skip to traditional powerhouse prep schools (which, ironically, cost Ledo his freshman year eligibility at Providence), Reeves will graduate this spring after four years at Brimmer.

His relationship with Nelson, a Los Angeles native and former Holy Cross guard, makes the thought of Reeves transferring elsewhere seem unfathomable.

“He’s meant everything to me,” Reeves said of Nelson. “If I wanted to be the best, I needed to go with the best. And he’s the best. If you want to get better come to Tom Nelson.”

It’s been quite a road for both Reeves and Nelson to get to this point.

Nelson not only coaches at Brimmer and May, but with Mass Rivals, a program that produced former Friar Carson Desrosiers, PC freshman Makai Ashton-Langford, and Reeves’ classmate and fellow Providence commit David Duke.

Prior to joining the Rivals, Nelson ran a program called the New England Ballas (“We were okay,” Nelson said). Nelson, his wife, and his best friend Sherwyn Cooper ran the program not to become a national power, but because they wanted to help kids.

They caught the eye of Rivals founder Vin Pastore. “Vin said to me, ‘I don’t even know if you have any good kids. I have no idea who you have. I don’t care. I want you, I want Sherwyn, and I want your wife to come join us and we can do big things. We can become a great program,’” Nelson recalled.

“We (Rivals) changed the way things were done,” said Nelson. “We changed the way social media was looked at. We changed the way we promoted our program with mix tapes.”

He’s right. Not only is New England a hotbed of high school basketball; the volume of player highlight reels here dwarfs virtually any region in the country. Nelson and Cooper were at the forefront of promoting players this way via their Youtube channel BallasTV.

The Rivals live in the gym — 5-6 nights a week, Nelson, Pastore and their coaches are working with kids at all levels.

Jimmy

Nelson with point guard Jimmy Yfantopulos

Along the way they have produced countless elite players like Jalen Adams (UConn), Noah Vonleh (Indiana/NBA lottery pick), Wenyen Gabriel (Kentucky), and Wabissa Bede (Virginia Tech), and turned several prospects thought to be Division 2 or 3 talents into D1 scholarship earners.

Duke and Reeves are the program’s latest jewels. The two future Friars took very different paths in getting to this point. Duke remained under the national radar until he transferred to Cushing Academy in the fall of 2016, while Reeves was regarded as the top freshman in New England and has been recruited nationally since he was 14.

The lofty early ranking came with learning moments for Reeves during his freshman year at Brimmer: “When I came my eyes were opened to a whole new world of basketball. Everybody was bigger. Everybody was more physical.” He continued, “In my first game I had zero (points). Playing against Terrance Mann (now at Florida State) and dudes of that caliber, I was so shocked. I’d never scored zero in my whole life. Tom told me after that game, ‘You’re young and you can only go up from here.’ So, I took that to heart and we got into the gym every day.”

Up he went. Reeves performed well at the St. Andrew’s Christmas Tournament in December later that year and was ranked first in his class shortly after.

He quickly became the hunted, embracing that role along the way. Reeves explains, “When I got ranked high that was like, ‘My hard work is paying off, but this is just a little taste.’  It puts a bulls eye on your back because all of these players are looking at you like, ‘I’m better than him,’ and I’m like, ‘You’re not better than me, bruh.’ Dudes are trying to catch you, but I’m trying to catch the number one kid in the class, the number one shooting guard. That’s who I’m trying to go for. The end goal isn’t even catching, but surpassing. There are 450 guys in the NBA. That’s where I’m trying to get.”

“I was never leery of the situation because of who he was as a 14, 15-year old. You have to know the kid. I knew where he came from. I knew his family. I knew it wouldn’t go to his head,” Nelson said when asked if he had any concerns about a young player getting such early acclaim. “With other kids, that goes to their head and they stop working because they think they’ve arrived.”

As Reeves tells it, every accomplishment along the way feels like a checked box and it’s on to the next goal.

Basketball in His Blood

Reeves is the son of two former basketball players, “My mom and dad played their whole lives. They went to RCC (Roxbury Community College). They opened me up to the world of sports at a young age. I played football, baseball, ran track. They are my biggest supporters,” said Reeves, who smiled when recalling instances in which his mother had choice words for him after a subpar game.

He credits his city for shaping his on-court persona (“Where I grew up — I’m from Roxbury — you always have to play with an edge because everyone is going to come after you.”) and his parents for helping maintain his perspective. “My parents have taught me about being humble, being respectful. They groomed me to be a great guy.”

He and his family were looking for “a great school first” as they forged through what ultimately became a tiresome recruiting process. They sought a family atmosphere and a coaching staff that they felt truly wanted the best for its student athletes. They believe they have that in Cooley, assistant coach Brian Blaney, and the rest of PC’s coaching staff.

Nelson took a long-range approach in helping Reeves during his recruitment. The coach admits this has been a learning experience for him as well. When Reeves was young, Nelson brought him along on teammates’ visits to schools in the Patriot League and Ivy League to familiarize himself with the recruiting process and get a sense of which coaches he could trust.

When did Providence begin to separate itself in Reeves’ recruitment? “It’s always been in the back of my mind (committing to PC). I want to say going into the spring of my junior year. They had just always been there with me since my freshman year,” said Reeves. “I wasn’t really focused on that in the spring, but I went to the NBA Top 100 Camp (last June) and I played pretty good. I went home and talked to my parents and Tom and said this seems like the best time to do it.”

Pretty good is an understatement.

AJ Small Pic

Record breaker: Reeves is approaching 2,000 points at Brimmer

Reeves had always been a recognizable name in recruiting circles, especially coming off of a year in which the Rivals rolled to a national title in the summer of 2016. The Top 100 camp is a high school basketball’s who’s who, and Reeves shined after a sizzling shooting performance from deep. The camp cemented him as one of the top shooting guards in the country.

He recalled not receiving an invitation to a national camp earlier in his career and used that as fuel heading into the Top 100 Camp. “It allowed me to really say I can play with the best in the country,” Reeves said.

This is where Providence fans have had to hold their breath in years past. Just months after taking over at PC, Cooley landed commitments from future NBA lottery pick Kris Dunn and a top 25 player nationally in Ledo. It was a thrilling statement for a starving fanbase, but it took a few years before the Friars started to truly ascend on the New England recruiting scene.

Donovan Mitchell went to Louisville after the Friars pushed harder than anyone for four years. Other near misses included Abdul Malik Abu, Kaleb Joseph, and Gabriel.

In the midst of four straight NCAA Tournament appearances, PC fans weren’t in a place to nitpick, but Providence seemingly hadn’t been elevated in the eyes of local recruits.

Cooley built the foundation and eventually the 2016 NBA Draft offered the proof. Dunn was evidence that elite local talent could stay close to home and reach the highest level. Ben Bentil showed that Providence can elevate its players over those who were once more highly regarded.

Reeves committed to PC in late June, on the morning of Providence’s Elite Camp. An exuberant Cooley kicked off the day by telling campers the news — news which quickly went national.

(Twitter Reaction: AJ Reeves Commits to Providence)

Duke joined him three months later.

In Reeves and Duke, Providence has a pair of top 50 players in the class of 2018 hailing from New England — a first since Dunn and Ledo graduated high school in 2012.

“It means everything (what AJ was become). I love every single one of them for a different reason, but what he has become was a vision that we talked about in car rides to Reading constantly,” said Nelson. “We talked about ‘I’m going to train you like this and people are going to say that we’re crazy.’”

“Providence is getting the best,” Nelson continued. “They are getting a kid that believes. He believes in himself. He believes in his family. He believes in his community. He’s already PCBB. You get a great smile, a genuine kid. There’s nothing phony about him.”

* * *

Reeves is at roughly the midway point of his senior season at Brimmer and May. Friarbasketball.com has been on hand for a half dozen games this year and will continue to provide reports over the next two months. For more on AJ Reeves see:

Highlights of AJ Reeves’ Big Opening Weekend: http://friarbasketball.com/2017/12/04/highlights-aj-reeves-big-opening-weekend/

AJ Reeves at the Scholar Roundball Classic: http://friarbasketball.com/2017/12/11/aj-reeves-roundball-classic-highlights/

AJ Reeves Scores 34 in Brimmer Victory: http://friarbasketball.com/2017/12/03/video-aj-reeves-scores-34-brimmer-victory/

St. Andrew’s Holiday Classic: Day One Highlights: http://friarbasketball.com/2017/12/16/st-andrews-holiday-classic-day-one-highlights/

2 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    January 29, 2018 at 2:54 pm

    Great stuff Kevin. Love the personal profile of the athlete and coach. Already an AJ fan. Sounds like they type of young man that will thrive at PC.

  2. Dex

    January 29, 2018 at 10:15 pm

    Another top notch job by Kfar here with AJ and Coach Nelson. We Friar fans and alums are blessed to get a such a fine young man to join our Program under the Great Ed Cooley. Another Final 4 appearance and hopefully a NC would be so great.Hopefully AJ, The Duke and our new southern recruits will help take us to the Promised Land Of College Basketball.

    FBC always with boots on the ground to provide us Friar fans with the goods.

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