Trying to Make It Work

After an All-American career at Villanova, Reynolds did not make the NBA. Now he toils in Europe and the NBA’s minor league with a surprising goal in mind.

By Dan Friedell

After an All-American career at Villanova, Reynolds did not make the NBA. Now he toils in Europe and the NBA’s minor league with a surprising goal in mind.

Scottie Reynolds (Courtesy of Eric Wallis/Springfield Armor)

A basketball is kicked from one end of the court to the other. Forty teenagers, messing around on the sidelines, waiting for their chance to play, fall silent for a second.

Scottie Reynolds, his retired No. 3 on the wall, has just lost an early June pick-up game and, in frustration, punted the ball from one end of the gym to the other.

“We couldn’t give up a two,” he says, just loud enough to be heard by absolutely everyone in Herndon High School’s tiny gym.

As Reynolds, dressed in a loose grey T-shirt and baggy red shorts, goes to collect his belongings, finished for the day after playing three short games, Herndon’s varsity basketball coach Chris Whelan explains the rules.

“A lay-up is one, a three-pointer is two,” he says.

So Reynolds’ team, made up of a mix of Herndon students and local adult players, leading 6-5, gave up a long-range shot and lost 7-6.

“He just hates to lose,” Whelan says, before jogging out to midcourt to set up the next game, making sure the younger players, ninth-and 10th-graders, get some time on the floor.

It’s not the first time Reynolds has chucked or punted something after a loss.

After the Hornets fell 55-51 to Booker T. Washington in the 2006 Virginia Class AAA state championship game, Reynolds tossed his runner-up medal into the crowd.

“It probably was something I shouldn’t have done,” Reynolds told the Washington Post after the game. “I hate second place. I hate to lose.”

That was more than five years ago, when he was just 18-years old. Now 24 (10/10/87), Reynolds still hates to lose, even in a pick-up game with high school kids.

Reynolds, a 6’1″ guard, launched a tremendous four-year career at Villanova after graduating from Herndon, highlighted by his game-winning shot that earned the Wildcats a trip to Detroit for the Final Four in April 2009.

A Free Agent

At the end of his senior season at Villanova, Reynolds was named a first-team All-American by the Associated Press and hoped to be drafted by an NBA team.

So when the Phoenix Suns announced Dwayne Collins, a forward from the University of Miami, as the 60th and final pick of the June 2010 draft, Reynolds went from All-Star to underdog. Dreams of the NBA weren’t dashed, but definitely put on hold.

That night, for the first time in his sports career, Reynolds was a man without a team.

“That’s the biggest adjustment,” says Ed Pinckney, a 12-year NBA veteran who coached Reynolds at Villanova and is now a coach with the Chicago Bulls.

As a major talent in AAU, high school and college games, Pinckney explains, Reynolds never had to worry about making a team. In fact, the team was usually built around him. “That’s not the case anymore.”

A Year of Growth

Reynolds is arguably the best player to come out of a Northern Virginia public school since Grant Hill starred at South Lakes High School 20 years ago. He wowed D.C.-area fans as an 11th-grader with a 43-point game against DeMatha during a tournament at American University in December 2004.

“He was seen as big time, and he was big time,” says his Herndon teammate Danny Jones, who played against current NBA players Kevin Durant and Michael Beasley because Reynolds’ profile resulted in invitations to big tournaments in high school. “People were definitely expecting him to go to the NBA,” Jones says.

Those fans and former teammates want Reynolds to make it, not only so they can say they knew a star before he had to shave, but also because Reynolds, according to people like Pat Chambers, currently Penn State’s basketball coach and a former assistant at Villanova, is a genuinely nice person. “I would leave him with my kids and trust he would take care of them,” he says.

But making it to the NBA is one of the toughest tasks in sports, since with 30 teams and just 15 roster spots a piece, one must be among the 450 best players in the world to play in the league. Reynolds, in spite of his credentials, is just not there yet.

Not Your Average Dream

Reynolds fuels his sometimes four-a-day workouts with more than just the promise of prestige and five-star hotels. He has something more in mind, and to understand his dream, it’s necessary to quickly recap his back story.

Reynolds, who says he still sees himself as “a grown kid,” was born in Alabama and adopted as an infant by Rick and Pam Reynolds, who moved their family to Herndon in 2001 after a stint in Chicago. He has three older siblings, biological children of the Reynolds’, and a younger brother and sister who were also adopted. He has not yet sought a meeting with his birth mother even though the family worked with a private investigator a few years ago to locate her.

He says he dreams of seeing Pam Reynolds and his birth mother sitting together and watching him play in the best league in the world.

“I want that for them,” says Reynolds, whose struggle with being an adopted child was documented in a story published by USA Today in 2009. “I think it would bring everything together. It would bring a lot of peace of mind for everybody, especially me. Hopefully it will work.”

Of course, the $500,000 minimum salary for an NBA rookie would be great, but Reynolds wants something on which he can’t put a price—to unite his family. Consequently, he frets over every career-related decision. He asks himself: “What if this choice ends up being a mistake and my dream falls out of reach? I want to make sure I do the right thing. For some people it’s easy, but I need to contemplate, ask a lot of people. … It causes a lot of stress,” he says, “but it shouldn’t be that hard for me to make a decision.”

For example, before accepting a likely six-figure contract from a second-division Italian league team, Prima Veroli, in the summer of 2010, Reynolds surveyed all his friends and past mentors. Signing the contract should have been cause for celebration, but it brought on tears and self-doubt.

He wondered how come he didn’t get drafted by an NBA team. “Did I not take another rep on the bench press? Did I not dive on the floor?’ he asked himself. “It was just a bad night.”

Reynolds says Italy was never a good fit, and yes, he felt out of place and a bit homesick. A former player from the league says Reynolds didn’t play particularly well, either, and the team lost three of its first four games. Reynolds left before the fifth game of the season, but before he had time to worry about what he would do next, he was chosen in the NBA Development League draft. A few weeks later, he made his debut with the Springfield (Mass.) Armor, a team affiliated with the New Jersey Nets, who still hold his rights for this season.

Under the tutelage of Dee Brown, the Armor’s coach who had a 12-year NBA career and gained fame by winning the league’s Slam Dunk Contest in 1991, Reynolds thrived. He worked on leading a team instead of just scoring; passing instead of shooting; managing a game instead of just dashing down the court for the winning lay-up.

“Coach Brown showed me a whole different view of the game,” Reynolds says. “That’s going to help me later on in my playing career. For me to get eight points and 12 assists, that was better than scoring 30.”

Reynolds played 46 games for Springfield, averaging 13 points and nearly six assists per game. He recorded the first double-doubles (games with at least 10 points and either 10 assists or rebounds) of his career. He made the league’s All-Star and All-Rookie teams.

But just that, according to an NBA scout familiar with Reynolds, will not be enough to make it to the NBA.

“He’s just not quite good enough, I don’t know what else to tell you,” says the shoot-it-to-you-straight scout, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he’s not authorized by his team to speak about players. “He wouldn’t embarrass himself in an NBA game, but he’s gonna be a third-string point guard. If he had more potential, he would have been called up.”

Because of the NBA lockout, which began in early July, no one from the Nets or Armor could comment on Reynolds’ status for 2011-12 in time for publication. But even if Reynolds returns to Springfield, his promotion chances remain slim. In the history of the “D-League,” going back to 2001-02, only 128 players have been promoted to the NBA, and most for a short time. Last year, 20 players made the jump. And every season, there are more players like Reynolds who come into the league: some who are younger, some who have just come off a big season in Europe. But they’re all competing for those few call-ups.

Not Everyone Makes the NBA

After a while, some players stop asking “Why didn’t I make it?” and decide they would rather make a good living playing the game they love. Scoonie Penn, 34, went through the same pains as Reynolds 10 years ago. He led Ohio State to the 1999 Final Four and was an All-American. He even was drafted by the Atlanta Hawks, but he didn’t make the team. “A lot of guys go to Europe and have a very good living, a very good career and make very good money. So don’t just sell yourself only on the NBA,” says Penn, who took over Reynolds’ roster spot on Prima Veroli and helped them to the league’s semifinals. “There’s a lot more basketball out there. Not everyone gets the chance to play in the NBA.”

Reynolds, in a crisp white T-shirt, necklace, casual shorts and slip-on shoes, seems calm sitting outside the Starbucks in the Worldgate shopping center and talking about his future. But it’s easy to imagine the frustration, anxiety and anticipation swirling inside him. A summer which should have presented some opportunities to turn some heads in NBA-sponsored leagues close to home became a regimen of workouts bracketed by a trip to Puerto Rico for some playoff games in the late spring and 10 games in a Philippines pro league during the months of July and August.

The league’s labor instability made Reynolds’ already murky future became even murkier. Established NBA veterans were talking about going to Europe to play, likely shrinking chances for players like Reynolds.

It’s enough to make a guy consider getting out of the game entirely.

“The one thing I hate about this profession is you never know, day-to-day, what’s going to happen. You always gotta be ready,” he says.

The uncertainty, and a need to impress a scout or a coach in order to find a spot on his next team, has Reynolds wound tight, something he’s asked a therapist to help him manage. Reynolds thinks he can sustain this intensity for three or four more years. But unless he has a breakthrough, he might explore another basketball-related career, like starting a business coaching young players. Whelan also says Reynolds had been contacted by ESPN about being a college basketball analyst.

So why does he keep at it?

“The biggest thing that’s kept me going is fear,” he says of the last 18 months. “The fear of failure. The fear of letting people down. The fear of not getting to where I want to get.”

Days after the conversation that formed the basis for this story, Reynolds, aiming to impress scouts and earn a few dollars, got on a plane bound for Manila, Philippines, to play for the Tropang Texters of the Philippine Basketball Association. He was the team’s “import” brought in for the playoffs, which included a championship series against the Petron Blaze. While Reynolds started fast, scoring 37 points in his third game (July 29), he faded by the end and was actually cut in favor of the team’s original import, who had stayed in the country. Reynolds was back in the U.S. by the time the Texters lost the decisive seventh game.

Reynolds says he regularly gets positive comments from both current NBA players who know him from college, and Jay Wright, the Villanova basketball coach, recently mentioned his former player’s visit to campus in a positive light: “Great to have Scottie Reynolds back working out @Nova – passionate as ever – great impact on our guys!”

So it’s not unreasonable to think Reynolds, who was not reachable for a follow-up interview, might give the D-League another shot. The scenario works for him right now, fueling the early wakeups and getting him through long plane trips to places like South Padre Island, Texas and Bismarck, N.D.

Losing a pick-up game, or being cut from a team, ratchets up Reynolds’ anxiety about the future, and in a way, it makes sense that basketballs are sometimes punted when the pressure builds up.

“If I don’t make the NBA,” says Reynolds, overcoming some hesitation, “I feel like I failed. It’s not right, and I know I didn’t fail, but that’s what keeps me running.”


Scottie Reynolds: 2006 to Present

March 2006:
Named Virginia State Player of the year, leading Herndon High School to state finals. Finished with 2,033 points in four years.

Feb. 28, 2007:
Scored 40 points for Villanova against University of Connecticut as a freshman; named Big East Conference Rookie of the Year for 2006-07.

March 28, 2009:
Beat University of Pittsburgh with last-second shot to propel Villanova to Final Four.

Nov. 23, 2009:
Appeared on regional cover of Sports Illustrated college basketball preview issue.

March 22, 2010:
Appeared on regional cover of Sports Illustrated NCAA Tournament preview issue.

March 29, 2010:
Finished with 2,222 points at Villanova and named first-team All-American by Associated Press.

Oct. 1, 2010:
Scores 17 points in first professional game for Prima Veroli.

Oct. 22, 2010:
Plays final game for Prima Veroli.

Nov. 2010:
Appears in first game for Springfield Armor of NBA Development League, goes on to make All-Star team and All-Rookie team.

April 2011:
Travels to Dominican Republic to play two playoff games with Domingo Paulino of the Santiago league.

(November 2011)