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TALL TALE

The story of big Ryan Reeves is, and will forever be, legendary

 

February 21, 2018

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

Ryan Reeves didn't come to Northern to play college basketball. But, he was eventually plucked out of intramurals, and has turned into arguably the most dominant center the Lights have ever had.

In sports, there's tall tales. And then there's the tale of Montana State University-Northern senior Ryan Reeves. His tale is one that's straight out of a Hollywood movie. And it's every bit as real as the 6 feet, 10 inches he stands.

Reeves came to Northern from tiny Wrangell, Alaska, a commercial fishing hub on the island of Wrangell. But he didn't come to Northern to even play basketball, not for the Lights anyway. That was four years ago, and now, with just a few games left in his MSU-N career, he's not only playing basketball for the Lights, he's one of the best players in the Frontier Conference and certainly one of the best big men the Lights have ever had.

But for Reeves, this story, which likens to fishing tales he must hear all the time in his native Alaska, didn't start out that way. First, he wasn't 6-10 when he graduated from high school, and second, college basketball wasn't even on his radar when he arrived on Northern's campus. And that's where the legendary story of how Reeves became a Light began.

"It started with me just playing intramurals," Reeves, who leads the Lights in scoring, rebounds, steals, blocked shots and highlight dunks, said. "And then a few of the guys on the team saw me playing and told me I should talk to Coach (Huse). At first, it didn't make sense for me because I was only going to be here for one more year (getting a welding degree). But then, I went to some of the open gyms with the team, and played with them, and I started to consider it."

Yes, that's right, Reeves - one of the most dominant big men in all of the NAIA right now - was literally plucked right out of Northern's intramural basketball league. It's the stuff legends are made of.

"I remember seeing Ryan on campus that first year he was here, and I asked our guys, who is that really tall guy I see walking around all the time?" Northern head coach Shawn Huse said. "And our guys told me they had seen him play intramurals and that he was a really good player. So after that, and Ryan probably doesn't know this to this day, but I was recruiting him before he even had met me. I called his high school coach and talked to some of our guys about him. It's amazing how it all happened when you look back on it now."

It did happen. But not without some resistance from Reeves, a master shot blocker and monster on both ends of the floor.

"I went and talked to coach Huse about trying out or joining the team, and he wanted to give me that opportunity," Reeves said. "But I still wasn't sure. I was interested in getting my degree and just going to work at that point. But I guess, the more I played in open gyms with the team, I started to feel like this is something I wanted to try and see if I could even do. So I committed to two years and joined the team that spring."

One reason Reeves wasn't sure was, he had just undergone a major growth spurt. He was a good basketball player in Wrangell no doubt, and he was still tall, standing 6-4 when he graduated from high school. But by the time he landed in Havre, he had grown to 6-9, and has continued to grow in his time at Northern.

"I played a wing in high school," Reeves said. "I had never played in the post. I was tall, but not like I am now. So I wasn't sure I could do it, because it's not a position I had ever played."

Reeves might not have been sure, but Huse certainly was. Players of Reeves' size and stature are rare in the NAIA, and very rare in the Frontier Conference. So Huse knew pretty quickly, the man who came straight out of intramurals had a chance to be something special for the Lights, a player unlike any Northern has ever had.

"When Ryan came and met me, and we visited, I was like, absolutely you can join us," Huse said. "One thing I learned about Ryan right away is he has great character, he's such a good person. And as I observed him play with our guys, and once he joined our team, I could see he had a great motor. He played really hard and worked really hard at it. So when you have someone with high character, and a high motor, and you combine that with his size and his physical abilities, I thought he had a chance to be really good one day. I could see the potential in him right away."

Potential is one thing, but reality is another. And Reeves, despite having immense size and freakish athletic skills, didn't just become the player he is today overnight. Again, even after joining the Lights, basketball wasn't something he was still certain he wanted to pursue. He was just testing the waters at that point. And even standing at 6-10, his first season, especially the first half of his first season with the Lights, wasn't an easy one by any means. It wasn't intramural basketball anymore.

"I remember going into games, I wasn't starting yet, and I just couldn't believe how fast everything was," Reeves said. "I had been out of basketball for two years, and then, the level of play was way more competitive than anything I'd ever seen. So it was kind of a struggle for a while.

"That first semester Ryan was with us, I know he was a little frustrated," Huse added. "But he went home for Christmas break, and when he came back, it was like a light switch had turned on. Over that break, something just clicked, and when he came back, those first three practices after Christmas break, he was just dominating everybody and everything in those practices. It was amazing, and everything kind of took off from there.

"I came back and everything started to slow down a little bit more," Reeves said. "From there, my playing time went up, and I just think my attitude and outlook on it was different. I felt like from there I really started developing."

He developed rapidly, too. Reeves finished his first season as a Light averaging four points, four rebounds and two blocks per game. Those numbers might seem modest now, but they were the building blocks to what was to come.

And what's come since is, while cliché, the stuff of legends. The 2016-17 season was a breakout performance if ever there was one.

On his way to Frontier All-Conference honors, Reeves averaged 10 points, seven rebounds, two steals and two blocks per game. He led the Frontier in blocks and was second in the NAIA in total blocks. For that, he was named the Frontier Defensive Player of the Year. It all happened in a short amount of time, but for Reeves it was a journey that started first with playing pickup basketball, and then focusing on using his size, his incredible wingspan and his talents to be a defensive master.

"Winning the defensive player of the year was a huge surprise," Reeves said. "It was really cool because when this all started, I didn't have any expectations or anything like that. I didn't know how it would all play out, so it was a really cool honor."

And the honors are going to keep pouring in for Reeves, who has developed his game into one of dominance and brilliance. Not only is he still the premier shot blocker in the NAIA, averaging nearly four per game, but he's become the complete player he was never sure he could be, the one Huse envisioned all along. In his senior season, he's averaging 16 points, which leads the Lights, he leads the Frontier in rebounding at almost nine per game, and he leads the nation in blocks and he's in the Top 20 in the NAIA in six different categories.

"When I first joined the team, coach told me my job is to be a rim protector and play good defense," Reeves said. "I took that to heart. But as time went on, I knew I could do more. I knew if I worked at it, I could develop more as an all-around player. So that's what I've tried to do. My coaches have really helped me with that. This year especially, Josh (Peterson) has really helped me a lot with my game. So I do feel like I'm a lot more of a complete player now.

"It's like the beast was let of the cage," Huse said. "The progress Ryan's made has been remarkable. He's went from a guy who was just going to play some basketball and see if it would be fun, to a guy who is a complete game-changer. Let's face it, in this day and age, in recruiting, there aren't any 6-10 sleepers out there. There's no such thing anymore. If they're 6-10, let alone can run and jump like Ryan can, and with the motor he has, they're being watched in high school. So I don't think we'll ever see a guy like Ryan in our league again. He's that good. It's amazing."

Amazing, especially considering where Reeves came from. But now, the story of pickup ball to Lights' super star and his patented blocked shots and monster dunks are not just legendary, they're a nightly reality. In other words, the potential has been realized. It's there, on display, for everybody to see.

"Like I said, he's a game-changer," Huse said. "He does it all now. He is very skilled offensively, he has great touch, he's dominant in the block, he's a really good passer, and he moves up and down the floor really well, and that's let alone all the things he does on the defensive end. He can literally and completely change a game for us defensively. So he's become an extremely special player. He's one of a kind, and it all goes back to what kind of person Ryan is and his work ethic. He's just such a high character guy and he's worked relentlessly to become the player he is. I will always appreciate and respect that about him.

"And another thing I'll say about Ryan is he's still just scratching the surface as far as his potential," Huse continued. "As good as he is, and he's really good, he keeps getting better, every single day. You've seen it this season, every game he goes out just dominates even more than he did the night before. It's remarkable. His time with us is ending. But as a basketball player, he just keeps getting better and better. It's incredible to watch."

Reeves has been incredible to watch. Northern women's head coach Chris Mouat has certainly taken notice, having had a front row seat for Reeves' ride into Northern hoops lore. And, Mouat knows a thing or two about coaching a dominant post player.

"Ryan has been a ton of fun to watch," Mouat said. "He has made incredible progress, and has the ability to dominate a game at both ends.  His impact does remind me of some of the ways that A'Jha Edwards could affect a game.  And, their ability to make unique plays could excite everyone, especially teammates and our home crowd.  He's a great player, for sure, but he's also a great guy who does things the right way."

No doubt, Reeves is everything a college basketball coach could ask for, on and off the floor. And that's not just Huse and the Lights either. There's no question, if Reeves was just coming into college basketball now, he'd be an NCAA Division I prospect, and he proved that by performing at a high level back in November in a game at Montana State.

"That game was important to me," Reeves said. "Before I was done, I wanted to test myself against that level of competition. I wanted to see where I stood against that level. That meant a lot to me that we got to go play the Bobcats."

Reeves, on the other hand, has meant more than a lot to the Lights, and to Huse.

"I can't say enough about what Ryan has done at this level," Huse said. "Again, he's an absolute game changer on the floor. But more than that, he's turned into one of the best leaders a coach could ever ask for. He's a great person, he has a great attitude. He brings it every single day, on and off the floor. Ryan is the type of player, the type of leader and the type of person that, when you have a guy like that on your team, you really do feel like anything is possible. He's just meant so much to this program.

"Ryan is somebody I'm personally really going to miss when he's not here anymore," Huse added. "I look at him and he will be somebody that's a great friend of mine when this is all said and done. I just think the world of Ryan and I appreciate him so much."

The feeling is certainly mutual. Reeves was not sure he'd love playing college basketball. And even after he started, he was not sure he would keep doing it. But as time passed and as he's continued to grow, not just in size not just as a player, but also as a person, he realized, he did love it. He found out, it was for him. He found out that playing intramural basketball just wasn't going to be enough. As Huse said, at some point, the beast that is Ryan Reeves was let out of the cage, and there was no putting him back in.

"It's been a great experience," Reeves said. "It's exceeded every expectation I ever had. I've played with a great group of guys over the years. I've had a great time with Coach Huse. I've enjoyed my time at Northern a lot. I'm really glad I stuck it out. I'm glad that I decided to do it, to put in the work and see how far I could go with it."

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

Ryan Reeves didn't come to Northern to play college basketball. But, he was eventually plucked out of intramurals, and has turned into arguably the most dominant center the Lights have ever had.

Far and high, actually. Reeves has not only done something that even the best movie script couldn't mimic, which is go from intramural basketball to being one of the most dominant big men in the NAIA, he's done it all the right ways. He's a man of character. He's honest and hard-working, his teammates don't just look up to him because he's literally taller than all of them, but because of the player, person and leader he is, because of the man he is. Yes, Ryan Reeves stands tall in every way you could imagine.

And when his legendary career at Northern is over, he's going to cast one of the biggest shadows of any player who's ever stepped foot on Northern's campus, or in the Frontier Conference, figuratively and literally.

"I don't think we've ever seen a guy like Ryan in our league and I don't think we ever will again. In fact, I know we won't," Huse said. "He's that special. He's that rare, and he's that good."

We may never see another Ryan Reeves at Northern. But because of the story, because of the tall tale of how it all came to be, we won't ever forget him either. That's what happens when your story is a legendary one, and the story of Ryan Reeves is certainly legendary and will always be.

 

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