South Charlotte

Sabre forward striving to prove his critics wrong

Phillip Reed played shortstop in baseball until eighth grade, when he felt he was too tall for the position.

As a 6-foot-1 freshman at South Mecklenburg High, Reed tried out for the basketball team, though he had never really played organized basketball.

He didn't make the cut.

For the next year he worked harder, getting help from varsity coach John Fitch, then-girls'-basketball-coach Troy Gaston and Accelerate Basketball, a private training facility. He came back his sophomore year about four inches taller and tried out again. This time he made the junior varsity team.

Now, as a junior, Reed is three inches taller (6-foot-8) and a valuable part of the Sabres frontcourt.

It isn't just his quick growth spurt that's helped him get to this point: it's his work ethic, much of which comes from being cut his freshman year.

"I got tired of people saying I couldn't do it so I wanted to prove them wrong," said Reed, 17. "I worked out everyday after school and went to all the workouts."

Reed was the leading scorer for the JV team last year, averaging more than 12 points a game. He said the season showed that his hard work leading up to the season paid off. In the offseason before his junior year, Reed played on the South Piedmont Heat AAU team with teammate Malcom Mathews, a 6-foot-9 junior center, and 5-foot-10 junior guard Craig Thompson.

While playing on the AAU team, Reed was elbowed in the face, fracturing the bone under his right eye and keeping him off the court for a month. Fitch said the injury was a turning point for Reed, making him play more aggressively.

"When he came back, a lot of guys would have shied away from things, and I think that ... got his aggressiveness going," said Fitch, who is in his third year as head coach at South Meck. "I think it got him mad. It almost transformed him."

Reed was confident coming into this year after a good AAU season and playing well in preseason tournaments, but said the beginning of the season was tough. The Sabres played Observer Sweet 16 No. 1 Olympic the first game of the season, which Reed said was a learning experience.

"I didn't feel like they were better than us by a whole lot," he said.

The Sabres are 10-3 (2-1 Southwestern 4A) coming out of winter break. They won a holiday tournament in Rock Hill the week before Christmas. Fitch and Reed both said the team is playing well this year, and Reed, who sometimes starts for the Sabres and is one of the first players off the bench, feels he finally is settling in on the varsity team after a good showing at the holiday tournament.

"I was playing more like myself and calmer, and I wasn't making as many mistakes," said Reed. "I scored more, had more blocks and rebounds and played, overall, better."

Fitch said Reed's strength is his midrange jump shot. In a practice drill earlier in the season, Reed made 24 straight shots from 10-15 feet from the basket, said Fitch.

"He's really got a great touch," said Fitch. "Being 6-8-and-a-half, it's hard to block him."

He's averaging just 3.5 points per game but he's helping the team in other ways, grabbing 5.2 rebounds a game. He also had seven blocked shots in the final of the holiday tournament against Rock Hill.

Fitch also said Reed is quick and has good footwork, but Fitch would like to see him improve his inside scoring, creating space with a defender and making shots. As well as Reed is starting to play, Fitch said, he thinks he will be much better later this year and next.

"He's one of the hardest-working guys on the team," said Fitch. "He's got a great attitude. ... I think the potential for him in college is very high, but it's going to take some time. Because of his work ethic, I think it's going to come along."

Reed has improved by playing against Mathews, who averages 12.7 points, 9.5 rebounds and 4.5 blocks per game, in practice.

"By going against Malcom every day, it's making Phillip better," said Fitch. "Phillip does not back down from Malcom."

Fitch said having a strong presence inside - something the Sabres didn't have last year - has taken some pressure off the guards. Senior guard Carrington Kirkpatrick has taken 40 percent fewer shots this year compared to last year, according to Fitch.

"What the guards have had to learn to do is use the big men," said Fitch. "They had to learn to make passes inside, where they didn't know how to do that."

The Sabres play inside-out and the forwards are good passers, which sets up open shots for guards. Opposing teams can be punished for putting too many defenders on Mathews, Reed and 6-foot-5 senior forward David Moore.

"It's a lot easier because they can't just focus on one of us, it's both of us that they have to worry about," said Reed. "It frees up the guards when they try to double-team us."

While his height is helping the Sabres this year, Reed said at times his growth spurts have been hard.

"My teammates used to make fun of me: 'Every week it seems like you're taller,' " he said. "It took a lot of work to be fully coordinated and be used to the new height."

The height comes with advantages. Though Reed said he's not very athletic - something he wants to work on over the offseason - he said his size gives him the ability to block more shots.

Reed probably isn't done growing. He said his dad and grandfather both grew three inches in college; Fitch thinks he could be a 7-footer.

But Reed won't rely on height. He wants to work this season at getting more aggressive offensively.

He wants to play in college. Fitch said he has gotten interest from several colleges, and Reed is willing to work hard to make a team.

Reed still recalls what it felt like when he was cut in ninth grade, and it drives him.

"It gave me more motivation," he said. "Being cut from a team and not seeing your name on a list is a terrible feeling and I don't want to feel that again. I'm working extremely hard for that not to happen again."