The Next Great One: Asbury Park Freshman Phenom Nazreon Reid Helps Roselle Catholic Win Tournament of Champions Title
TRENTON - From the minute Nazreon Reid first put on a uniform for Roselle Catholic's basketball team, it was clear he was no ordinary freshman.
In Monday night's NJSIAA Tournament of Champions final against Pope John XXIII, the 6-foot-8 phenom from Asbury Park looked like anything but a freshman when he starred in the type of atmosphere that often melts even the most battle-hardened seniors. Reid scored 12 points on 5-for-7 shooting and played strong defense at the top of Roselle Catholic's zone to complement a 27-point night by Kentucky-bound senior Isaiah Briscoe and help the Lions bring home their second TOC crown in three seasons with a 57-45 win at Sun National Bank Center.
"I wasn't afraid at all,'' Reid said. "As long as I have my brothers having my back out there, I know I'll be fine."
"Like I've said before, any time he comes in the game, he's a game-changer,'' Briscoe said about Reid.
Reid is all of 15 years old and already has offers from UConn, Iowa, Maryland, North Carolina State, Seton Hall, Villanova and Virginia. He is widely considered a top-five player in the country for the Class of 2018. Considering the online hype machine now cranks up for players as young as sixth and seventh grade, Reid has become accustomed to attention at an age when most players would be excited just to be on the varsity team.
"I'm one of the best players in my class (in the country), so this should be nothing to me,'' Reid said.
While Reid is known for his high-flying dunks, like the two he threw down against Pope John, his biggest impact for the Lions has been as a defender off the bench. Roselle Catholic started employing a diamond zone with the long-armed Reid at the top during the state playoffs, and it proved to be crucial in winning it all. They held an explosive Pope John team that has five Division I players to 18-for-58 shooting (31 percent), including 1-for-15 from 3-point range, by closing out on perimeter shooters and squeezing the middle to stop Syracuse-bound post player Moustapha Diagne.
"We put (Reid) at the top of the press, he bothers (opponents) with length and
athleticism, and we know when he comes in games, he's going to give us a spark off the bench,'' Briscoe said.
"He's been fantastic at the top of that zone,'' Roselle Catholic coach Dave Boff said. "Us going to that zone in the state tournament was the difference. We wouldn't have won the Trenton Catholic game without it, and we wouldn't have won the Trenton Catholic game without him at the top of it. He allows us to do things in the back of that zone that you couldn't do with a 6-3 guy there."
Boff cited Reid's putback with 2:37 left in the third quarter and Pope John creeping back into the game as a key momentum swing. It gave Roselle Catholic a 39-25 lead, and the Lions extended it to 45-29 by the end of the quarter.
"I felt like the game was starting to go in their direction, and he kind of came out of nowhere and grabbed an unbelievable offensive rebound for a dunk and really kind of stemmed the tide,'' Boff said.
"I can play with the pressure on me and stay cool and confident,'' Reid said.
Despite Reid's obvious confidence for such a young player, he also has shown some humility in the age of top-ranked players often cutting deals for playing time in exchange for deciding to attend a certain school. Every non-public power under the sun in New Jersey was trying to attain Reid's services, and he also could have attended Asbury Park High School and been an instant star in the Shore Conference. Instead he chose a program so loaded with talent like Briscoe and South Carolina recruit Chris Silva that he would come off the bench as a freshman and average single digits at eight points per game.
"To deal with that hype is difficult, I know, but he's a great kid from a great family,'' Boff said. "I know the fact that he's as highly-ranked as he is, but he comes off the bench for us and plays his role and enjoys his role, which says so much about him."
Briscoe, a McDonald's All-American who knows all about having to deal with the glare of the media and the spotlight, has helped mentor Reid. Monday night's game almost seemed like a passing of the torch from Briscoe to Reid as the next megastar for the Lions with a McDonald's All-American game and a pile of college offers in his future.
"(Briscoe) has just kept telling me to keep going and never stop striving to reach the top level,'' Reid said. "I feel like (next season) it's going to be the same way, it's just that I'm going to be like another Isaiah except I'm going to be a sophomore."
Despite all the high-level talent on Roselle Catholic, Reid appears to have the most upside of anyone on the roster. Given that he has shooting range out past the 3-point line for his size as well as hands the size of baseball gloves, he could be an explosive, Karl Towns-type 6-foot-11 or 7-foot forward who can score from anywhere and defend four positions by the time he's a senior. Towns, who starred for last year's TOC champs at St. Joseph's-Metuchen, is a few months away from becoming a millionaire as a top-five NBA draft pick once he's done excelling for unbeaten Kentucky.
While certainly many local fans would have wanted him to stay at his hometown high school, he has had plenty of support from the Asbury Park community after playing his middle school ball there. Several friends and family from Asbury were in the house on Monday night to cheer him on and give him a hug or fist pound after it was over.
"I have a lot of people here supporting me and telling me to keep going,'' he said.
Where Reid plans on going, before a major-college program and hopefully the NBA, is the New Jersey record books.
"I have three more years to go,'' he said. "I plan on getting three more TOC titles."