Basketball – Manchester’s Shavar Reynolds Returns to the Shore as a Final Four Hopeful
BELMAR - Just about every young basketball player dreams of playing Major Division I college basketball but it is hard to say no when a school from a smaller conference or a lower division offers a free education to forego the grander vision.
Like so many talented players who are told they are on the fringe of Division I basketball, Shavar Reynolds faced that very proposition during his senior year at Manchester High School and during a post-grad year with Covenant College Prep based out of Belmar. He got offers to catch on in mid-to-low-major Division I and Division II basketball but he was thinking bigger.
The offers on the table - to Farleigh Dickinson, Maine, Monmouth, Niagara and others - made the most economic sense but they were not for Reynolds. After his final year at Manchester, he decided to bet on himself.
That bet is paying off several times over for the Ocean County native, who made his Jersey Shore Basketball League debut Wednesday night in impressive fashion with 29 points, seven rebounds and seven assists in a 100-91 win for his Stern's Trailer squad over Orthopaedic Institute at St. Rose High School. The game marked the official tip-off to the 50th season of the JSBL.
"Being told no and failing," Reynolds said when asked what turned him into a Division I player. "That really just pushed me to never, ever be told no or fail again, but if I do fail, never quit.
"I realized if you don’t believe in yourself, nobody else will. So I started believing in myself and making sure that on the court, I showed I could play the game."
Reynolds got an offer to walk on at Seton Hall and worked his way into some spare minutes as a freshman. He so impressed head coach Kevin Willard and his staff during practice and in those few minutes of game action that Willard granted him a scholarship to keep him in the program as a sophomore.
He went on to increase his minutes and role on the team significantly as a sophomore, earning 31 appearances and one start for the Pirates. He also delivered one of the season's most memorable moments when he drilled a game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer to hand Big East rival St. John's its first loss of the season.
"It was two things (that made Reynolds choose Seton Hall): One, the challenge of it to see if I could really do it," Reynolds said. "And two, it was like, ‘Why not?’ This was my dream. Everyday I wake up, I think about how crazy this journey has been and I’m just so humbled to be where I’m at."
The success of Reynolds and his Seton Hall team, which reached the Big East Tournament final for the second time in four years and qualified for the NCAA Tournament for the fourth straight season, have increased the level of expectations for both heading into the 2019-20 season.
Those expectations intensified even more when honorable mention All-American guard Myles Powell announced his decision to return to Seton Hall for his senior season rather than enter the NBA Draft. While that might suppress the minutes Reynolds and other returning members of the Seton Hall backcourt will see next season, it also increases the chances of Seton Hall reaching a bigger stage. The Pirates have been floated as a preseason favorite to win the Big East and a potential top-10 team in the country to open 2019-20.
"It made expectations that much higher," Reynolds said of Powell's return. "He’s an All-American and, personally, I think he’s the best player in the country and I think he’s going to prove it this year. Him coming back just boosts us all because we are going to get that many more chances to prove ourselves at that next level."
With Seton Hall, Reynolds has developed a bulldog reputation for his tenacious defense, relentless work in practice and his nose for the big moment. On Wednesday, he showed what he can do when he takes the lead: his 29 points and seven assists were game-highs, he knocked down a three-pointer and three more perimeter jumpers, showed his defensive edge in a league not known for its defense, and capped his night with an emphatic one-handed dunk in traffic.
"When I play summer league, I really just try to come out and work on my game," Reynolds said. "Work on my pick-and-roll, shooting, consistency – just little stuff that makes a difference.
"It’s really about just trying to get better all-around. Last year, I didn’t shoot my best – this year I’ve got to come in and shoot better. I want to be better in the pick-and-roll. Defensively, I’m going to keep it up – still be intense, still be that dog."
For those who only knew Reynolds from his days at Manchester and his part-time role on his college team, it was a blend of the control with which he played in high school, paired with more a more refined, more athletic skillset.
Now that Reynolds has his place on one of the more intriguing teams in America heading into the next college basketball season, he is less concerned about proving himself and more concerned about helping his team prove itself on the national stage.
"I don’t think there’s too much pressure, I just think we have to make sure we don’t lose who we are," Reynolds said. "We are a dog-team: we don’t give the other team anything – they have to earn it. I think if we stay with that mentality and stay together as a team, we’ll do just fine."
If his attitude over the last three years rubs off on his Seton Hall teammates, it might not be wise to bet against them.