Athlete Spotlight: A.J. Reeves ‘18 - Brimmer & May School Boys Basketball
By Nate Weitzer for Mass Prep Stars
NEWTON, Mass – If you encounter him walking around the campus of Chestnut Hill’s Brimmer and May School, you might be surprised to learn that A.J. Reeves is the top-rated prospect in Massachusetts for the Class of 2018.
The 6-foot-4 Reeves certainly looks the part of an elite athlete, yet his subdued demeanor and friendly disposition are somewhat unique for a basketball player that is receiving offers from Division I colleges across the nation.
“He’s the most humble kid you’ll meet,” said Reeves head coach and mentor Tom Nelson. “[Reeves] could’ve left this small school any time and gone on to a bigger program, but he’s stayed and worked on things with me. The teachers [At Brimmer and May] don’t even know how good he is at basketball because he goes to class and doesn’t walk around thumping his chest. He just wants to be the best player he can be while staying the same person.”
A native of Roxbury, Reeves seemed to be born into the game. Both of his parents played at Roxbury Community College, while he also has cousins that are currently playing at the collegiate level.
He dominated community basketball leagues alongside Belmont Hill stars Jovan Jones and David Mitchell, who have become top recruits in the Class of 2018 in their own right, but Reeves is on a different level in terms of national attention in part because of the guidance of his current coach.
“I had always seen [Nelson] around at AAU tournaments,” Reeves recalled. “When I finally got to meet him, he told me that I had the potential to be great and I told my mom that’s what I’m going to do, and he’s going to get me there.”
Nelson is a basketball lifer. The Hyde Park resident is the managing partner of BallasTV, which is one of the most recognized video compilers and recruiting providers in New England.
In addition to his role as the head boy’s basketball coach at Brimmer and May, Nelson also helps runs the Mass Rivals Elite program with founder Vin Pastore. He coaches the 9th and 10th grade Rivals teams while serving as an assistant under Pastore on some of the oldest teams.
When he encountered a skinny 5-foot-10 shooting guard in Reeves on the AAU circuit, Nelson explained that he considered the boys’ basketball acumen and mental makeup before deciding that he could help Reeves become a top recruit.
“His natural tools were fantastic,” Nelson said about the 13-year-old Reeves.
“When you find out about the family- how mom played, dad is 6-foot-6 and his cousins play- you start to think, this kid has a chance. And I thought that if I can get a kid like that early enough, I can make him a top 50 player in the country.”
The two kept in touch over the next year, as Reeves continued to bus to Swampscott high school throughout a tumultuous freshman year. Clearly misused and somewhat misplaced while commuting over an hour to school every day, he decided to take Nelson up on his offer to come play at Brimmer and May.
Reeves would repeat his freshman year at the preparatory school and explained how he felt like a true freshman when he made the transition from the Northeastern Conference up at Swampscott to New England Preparatory School Athletic Council (NEPSAC) competition.
“Lack of confidence and nervousness were the biggest issues for me,” Reeves remembered. “There was a game I went scoreless and barely took any shots. I just wasn’t prepared mentally even though I was physically capable.”
While he struggled over his first several games, something clicked for Reeves halfway through his first season at Brimmer and he finished his freshman year averaging 13 points per game while being named to the All Tournament Team at the 2014 St. Andrew’s Holiday Classic.
The previous summer, Reeves went through similar growing pains while attending a national AAU tournament in Las Vegas with Rivals. He was thrust into game action at the highest level and played out of position as a point guard against elite prospects that were a year older than him.
“I didn’t think I was going to get much run, but our starting point guard got injured and the coaches threw me into the fire,” laughed Reeves. “They started pressing me 94 feet up and down the floor and I think I turned the ball over three straight times.”
He concluded, “After that I knew I had to get in the gym and improve my game.”
With Nelson supervising his development, Reeves worked tirelessly on his ball handling, shooting and conditioning throughout his sophomore season. His second campaign at Brimmer was derailed by a knee injury, as he missed 11 games, but he still averaged 16 points per game while making a tremendous impact for the Gators.
Reeves (right) and Nelson (left) have formed a special bond, on and off the court.
Reeves was clearly becoming one of the best players in the state, yet he remained modest enough to play behind even more elite prospects at the AAU level while refusing the temptation to transfer out of his small high school to a larger preparatory school that might earn him more attention from college scouts.
“I’ve had humble beginnings and I just want to stay loyal,” Reeves maintained. “I could’ve left [Brimmer] and gone to a bigger school but I wanted to stay because I’ve built relationships with everyone here. Every year, it’s hard. It’s a struggle, but it makes you tougher in the long run.”
As an incoming junior, Reeves once again travelled out to Las Vegas, where his Rivals team went on to win the Adidas Uprising Summer U17 Championship.
Reeves at last Spring's Providence Jamfest. - BallasTV
Reeves committed to coming off the bench for that team behind two top 100 recruits in Makai Ashton-Langford (committed to UConn) and Wabissa Bede (signed letter of intent with Virginia Tech). He sacrificed by playing a role as a defender and rebounder while he also learned a great deal from two of the best players in the Class of 2017.
“That’s when I learned about giving maximum effort,” Reeves explained. “Bede and Makai [Ashton-Langford] never seemed to get tired and I realized that I had to keep my motor going like that, so I worked all summer so that I could effect the game over longer periods.”
This season, Reeves is averaging 26.2 points, 7.6 rebounds and 3 assists per game. He became a 1,000-point scorer during his junior year and might have a legitimate chance to break the school record of around 1,700 points if he stays healthy throughout his final campaign as a senior next season.
Yet despite his continued improvement and rise on ESPN recruiting boards (where he’s now listed as the 13th best shooting guard in the country), Reeves continues to stay grounded and focus on his studies.
Reeves' Sophomore Season Highlights. - BallasTV
He made honor roll for the first time at Brimmer this past semester and spends time volunteering the Newton and Roxbury communities. Reeves said that he’s honored to receive so much attention from the coaches of elite collegiate programs, but he also recognized the importance of choosing a school for it’s academics and preparing for a life after basketball.
Throughout it all, Reeves and Nelson remain focused on studying the game and helping the junior prospect reach his full potential.
Nelson and Reeves spend extended hours studying film at every level. They watch film of Houston Rockets star James Harden and Reeves is going to the free throw line over eight times per game this season as a result.
Reeves said that his favorite NBA player is Indiana Pacers star Paul George, but he’s clearly learned a ton from arguably the greatest pure scorer of the modern era in Kobe Bryant.
“We watch Kobe [Bryant film] and study his footwork,” Reeves said. “We try to bring it to the court and practice the same thing whether he’s shooting from the elbows or the 15-foot area, I just emulate that as best I can.”
By taking a page out of Bryant’s book, Reeves has honed his jump shot into an unstoppable weapon and that transition will be the subject of BallasTV’s upcoming documentary entitled, “Finding Kobe.”
“[Reeves] jump shot has always been good since he was little, but now it’s deadly. I would say it’s one of the best weapons in the country. He can create his own shot, he can make difficult and contested shots and its Ray Allen-like the way he can create when there’s not much there,” effused Nelson.
As for that confidence problem he dealt with as a skinny freshman? Reeves is long past that issue.
“Now, after three years of work, when I’m on the court I feel like I’m the best player out there and no one can guard me,” Reeves said. “If you get in front of me I’m going to go around you, jump over you, or do what I have to do to help my team.”
Humble enough to stick with a mentor that’s been so critical in his development and unselfish enough to play behind other stars in an effort to help his team, Reeves is clearly going to be an asset for whichever college program is able to land him.
Of course, humility is only an asset on the court if it’s backed by self-assurance, and that’s something that both Reeves and his mentor have in spades.
“I expect the same thing you’re seeing from [Reeves] in high school even more in college. He’s only touched 45-50 percent of his potential and if he continues to work I expect him to become one of the best players in college basketball,” Nelson asserted.
“And if you think the 27 points per game he’s scoring this year is something,” the coach added, “Well, next year we’re going to put on a show.
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