Erik Reynolds (above) is St. Joe's first commitment for its incoming 2021 class. (Photo courtesy Bob Mallet/Bullis School)
Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
Erik Reynolds II’s basketball abilities and outlook in the sport have improved tremendously over the last few years. Saint Joseph’s head coach Billy Lange is hoping the Bullis School (Md.) product will play a major role in taking his program in the same direction.
The Hawks landed arguably their biggest commitment yet under their second-year head coach, when Reynolds announced his decision to attend St. Joe’s next fall. The 6-foot-2, 170-pound combo guard made his scholarship acceptance public Saturday, more than a year after Lange extended the offer to the DMV-area native.
“My main thing with the decision was just being comfortable with everyone on the staff, especially the head coach,” Reynolds said by phone Monday afternoon. “I’ve seen his vision, (Lange) said that he’s looking to turn that program all the way around, to get the name out there a little more, plus just be able to compete with anyone, those are his main goals.”
The first member of St. Joe’s incoming 2021 class and the 10th different player to commit or transfer to St. Joe’s in the last 16 months, Reynolds’ commitment is a significant recruiting achievement for Lange and his staff.
A three-star recruit according to Rivals and four-star according to 247 Sports, Reynolds pulled in double-digit offers from mid-majors after his sophomore season, including St. Joe’s and George Mason. As his junior year went on he picked up offers from Temple, Richmond, VCU and others, with Seton Hall, Xavier and Georgetown coming on board in June despite the pandemic limiting anybody from recruiting in person or playing live games.
But the bond he’d formed with the SJU staff over the previous year paid off in an era when all visits were done via phone call and Zoom instead of in-person campus tours and hangouts with potential teammates.
“During these times, you look for who’s putting forth the most effort, calling you the most, telling you about the school,” Reynolds said. “Introducing you to other members of the staff, getting you comfortable with the people that you’d be surrounded by, since you can’t take an official visit or actually see them in person.”
In Lange’s first season, the Hawks went 6-26, losing in the first round of the A-10 tournament. Injuries hampered an already-thin roster, and Lange was forced to rely heavily on freshmen and walk-ons alongside standout junior Ryan Daly. There’s an injection of talent on the way: Daly (20.6 ppg) and rising sophomores Cameron Brown (10.1 ppg) and Rahmir Moore (7.3 ppg) will be joined by Gonzaga transfer Greg Foster Jr. and three more freshmen this season, including highly-touted Neumann-Goretti product Jordan Hall; Xavier transfer Dahmir Bishop, another sophomore, will be eligible at the latest in January and Columbia transfer Jack Forrest gets the first of his three remaining years of eligibility in 2021-22.
Saint Joseph's head coach Billy Lange (above) only won six games in his first season, but there's reason for optimism on Hawk Hill. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Reynolds’ arrival brings another talented combo guard into the mix. He’ll be able to supplement Foster at point guard while also playing off the ball alongside fellow perimeter players Moore, Brown, Bishop, Forrest and Hall. A glance at some YouTube highlights doesn’t tell the full story, but they do show a quick guard with plenty of length who can get to and score around the rim in a variety of ways, and all of Reynolds’ single-game highlight reels display more than a handful of drive-and-dish assists as proof he can find shooters amongst the traffic.
“(Lange) sees me being a threat from both sides, on and off the ball,” Reynolds said. “He said that he was impressed with the plays that I can make with the ball but also how I make plays off the ball. Catch-and-shoot, transition and scoring, and also creating shots for others. He expects me to do both of those things.”
Even before Lange reached out, Reynolds already had a strong connection on the Hawks’ staff in the form of assistant coach Brenden Straughn. Before taking jobs at Loyola (Md.) and then St. Joe’s, Straughn coached for the same Team Takeover travel program that Reynolds played for in high school, and though Straughn never directly coached Reynolds, the two had known each other since Reynolds was in eighth grade.
“It was great knowing that I have someone that I’m more than comfortable with on the staff,” Reynolds said. “Having the relationship with the head coach and of course Brendan and the rest of the coaches and the staff...having that comfortability around those people and knowing that I’m going to be surrounded by them a lot of the time, it makes me feel better.”
It’s clear from Reynolds’ playing and recruiting trajectory that St. Joe’s got a player on the rise.
Coming out of his middle school years at Washington Jesuit (D.C.), Reynolds wasn’t a highly-touted player in one of the nation’s hoop hotbeds. Compared to former Washington Jesuit hardcourt standouts like Prentiss Hubb (Gonzaga HS/Notre Dame) and Jared Bynum (Georgetown Prep/Providence), who had been recruited by all the powerhouse area D.C.-area Catholic schools during their seventh and eighth grade seasons, Reynolds was still relatively under-the-radar.
“Erik was not a well-known commodity in the DC area coming out of middle school,” Bullis head coach Bruce Kelley said. “All the big Catholic schools didn’t go after him.
“We knew he was good, we didn’t know he was this good,” Kelley added.
Reynolds ended up at Bullis, a prestigious co-ed prep school located about 10 miles northwest of D.C., which had turned out recent Division I talent such as Chyree Walker (Radford), Vado Morse (James Madison) and Nendah Tarke (Coppin State). After coming off the bench as a freshman, working his way from deeper in the reserves up to the primary backup, Reynolds really found his confidence when he joined Takeover –– a Nike Elite Youth Basketball League (EYBL) program and annually one of the deepest travel programs in the country –– in that summer of 2018.
He moved into the starting lineup as a sophomore, but it wasn’t until last June that he picked up his first scholarship offers, during the high school team live periods. It’s a growth that Kelley’s been incredibly pleased to watch, as he called Reynolds “one of my favorite subjects to talk about,” and had plenty to say about his star guard.
“He’s a genuine kid,” the 16th-year head coach said. “Oftentimes you have players who have a branding image and you don’t know the real person, whereas Erik is himself in all situations. A great family, loves his mother, loves his little sister...he had opportunities to do different things, possibly leave Bullis and he didn’t, he’s true to the school.
“There’s a lot to cheer, even the way he handled his whole recruitment, he was honest, he said he was going to do something and he handled his business the way he said he was going to do it, which to me is a rare quality these days.”
While it’s unclear what kind of senior season Reynolds will be able to have due to the ongoing pandemic, he knows he’ll have to find ways to continue working on his game before he gets to City Avenue next fall.
“The goal is just to keep getting better and preparing my body for that next stage,” he said. “Getting stronger, getting faster, getting smarter, making smarter decisions on the court.”