Is He The Greatest?
March 6, 2004
By Matt Segal
The question is very simple, straight-forward and to the point. Is Justin Reed the best basketball player in Ole Miss history?
The answer, however, is a little more involved. While true followers of the program don't necessarily like to rank individuals who have worn the Red and Blue, one thing is agreed upon by all Reed is on that elite level where he belongs.
"Justin Reed will go down as one of the best players to ever wear that Ole Miss uniform," said Rebel head coach Rod Barnes. "Justin's numbers really tell a major part of the story. He has been a very consistent and steady player for us over the past four years. He has also instilled a toughness that all present and future players can learn from. He's had that 'warrior-type' mentality."
Those numbers sure do speak volumes. The 6-foot-8, 240-pound senior forward is the Southeastern Conference's second-leading scorer at 18.6 points per game. In addition, he leads Ole Miss in rebounds (196), rebounds per game (7.5), blocked shots (21), free throws made (108) and free throw percentage (.720). A native of Jackson, Miss., Reed ranks fifth in Ole Miss school history with 1,751 career points and seventh with 753 rebounds.
Reed's accolades are also numerous. He is a three-time All-SEC and NABC All-District 6 Team member and two-time Wooden Award Candidate. In addition, the preseason saw Reed earn All-SEC First-Team honors from Athlon Sports, Basketball News, Lindy's, Street & Smith's and Blue Ribbon. Also prior to the season, The Sporting News ranked Reed as the 14th-best power forward in the nation.
As a freshman, Reed helped the Rebels to a 27-8 overall record, 11-5 SEC mark and NCAA Sweet Sixteen berth. He was honored as the 2001 SEC Freshman of the Year in addition to being named to the All-SEC Tournament team.
Ole Miss also made it to the "Big Dance" in 2001 after posting an overall record of 20-11 and SEC mark of 9-7.
His statistics and accomplishments are quite impressive. The admiration he receives from those around him on a regular basis is also plentiful.
"When I think of the name Justin Reed, I think of a guy who plays hard night in and night out," said David Kellum, who is in his 15th season as the 'Voice of the Rebels' on the Ole Miss Radio Network "As he will tell you, that's the only way he knows how to play. Justin is one of the most intense college basketball players I've ever been around. When that ball is thrown up in the air and the game begins, he really gets after it."
Reed joins lifelong friend and high school teammate Aaron Harper as the only two seniors on this year's roster. Harper, a 6-foot-7, 217-pound, guard/forward from Jackson, Miss., is the most prolific three-point shooter in Ole Miss history. Harper's name can be found in the school record books for most three-point field goals made in a career (275) and most made in a season (83 in 2001-02). The tandem, which accounts for 56 percent of the team's scoring, is regarded by many as the best in the SEC.
"Aaron and Justin have both had a tremendous impact on this program," Kellum said. "I would put both of them on that top level with some of the elite players in school history. Justin matured a little earlier, but Aaron made huge strides between his junior and senior seasons. They both have well-rounded games and give it their all on a nightly basis.
"Aaron and I have a very special relationship, both on and off the court," Reed said. "I think that chemistry makes us more effective on the court. We have been together all our lives. I know Aaron's game inside-and-out and he knows mine in a very similar way. We just love to play. We have been teammates on summer league and AAU teams, we were together in junior high and high school and now we are finishing up together at the Division-I level."
Reed and Harper have been with the Ole Miss program through thick and thin. They have experienced the good, bad and everything in between. They have learned how to be humble in victory and know that coping with defeat can often times build character. They have also been team leaders in times of adversity.
"This season has been a great learning experience for everyone involved," Reed added. "The younger players on this team have come a long way. At the same time, Aaron and I have also learned a lot. It's been a long, tough haul and it's hard to believe that our careers are winding down. We have experienced some bumps and bruises along the way, but have always tried to turn the negatives into positives."
Barnes is quick to point out that Justin and Aaron have brought a lot of notoriety and awareness to the Ole Miss basketball program.
"They were both freshmen on the 'Sweet Sixteen' team, so they've been at the top when things were going well," the sixth-year head coach said. "That season really put us on the map and set up a situation where winning is now expected. That expectation is a great thing to have, but the territory that comes with it presents a lot of challenges. Unfortunately, Justin and Aaron have also experienced the past two seasons, which have been tough on all of us. I am very proud of them because they have kept everything in perspective and have never given up."
Reed is quick to admit that he looks at his coaches as mentors and great friends.
"We have several quality coaches here at Ole Miss," the political science major said. "It's hard for me to put into words how I actually feel about the people I'm around every day. I don't look at them (the coaches) as just coaches and nothing else. I look at them as coaches, mentors and, most importantly, great friends. In addition to teaching me about the game of basketball, they have taught me about the game of life. They have been by my side ever since I set foot on this campus. They have been a tremendous help because they have experienced a lot of the same things that we (the players) go through on a regular basis.
"My college experience at Ole Miss has been terrific. I have tried to make the most of it, both on and off the court. I have enjoyed everything that the experience has offered me."
Barnes also has high regard for his star player. He recognizes that student-athletes like Reed don't come around every day.
"Justin has accepted a variety of his roles over the years and he has handled them all pretty well," he pointed out. "When he came in as a freshman, we needed him to be a complementary player who could give us some rebounding and toughness. His sophomore and junior years, we needed him to step up and contribute a lot, but he didn't have that pressure to be the 'go-to guy.' Now, as one of two seniors on the roster, his production and leadership is expected. He and Aaron have been through the wars and know what it takes to succeed at this level.
"Justin is a very talented person who has overcome a lot of tough situations. He's been a warrior for this program over the last four seasons. He's an extremely tough kid who wants to win in the worst way. He's been like a son to me. It's been a very enjoyable process to see him mature as a basketball player, but, more importantly, as a person."
Kellum, who began his broadcasting career as a 19-year-old freshman, recognizes that Justin has come a long way. He knows the improvements have been a direct result of Reed's hard work during the off-season.
"Justin has made tremendous improvements in his game," the three-time Mississippi Sportscaster of the Year said. "When he first came to Ole Miss, he was an inconsistent shooter and his ball handling was very average. Four years later, Justin is a terrific mid-range jump shooter, a very good ball-handler, a solid rebounder, an above average passer and a guy who can finish on the fast break."
Reed knows that his accomplished-filled career is coming to an end. At this point, his remaining games are numbered. He has a hard time facing that fact, but has no regrets on what he has done over the past four years.
"I'm not the type of guy to answer the question, 'is Justin Reed the best basketball player in school history?' I'm not worried about that at all. I don't necessarily need to go down in the record books for all of my accolades or statistics.
"Twenty years from now, I just hope Ole Miss basketball fans and the people of Oxford remember Justin Reed as a player who worked extremely hard and left it all on the court. When I look in the mirror, I feel like I've been a guy who has given it everything he's had and I think that's all anyone could ask for."
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