Scott, Reynolds running down a dream
Former Virginia stars toil to build professional careers
Few jobs are as prestigious as that of a professional sports player. Fewer jobs require the same level of unceasing physical and mental exertion.
Two former Virginia stars, basketball player Mike Scott and football player LaRoy Reynolds, are putting in the effort and living the life so many wish they could have. Scott will enter his second season with the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks in October, and Reynolds just began his NFL career with the Jacksonville Jaguars. And neither of them would trade their demanding, draining jobs for anything.
“I like it a lot,” Scott said. “It’s the best job in the world, and I love it.”
Scott was the first to make the jump to the pros, leaving Virginia in 2012 after a stellar senior season that saw him named to the All-ACC First Team. He averaged 18.0 points and 8.3 rebounds, and was a significant force behind the Cavaliers’ first NCAA Tournament berth in five years. After the season ended with a defeat in the Round of 64, he went about preparing to enter the draft.
“After the loss to Florida, I took off a week and I started working out with one of my assistant coaches,” Scott said. “I started going to work out for different teams and working out for different leagues. So coming into draft day, I was pretty confident about what my agent was telling me, what teams were telling my agent on draft day [about] where they would take me.”
He had to wait longer than expected. After Scott watched in agony as team after team declined his services, the Hawks finally selected him with the 43rd pick in the 2012 draft.
“I’m a very impatient person, so draft day was like, ‘oh my God’,” Scott said. “It was the worst. I was like, ‘You know what, just tell me when I get drafted. I’m gonna go to sleep.’”
Unlike many second round picks — whose contracts are not guaranteed — Scott carved out a spot on the Hawks’ 12-man roster. He appeared in 40 games, averaging 4.6 points and 2.8 rebounds per game in limited action, and even took the court for four of the Hawks’ playoff games.
“Toward the end of the season, I started getting more playing time,” Scott said. “I finally started to slow down the game, I’m not rushing and playing all frantic and crazy. That’s when I realized I can play in the league.”
Reynolds came out a year later in 2013. He had finished his senior season with 90 tackles and 9.5 tackles for a loss, each second best on the team. Despite his strong numbers, however, he eluded the radar of most professional teams.
After the season, he went down to Pensacola, Fl. to train with other college stars — many of whom were expected to go highly in the draft — in order to boost his stock.
“The mentality was, if you work with guys who are at the top of your class, it pushes you that much harder,” Reynolds said. “Working with these guys who came prepared mentally and physically, it helped me a lot.”
His work there primed him for an amazing showing at the Virginia Pro Day that turned a lot of heads around the country, featuring a blistering 4.5 40-yard dash split and 28 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press. The virtuoso performance piqued the interest of the Jaguars, who snagged him as an undrafted free agent after the draft.
“Going into Pro Day, I was extremely confident,” Reynolds said. “I knew that I was prepared, and this was the moment to really make myself known. I stepped on the field knowing that this was a very important day. I treated it like it was game day and I just went all in.”
For Reynolds, the hard work at Pro Day and a determined training camp ultimately paid off. On Aug. 30, he found out he had made the Jaguars’ final 53-man roster.
“It’s a surreal feeling, that entire process,” Reynolds said. “I worked hard and had the right people around me. I was able to do the right things, and I was in the right place.”
Making the transition from college to the pros is far from easy. Most players who are used to being the main attraction while in school have to adjust to a complementary role on their new team. After being the most talented player on the roster, suddenly they find themselves in a league with scads of others just like them — or even better.
“When I was playing last year, it felt like I was a freshman again,” Scott said. “I wasn’t the number one draft pick, I wasn’t a lottery pick, I wasn’t even a first round pick. Being a second round pick, you’ve just got to fight. You’ve got to fight for your minutes, fight for the opportunity and the opportunity will come.”
An additional challenge, especially for unheralded rookies such as Scott and Reynolds who have to claw their way to a roster spot, is acclimating to the daily rigors of life as a professional athlete.
“I would say [the biggest adjustment] is just the pressure going on the entire time, knowing that when you wake up you’re going to work actually, that this is your job,” Reynolds said. “This is what you have to do, and there’s nothing else you have to worry about. In college you have classes, you have all these other distractions. In the NFL, it’s strictly business.”
Compounding the shellshock of transitioning to professional life is the sheer length of pro seasons compared to their college counterparts. The NFL features four preseason games and includes four more regular season games than the college season, while the NBA season more than doubles the college campaign. Contending with savvier, seasoned veterans, many young players struggle to muster the requisite energy as the season wears on.
“[The hardest moment] was hitting the rookie wall,” Scott said. “I think I hit it around February or March. I was thinking, ‘We’ve only got one or two more months left in the season,’ but I was like ‘this is tough, man.’”
For those that do make it, they have the chance to play with stars they’ve looked up to their whole lives. Just as the exploits of Scott and Reynolds leave non-athletes awestruck, so they are mesmerized by other players such as LeBron James and Adrian Peterson.
“I remember the first day I saw Maurice Jones-Drew in the locker room, and it was a surreal feeling,” Reynolds said. “I saw him and I was just like ‘wow, that’s Maurice Jones-Drew.’”
The work never ends for pro athletes. Proving they belong on the team is a constant, continuous challenge, forcing them to put their best foot forward day after day.
But you will never hear Scott and Reynolds complain. They are too busy dreaming about a successful future — and working tirelessly to make that future a reality.
“I’m feeling super confident,” Reynolds said. “I just need to continue getting better each day. I can’t really think too far ahead, otherwise things will become overwhelming — focus on what I can control and just get better each day.”