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Reece Beekman has NBA talent — the question is how he will get to the next level

Coaches have called the Milwaukee native a silent assassin, but in the 2022-23 season Beekman may have to be a little louder

<p>Sophomore guard Reece Beekman had an excellent season, leading the country in assist-to-turnover ratio.</p>

Sophomore guard Reece Beekman had an excellent season, leading the country in assist-to-turnover ratio.

Low-key and generally not prone to confrontation, Virginia men’s basketball sophomore guard Reece Beekman will not stand for any slander on the series finale of his favorite show, Game of Thrones. 

“See …. everybody hates it,” Beekman said with an uncharacteristic burst of enthusiasm. “I honestly didn’t think it was that bad … I thought it was solid.”

While the first 72 episodes of Game of Thrones had most audience members clutching their remotes in disbelief, fans complained that the series finale was too simple and a tad predictable. The fact that Beekman is unbothered by an unanimated ending should not be surprising — when the Milwaukee native committed to the University in June of 2019 he signed up to play for a coach that prioritized defense and a fanbase that cheered the loudest for shot clock violations. In recent years, National Basketball Association scouts have knocked several top men’s basketball players for the conservative playing style they adopted under Bennett’s system. 

A site specializing in the NBA draft, puts together annual profiles of top college basketball prospects. Although they have consistently praised Cavalier products for their consistency and defensive IQ, experts on this site have not minced words on their criticisms of the limited, and somewhat mechanical, role that players — such as former Wahoos De’Andre Hunter and Trey Murphy — took under Coach Tony Bennett’s offense. 

Of course, Beekman’s game does not closely resemble that of Hunter nor Murphy — two forwards who have carved out significant roles on NBA teams. A 6-foot-3 point guard, the sophomore has demonstrated a flow to his game uncommon to Bennett’s recruits. Even so, Beekman hears the same noise as Hunter and Murphy. On one hand, the Virginia coaching staff wants Beekman to continue starring in his role within the parameters of Bennett’s system, while some individuals close to Beekman wish the sophomore guard would come out of his comfort zone and show the world just how much talent he possesses.  

Kyle Getter, assistant coach and former director of Virginia men’s basketball recruiting and player development, played a part in recruiting Beekman to Virginia and has worked closely with the Milwaukee native since he came to Grounds in the summer of 2020. 

“I think Reece is a very unique player and he affects the game in so many ways and a lot of the time it’s without scoring the ball,” Getter said. “It's really a unique talent where he can have that big of an impact without necessarily having the floor.”

While everyone remembers Beekman’s game-winner versus Duke at Cameron Indoor, the sophomore guard largely impacted the game in ways other than scoring in the 2021-22 season. As the Division I leader in assist-to-turnover ratio — a highly informative statistic on a player’s ability to make quick and decisive decisions — Beekman acted primarily as a facilitator on the offensive end and excelled as a ball-hawking and anticipatory pest on the defensive end, where he led the ACC in steals per game. He was also the first player in a Power Five conference since UCLA guard Lonzo Ball to average at least 175 assists, 50 steals and 25 blocks. 

A legend in the world of Louisiana basketball, Carlos Sample coached Beekman during his four years at Scotlandville High School in Baton Rouge, La. Watching the Cavaliers this past season, Sample is not surprised by his former player’s impressive statline. At the same time, Sample knows Beekman has not scratched the surface of his offensive potential under Bennett’s system. In Sample’s eyes, Beekman possesses the it-factor — or the set of intangibles that make up a Michael Jordan-esque desire to win at all costs — Bennett simply needs to let go of the reins. 

“He’s a very selfless person, and I wanted to light a fire in him [in high school] to let him know that it's okay to take over,” Sample said. “I still see it in him but I don’t see the Reece just-takeover kid. [It’s] great to be selfless with all that talent, but now we want him to think about himself, because thinking about himself, percentage wise, gives [Virginia] a better chance of winning.” 

Although Getter and the rest of Bennett’s coaching staff might disagree with Sample’s observation, both coaches understand what makes Beekman a special player. In fact, Getter and Sample each offered the same moniker to describe the sophomore guard’s game — a “silent assassin.”

Born in Milwaukee, Wis., Beekman has always operated with a degree of silent perceptiveness. Flashing back to 2015, Sample remembers when he first met Beekman and his family after Beekman, along with his older brother Bryce and his mother Julie, had recently made the 1,000-mile trek from the temperate midwestern plains to the muggy Louisiana basin.

“He was a little lanky, maybe six foot or five-eleven … quiet, very humble,” Sample said in a southern accent that embellished his old school persona. 

In Baton Rouge, where Beekman’s family settled, Reece entered the eighth grade in an unfamiliar environment, without the support of the family and friends that never left Milwaukee. Looking back on the move over five years later, the Cavalier guard appreciates the speed bumps he ran into at an early age. 

“I felt that was a big part of my life,” Beekman said. “It was a good experience for me just moving to a different environment and trying to adapt. It helped me [to] get ready for college life.” 

In many ways, his experiences so far as a freshman and sophomore at Virginia have eerily resembled his years as an underclassmen at Scotlandville. Perhaps his strong impressions on Sample and Bennett, both as a person and as a basketball player, contributed to his rapid ascent to the starting lineup on each team. 

“I was in awe [when I first saw Reece take the court],” Sample said. “He had an old school game. He did it all. Like someone that you would watch back in the early 80s.” 

While younger than Bennett, Getter — a former assistant coach for over five Division I universities — has had plenty of basketball experience. His words on Beekman reveal how much Bennett and his coaching staff valued the sophomore guard’s extraordinary skill set during the recruiting process. 

“As a program, we [first] identified Reece at the Peach Jam in the 16-and-under game,” Getter said. “We saw him a bunch … he has some of the quickest hands that I’ve seen in my 20-year coaching career.”

To the extent Beekman, as a basketball player, impressed his high school and collegiate coaches, his personality equally blew them away. Sample, for one, recalls a specific conversation with his former player when the Scotlandville coach realized a 14-year-old Reece Beekman possessed “it.” 

“I asked [Reece] if he could play ball and he said ‘yes sir’ … it’s something that all kids at that age would say but when I looked at him, I saw this expression on his face,” Sample said. “I told his mom that Bryce was going to go on a [college] football scholarship, but Reece was going to get a [college] basketball scholarship.”

In the end, Sample was spot on. While Bryce left for Arizona Western the next year to play defensive back — later transferring to Washington State — Reece took the court for Scotlandville as a freshman. As the Milwaukee native acclimated to the ebbs and flows of high school during the day, at night, Reece, a quiet and spindly teenager, flourished as he battled alongside future LSU standout and NBA guard, Javonte Smart. 

Just as those minutes alongside Smart as a freshman proved fundamental for Reece’s growth heading into his 10th grade year at Scotlandville, his experience playing in critical moments down the stretch as a freshman at Virginia set the stage for him to have a productive sophomore year in Bennett’s system. 

“You know honestly, my first year I didn’t see myself playing that much just because I was a first-year and the team kind of had a good core,” Beekman said. “[The playing time I received my freshman year] was just a good opportunity and helped me a lot for my second-year to see what I had to work on.” 

During Beekman’s sophomore season with the Cavaliers, the Milwaukee native improved his points and assists per game from the previous year despite continuing to play alongside a ball-demanding guard in senior Kihei Clark. The same could be said about his marked improvement from his ninth grade to 10th grade season at Scotlandville where he played with Javonte Smart both years. Nevertheless, with the news that Clark is returning for a fifth season at Virginia, the comparisons between his time in high school and college may cease to be relevant.

After Smart graduated in 2018, Beekman starred for Scotlandville as the lead ball-handler during his 11th grade season, propelling Scotlandville to another state championship and himself to a Division I scholarship to Virginia. Now, approaching his junior season with the Cavaliers, Beekman wants to experience a deep March Madness run and put his name on the radar of NBA scouts. Unlike his third season with Scotlandville, however, in the 2022-23 season with the Cavaliers, the Milwaukee native will continue to share the backcourt with another high-usage guard in Clark and, thus, Beekman’s prospect as the primary ball-handler appears bleak. 

Still, Beekman remains calm about his future at Virginia and beyond. 

“Yeah I definitely feel like [the NBA] is an option and kind of a goal that I set for myself,” Beekman said. “If it happens, it happens and if it don’t, it don’t. I kind of have the opportunity to get there and I want to make the most of it to get there. And so I just know I have to work for that and in the next two years I want to be in that situation.” 

While the Cavaliers’ head coach has never had a point guard with the intangibles that Beekman possesses, Bennett has proven that he can elevate recruits to the NBA level if they demonstrate patience with the program. Entering his junior season, Beekman is willing to once again excel as a silent assassin alongside Clark, but Bennett must decide if it is time to encourage the Milwaukee naitve to be a little louder — the Cavaliers’ season and Beekman’s NBA future might depend on it. 


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