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Thank you, Reece Beekman

Virginia’s dynamic guard is departing Charlottesville after four tremendous years with the program

<p>Reece Beekman and Coach Tony Bennett embrace on Senior Day, Beekman’s final game at John Paul Jones Arena.</p>

Reece Beekman and Coach Tony Bennett embrace on Senior Day, Beekman’s final game at John Paul Jones Arena.

There are certain college athletes that, upon graduating or departing from their school, require a level of appreciation so large that the school’s fans will feel guilty no matter how many plaudits they provide. As Reece Beekman readies himself for graduation from the University and an entrance into professional basketball, Virginia men’s basketball fans are in that situation. While Beekman may never get the thank you he deserves, it is worth trying to encapsulate all that the program has to be thankful for during his time with the Cavaliers.

The 6-foot-3 guard out of Milwaukee arrived on Grounds in August 2020 as a heralded four-star recruit, picking Coach Tony Bennett and Virginia over Alabama, Houston and other top schools. Though he was respected as a prospect, what he achieved across the next four years exceeded every expectation. 

Beekman appeared in all 25 of Virginia’s games during his freshman year, starting 20 of them — a rarity for a first-year player in Bennett’s system. His extraordinary defensive talent was on display immediately as he snared eight steals in his first five career games, proving to be an invaluable piece that Bennett could not keep on the sidelines any longer.

The stellar play continued after his insertion into the starting five, culminating when the Cavaliers took on Syracuse in the ACC Tournament Quarterfinal. Beekman missed his first five shots in the game, but with the score tied at 69 and Virginia holding for the last shot in the final seconds, his story changed in an instant. Then-junior guard Kihei Clark drove into the Orange’s zone defense and found Beekman all alone on the right wing, and his ensuing three-pointer — just the ninth of his career — hit all net with the clock at zero.

Beekman did not yet know that a positive COVID-19 test within the team would prematurely end Virginia’s tournament run the next day, but as he sprinted around the court being chased by a sea of white jerseys, the moment meant more than just three points and a win. The freshman had announced himself to the college basketball world.

Less than 11 months later — in the midst of his breakout sophomore campaign that garnered ACC All-Defensive Team honors and a selection as an All-ACC Honorable Mention — Beekman did it again. The unranked Cavaliers were trailing No. 7 Duke by two points with seven seconds remaining at Cameron Indoor Stadium, having won only one game in their previous 20 road trips to Durham, N.C.

It felt inevitable that the perennially dominant Blue Devils would escape with a win. But as Beekman stood under Virginia’s basket, inbounded the ball to Clark, made a cut to the left wing and received the ball back with space to shoot, shades of Syracuse returned. In front of Duke’s “Cameron Crazies,” the sophomore drained a dagger of a three-pointer with 1.1 seconds remaining. When the Blue Devils’ last gasp failed, the Cavalier bench flooded onto the court. It was a sea of navy blue jerseys this time, but the player being celebrated was the same — a jubilant, man-of-the-moment Beekman. 

His legend only grew during junior and senior seasons that featured a pair of ACC Defensive Player of the Year awards — Beekman was the first player to earn the honor in back-to-back seasons since 2012 — as well as two selections each on All-ACC teams and ACC-All Tournament teams. There were no more game-winning, buzzer-beating shots after the one at Duke, but Beekman’s consistency on both ends of the floor constantly propelled Virginia to victories in less newsworthy ways.

Often tasked with defending the opposing team’s best guard and leading the Cavaliers’ offensive charge, Beekman expended an incredible level of energy in every game he played for Virginia. Some of his notable defensive masterclasses included a pair of five-steal games in wins against North Carolina as a junior, four steals and two blocks in a victory over Clemson the same year and most recently, a stalwart display in holding the Tar Heels’ senior guard RJ Davis — the 2024 ACC Player of the Year — to one-for-14 shooting in February. 

Beekman’s defensive efforts were impressive enough to warrant a special honor during home games — whenever he recorded a steal or a block in John Paul Jones Arena, the student section collectively clapped their hands together in an up-and-down motion to emulate a beak. It fit Beekman and Virginia’s brand of basketball perfectly, displaying a unique love for a generally less appreciated side of the game.

Beekman finished his Cavalier career as the program’s all-time steals leader, and if he was not so gifted defensively, his offensive capabilities would have gotten more shine. He was the steadiest guard presence in the ACC during his career, leading the conference in assists twice and assist-to-turnover ratio three times. He also found a new knack for scoring the basketball as a senior, leading the team in scoring at 14.3 points per game and posting five 20-point performances that all resulted in wins for Virginia. 

During a darker period for the program relative to previous successes — the Cavaliers did not win an NCAA Tournament game in his career — Beekman carried Virginia wherever they went. A top-four ACC finish and an NCAA Tournament berth in 2024 would have seemed impossible had he chosen to leave for the NBA last offseason, but with Beekman’s services, it was hardly a surprise. 

Most notably, in an era of college basketball where players are more inclined to transfer than ever, Beekman stayed and poured four years of unrelenting effort into Cavalier basketball. Thus, it is perhaps oddly fitting that he never lifted an ACC or NCAA Championship trophy for Virginia — Beekman’s contributions to the program meant so much more than a piece of hardware ever could. His impending absence will leave a gaping hole during the starting lineup introductions at JPJ next season, but for now, a moment of appreciation is in order — thank you, Reece Beekman.


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