Reeder anchors attack for Navy

Senior gives Mids muscle in push for Patriot title

College Basketball

March 03, 2001|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

You won't find him executing fancy dunks or turnaround jump shots. During a four-year career, he has one three-point basket. Until this season, he averaged less than 44 percent efficiency from the foul line. His style is smashy, not flashy.

But make no mistake. On the Navy men's basketball team, Robert Reeder is the clear leader.

"Of all the players that I have coached at the Naval Academy, Robert Reeder does more and gets less recognition than any other," coach Don DeVoe said. "He's a leader on and off the court."

When tournament host Navy launches its quest for the Patriot League championship at 11 a.m. today against archrival Army, the captain of the Midshipmen is certain to be in the thick of the fray, battling for all his might despite tendinitis in his right Achilles', the remnants of a gash in his chin that required eight stitches and some minor pain from the leftovers of a sprained ankle.

"It's funny, but in high school [Polytechnic in Pasadena, Calif.], I was more of a scorer," Reeder said. "My brother Scott was 6-5 and 280 pounds, and he was the bruiser on the team. Now, he makes fun of me because that's what I'm doing."

Subtly, Reeder has improved his game this season, although the offensive numbers don't reveal it. His free-throw percentage has climbed from a career .438 entering the year to nearly 60 percent, and he has three times exceeded his career scoring high, capped by a 19-point outburst against Lehigh in the regular-season finale.

And the majority of his points evolve from sheer hard work. Reeder exemplifies the brand of basketball the Midshipmen have to play: hard-nosed defense, determination on the backboards and all-out hustle at all times.

What drives the senior? Simply the opportunity to return to the NCAA tournament field that Navy has missed since Reeder was a freshman gathering downtime on the bench.

"I played a little at the end of the game when I was a plebe," he said. "I got to go against [Brendan] Haywood [of North Carolina]. But no one saw it. TV had already switched to another game. This is our last opportunity to get back. That's been the goal since we got there."

Particularly disappointing was last year's Patriot League title-game defeat at Lafayette that bounced the Midshipmen out of postseason play. Despite 23 victories, that team did not receive a National Invitation Tournament bid, something out of the question this March with Navy's record at 17-11.

"The tough thing was that it was our one chance to show people all over the country what Navy basketball is all about, because the game was nationally televised by ESPN. For a lot of people, their one impression of our team was what they saw that night, and that is unfortunate because we're so much better than the way we played," Reeder said.

The Midshipmen will not lack for incentive in the first round. Just the sight of an Army opponent is motivation enough, and a scare at West Point on Jan. 24 - when Navy fell behind by 19 points at the start - should keep the team focused.

"We didn't come out ready at Army and they took advantage of it," Reeder said. "We did fight our way back [to win], but we can't do that again. Being on our home court will help."

If merely playing Army wasn't enough, the Black Knights raised some eyebrows by beating top-seeded Holy Cross in the regular-season finale.

"That's something we haven't done," Reeder said. "Some guys were like, `Wow,' when they heard that score."

A 3.27 grade-point average student in economics, Reeder hopes to become a supply officer after he leaves the academy. He said he will gather the six seniors and "try to get everyone on the same page" for the tournament. "I'll just remind them that this is it. There is no NIT."

But, as usual, most of what he supplies will be on the court. There, he's always well-equipped with tenacity and grit.

NOTE: DeVoe is a little concerned about the early starting time. In years past, Navy has played three games as a No. 2 seed and twice lost in the opening round to the bottom seed. That includes the last time it lost to Army (1996 tournament) and an atrocious 53-45 defeat to Lehigh two years ago.

"The tournament is a one-game season if you're not prepared," he said. "Hopefully, this time we'll have an early wake-up call."

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