SOUTH ORANGE — When former walk-on Shavar Reynolds Jr. was upgraded from walk-on to scholarship player during the off-season by Kevin Willard, most Seton Hall fans probably thought it was a product of extra roster space and Reynolds’ financial situation.
If his performance tonight in Seton Hall’s 89-49 win over Wagner was any indication, this isn’t just a feel-good story.
Far from it.
Myles Powell‘s efficient 30 points stole the spotlight, but Reynolds (7 pts, 4 rebs, 3 asts, 3 stls, +12) filled up the stat sheet in less than 16 minutes of action and dove on the court quite a few more times than Powell.
“Shavar is not a charity case. He earned his scholarship,” declared Kevin Willard.
“Throughout the whole preseason, the reason why Myles Powell is so good right now is because he has to go up against Shavar every day in practice. Those two battle each other.”
While tonight was a public coming out party of sorts for Reynolds Jr., his coach and teammates have been used to the hard-nosed defense, confidence, and other intangibles he brings to the table.
Just ask Myles Powell.
“He guards me every day in practice. He’s a big part of my success too.
“He gets after it. We know how he gets after it on defense. Coach would have never moved him from a walk-on to scholarship if Coach didn’t believe in him,” said Powell after matching a career-high 30 points.
“We know he’s got it in him, it’s just bringing it out of him and I think y’all started to see a little bit of it tonight.”
While he doesn’t have to deal with his Derrick Gordon-like presence quite as much on the practice court, forward Mike Nzei (11 pts, 7 rebs) knows what Reynolds Jr. can do too.
“Shavar is one of the hardest working players I know on the team — that I’ve ever played with,” said Nzei, who knows a little about hard work on and off the court.
“He doesn’t give up, he doesn’t — I feel like even if he messes up he always wants to correct it. I wasn’t surprised at how he was playing today. I think he can do more.”
That question of what Reynolds Jr. can bring to this young, balanced team should be on everyone’s mind going forward, and we got a glimpse of it tonight after he was the fourth guy off the bench early in the first half, long before the game was out of hand.
For starters: a calming presence on the ball, relentless defense (including a few dives on the court), and even a made three once in a while that featured a Jordan-esque tongue while setting up on defense.
“Shavar is an amazing defender. Every time we need a good defensive play, Coach calls (on) Shavar,” said Sandro Mamukelashvili after posting seven points, five boards and a team-high +32.
“He knows how to sacrifice his body, he knows how to take charges, he always dives for the ball. He’s really, really hard working and hard player on the court.
“He will just go out there and play his best. He’s an amazing player, an amazing teammate, he always knows how to find you, he always knows what the best play to do (is), and how to defend guys because he scouts a lot. He’ll be big for us this year, really big.”
“We need Shavar. We see Shavar like a defensive presence,” added Nzei, whose eyes lit up when talking about his teammate.
“When Shavar comes in, every time he acts, he makes sure everybody is in tune to put pressure on the other team, he helps us a lot on the defensive end and he can score too, that’s an added advantage.”
It’s important to temper expectations after just one night, but it’s also fair to add this wasn’t a walk-on coming into a lopsided game and padding his stats for a tongue-in-cheek crowd; a neutral viewer would have had no idea Reynolds Jr. was a walk-on.
So far, Kevin Willard has glanced down at the end of last season’s bench and found himself a true glue guy who is going to fill many cracks on a balanced team this year.
And by the looks of it, Shavar is just getting started.
“Shavar is going to be a guy who is on the court because I have a lot of confidence in how he can defend,” continued a sincere Willard.
“And again, he’s a guy who when he gets comfortable playing, he can shoot it, he can make plays — he’s a tough son of a gun.
“Shavar is out there because he’s earned it.”