DETROIT (AP)—Scottie Reynolds might not be here today if a woman he has never met had made a different decision years ago.
Villanova’s star guard reflected Thursday—a day before the 12th-seeded Wildcats played top-seeded Kansas in the Midwest Regional semifinals—on the pivotal choice his birth mother made 20 1/2 years ago in Alabama.
The woman, who Reynolds knows only by name, later gave him up. Rick and Pam Reynolds adopted Reynolds, raising him in Virginia and Illinois.
“Yeah, sometimes I sit back and think about where I am right now,” Reynolds said quietly in an interview with The Associated Press. “Without that decision and without the parents I have right now, I wouldn’t be in this position and I might not even be alive right now.”
Reynolds has made the most of his opportunity in life, just as he and his Villanova teammates have taken advantage of slipping into the NCAA tournament as one of the final teams to get a bid from the selection committee.
The Wildcats’ unexpected presence in the second week of the tournament is expected to end late Friday night at Ford Field against the Jayhawks, who are double-digit favorites.
“We’ve been in that position before,” Villanova’s Dwayne Anderson said. “Everyone expected us to lose against Clemson. That’s something we have, an underdog mentality.
“We’re going to approach this game the same way.”
The Jayhawks’ average margin of victory this season is a nation-high 20 points, including routs in the first two rounds, but they don’t sound or look cocky about their chances of advancing.
“At this point, you know, every game’s gonna be tough. It’s going to be tougher than what it looks like,” Kansas’ Russell Robinson said. “We just try to stay humble and grounded because nothing is guaranteed.”
In the NCAA tournament, Jayhawks coach Bill Self knows that well.
Self—widely regarded as the best coach without a Final Four appearance— is a win away from advancing to the regional final for the fifth time since 2000.
He almost shed the unwanted title last year with Kansas and in 2004, his first season leading the storied program, after advancing to regional finals in back-to-back years at Illinois and Tulsa.
“The thing that stands out first and foremost is how hard they play and how hard they compete,” Self said. “They steal extra possessions for their team.
“They’re not good defensively. I think they’re great defensively.”
That has to be the case if Villanova has any shot at pulling off an upset and it won’t be easy because the Jayhawks can beat teams so many ways.
Kansas is scoring 81-plus points a game with five double-digit scorers, led by Brandon Rush’s modest 13-point average and reserve Sherron Collins’ 10. Two more Jayhawks chip in with an average of 7 1/2 points.
“Guys that come off the bench could be starters on teams in this Sweet 16,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “You got to be able to score against these guys because if you’re not, they are.
“That’s probably what separates them from other outstanding teams that can just score. They can really shut you down on the defensive end.”
Villanova’s challenges on defense grew when center Casiem Drummond—its only player taller than 6-foot-8—broke his right ankle in the second-round win over Siena.
At both ends of the court, the Wildcats will rely heavily on Reynolds.
He is averaging 16 points, 5 1/2 more than the second-leading scorer on the team, and has helped Villanova improve defensively since a five-game losing streak dropped it to 13-8.
“Some guys, their role is to maybe cut back on a few things they do. But Scottie’s role on our team, we needed him to do everything he could possibly do,” Wright said. “When he understood that it was unselfish for him to go and be aggressive and take more shots, then he would do it.
“He’s such a good kid. He was brought up by two beautiful parents.”
When Villanova’s run is over and the semester ends, Reynolds plans to seek out his birth mother in the hopes of meeting her for the first time.
“Last year, I got the contact information, but things didn’t end up the way I wanted it to and I didn’t get a chance to go through the whole situation,” he said. “This summer, I’m going to try to make contact and have a face-to-face meeting.”