Maryland men’s basketball star Julian Reese building ‘own path’ amid breakout season

COLLEGE PARK — Julian Reese is out to make his own mark on the world.

The star Maryland forward and Baltimore native followed his older sister, Angel, to two different schools. First in high school, when he transferred to St. Frances Academy, and then again when he committed to Maryland. When she transferred to LSU, where she went on to win a national championship, the Terps men’s program was in the middle of a head coaching transition. He could’ve left too, but decided to stick it out at his home state school.

“I’m a loyal guy,” Reese said at practice Wednesday. “For me, I feel like I’m doing it for myself and, as far as [her] leaving, I’m staying here and I’m just doing it for myself. I’m building my own path and staying home and getting it done here.”

That loyalty has paid off in a big way for Reese, who’s taken his game to new heights this season. He’s on pace for career highs in points (13.1 per game), rebounds (9.7) and blocks (2.2) with his rebounding mark good for second in the Big Ten behind only Purdue’s Zach Edey.

The Terps (13-9, 5-6 Big Ten) have leaned heavily on the 6-foot-9, 230-pound big man to be a force in the paint and he’s delivered, especially in conference play. Though he’s coming off his worst performance of the season, recording only two points and two rebounds in 14 minutes as he dealt with early foul trouble in Saturday’s loss to Michigan State, he recently put together a dominant seven-game stretch in which he averaged 14.3 points and 11.3 rebounds.

“I think Julian is probably the best big man in the country for what we ask him to do and what he has to go against day in, day out,” coach Kevin Willard said. “He’s one of the only big guys that gets doubled consistently … I watch every other game in this conference and not too many other big guys are getting doubled the way he is. He’s handled that really well.”

Reese does most of his damage around the rim, but he’s worked each of the past two offseasons with Baltimore-based trainer Josh Cornish, older brother of Reese’s former Maryland and AAU teammate Ike Cornish, to expand his game. They worked together nearly every day of the 2022 offseason and have been building off that foundation since.

“When I first got Ju he was a sophomore and he wasn’t always a dominant player in the post and that was the biggest thing he had to get to was learning how to get some footwork and different moves he can use consistently in the post just to get to his shot,” Cornish said. “He always had a good hook, a good left-hand hook. That was my main goal was to try and get his right-hand hook just as good as his left and get his footwork quick enough to get to his spots.”

Just as crucial to the development of his game has been his maturity and experience. Reese’s minutes have taken a significant leap because of both his improved ability to stay out of foul trouble and Willard’s trust in him not to let mistakes pile up.

“I feel like I’ve grown and I’ve been able to play aggressive while still staying out of foul trouble and knowing what plays to let go,” Reese said. “Just doing that and watching film and continuing to grow defensively and mentally on that side.”

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Though he comes from a decorated basketball family — his mom and aunt set records for the women’s programs at UMBC and Coppin State, respectively — Reese didn’t start taking the game seriously as a potential career path until he received his first offer as a freshman at New Town High School.

He then transferred to St. Frances ahead of his junior year, leading the Panthers to back-to-back Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference championship game appearances and a title. Reese fielded scholarship offers from LSU, Virginia Tech and UConn, where his cousin Jordan Hawkins was headed, among others. However, he chose to stay close to home and attend Maryland, overlapping with Angel for one year before breaking off on his own for good.

“Ju was a great kid and still is a great kid,” St. Frances boys basketball coach Nick Myles said. “A hard worker and he always wanted to carve out his own niche. With his sister being dynamic, she was dynamic in high school also. He just wanted to carve out his own niche and come to his own greatness so I’m glad he’s having the success he’s having.”

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