DETROIT – Villanova's Scottie Reynolds skyrocketed into college basketball's consciousness as a freshman last season, his skills as a shooter earning him acclaim around the country.
He averaged 14.4 points and four assists, grabbing Big East Rookie of the Year honors and, one would think, much respect within a program noted for its great guard play.
But for all of the early accolades, Wildcats coach Jay Wright wanted much more from Reynolds as a sophomore. Wright made Reynolds a co-captain and told him he had a lot to prove to "earn his stripes as a Villanova guard."
The reserved Reynolds has responded, expanding his game and serving as the driving force behind the Wildcats' unexpected run to the NCAA Sweet 16.
"Last year he was a great scorer and our team had four seniors and three of them started," Wright said. "They really did all the dirty work and allowed him to do what he did best, which is score.
"This year we asked him to score, run the team, be a leader, defend the best guard and really be what we call a Villanova guard. He has developed into one of the best we've had."
Wright will need Reynolds to be at his best if the 12th-seeded Wildcats have any hope of knocking off No. 1 Kansas in the Midwest Region semifinals Friday at Ford Field.
If Reynolds' performance in Villanova's first two tournament games is any indication, Wright can rest easy. Reynolds struck for 21 points in the Wildcats' 75-69 upset of fifth-seeded Clemson in the first round, leading them back from an 18-point deficit. In an 84-72 second-round victory over Siena, he piled up 25 points, eight rebounds and five assists, sending Villanova into the Round of 16 for the third time in the past four seasons.
"In his last game he guarded (Siena's) point and got pressed for 40 minutes with only two turnovers," Wright said. "And he's the guy in the Clemson game who kept saying we're gonna finish this one."
The Wildcats' best hope of finishing the Jayhawks will be to control the tempo. Count on Reynolds (16 points, 3.3 assists, 3.1 rebounds per game) to be at the front of that effort.
"Our last couple of games have prepared us for Kansas," Reynolds said. "They like to pressure you defense-wise on the halfcourt. Clemson full-court pressed us the whole time and I think we did a good job sticking with it. Toward the end of the game, we got a feel for how to break it and get easy buckets."
Wright said in order to get Reynolds – a McDonald's All-American out of Herndon, (Va.) High School – to break out and reach his full potential, he had to play Sigmund Freud and convince the 6-foot-2 rising star to let it all out.
"Sometimes if you're a real talented player and you're not wiling to use all your talents, that's being a little selfish," Wright said. "It's crazy to say, but we kind of had to convince Scottie that his best ability to help this team was to use everything.
"Some guys, their role is to maybe cut back on a few things. But Scottie, we need him to do everything he can possibly do. 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 always taught to be selfless. But actually for him being unselfish was giving everything you had, scoring when you had the opportunity to score and, in doing so, making everyone else better."
Kansas has nothing but respect for Reynolds. Junior guard Russell Robinson likened him to Texas' D.J. Augustin. Sophomore guard Sherron Collins played with Reynolds at the Steve Nash camp last summer and went with him to the Pan-American trials. Brandon Rush summed things up succinctly.
"He's a great player," Rush, KU's standout junior guard, said of Reynolds. "He can shoot the ball or take it to the rack. He gets to the free-throw line whenever he wants to.
"We have to guard him and try to take him out of the game. He is the key to the game for them."
Wright has been impressed with the way Reynolds reacted to his preseason challenge. The way he responds Friday night could be the next step in his maturation.
"As a coach you are like a parent," Wright said. "You love to see your children and your players grow up and become what they're capable of being.
"I think that's what Scottie is now."
A Villanova guard.