BRADENTON -- Reggie Smalls rarely encounters a problem on the basketball court that he can't solve. Using his quickness and athleticism, he always seems to find an answer.
Things changed in October for the former Herald All-Area Player of The Year from Southeast. He lost his cousin unexpectedly to an aneurysm, and his grandmother passed away less than a month later.
"I don't deal with death very well, and this was the first time I lost somebody really close to me, especially my grandmother (Alzie Lee Smalls), who was my father's mother," he said.
It affected Smalls on the court. He was the most experienced player for St. Petersburg College and was counted on to run the offense.
But the 6-foot guard couldn't concentrate and started the season in a slump he couldn't shake. SPC head coach Earnest Crumbley knew something was wrong, but Smalls didn't want to use an excuse and kept things to himself.
"It got to the point where he confronted me and we talked. Later my brothers got involved and told me I had to use this as some kind of motivation," Smalls said. "I changed. I realized life is short and you can't take anything for granted. It began to fuel me on the court."
Smalls made a complete turnaround. He led SPC to the state junior college tournament, where the Titans finished runner-up to Chipola. He was named to
the All-State Tournament first team, all-state and first team all-conference.
The 21-year-old fulfilled a dream recently when he signed to play for Virginia Union University in Richmond, a Division II powerhouse that has won three national titles (most recently 2005) and sent nearly two dozen players to the NBA, including four-time defensive player of the year Ben Wallace and Charles Oakley, who also was known for his defense and rebounding.
"They have a new coach (Tony Sheals) who recruited me out of a high school when he was at a different school," Smalls said. "He came at me aggressively and told me he wanted me to come and run the show."
The Panthers finished a disappointing 6-20 this past season. Sheals said he was looking for a winner who could lead. Smalls said he was offered by Division I Jacksonville State, but liked what sees at Virginia Union under Sheals.
"We are trying to rebuild a program that has a rich tradition, and Reggie comes from winning programs at Southeast and St. Pete College," Sheals said. "He has tremendous leadership skills and had the opportunity to play for two coaches that exemplify what we would like to do in our program."
Smalls played for Elliott Washington at Southeast and led the Seminoles in every offensive category before graduating in 2011.
"Right now I am trying to improve my shooting from mid-range and beyond the arc. Coach Sheals wants me to shoot and sees me as a combo guard, so I want to be able to do anything that he asks," Smalls said.
SCF class complete
Washington has completed his signing class at State College of Florida with the recent addition of two in-state players he expects to be key contributors.
The Manatees signed 6-3 guard Danny Duarte from Miami Pace. He averaged 21 points and five rebounds and nailed 60 3-pointers while compiling a 3.3 grade-point average and scoring a 1500 on the SAT.
SCF also signed 6-6 forward Jerry Oliver from Lake Worth. He averaged 17.5 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks per game.
Young headed to Pratt
Herald 2013-14 All-Area Boys Basketball Player of the Year Jordan Young has signed with Pratt Community College (Kansas), which plays in the Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference.
The swingman averaged 14.3 points and 9.3 rebounds per game last season in helping Palmetto reach the region final. He will join a Pratt program that qualified for the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) postseason and finished 22-13 last season.
"I signed with Pratt because the coach said I could really help the team and that he wanted to use me as a go-to guy. He said going there would open up some doors for me," Young said. "I didn't get much of a chance to be seen my junior year, and I've grown about an inch since the end of this past season. I am now about 6-6."