Open gym led to meteoric rise of Seton Hall’s Shavar Reynolds Jr.

Shavar Reynolds Jr. sat behind the Seton Hall bench riveted. He loved the way the Pirates played.

He was drawn to their grit, their tenacity, the physical style in which they defended. He didn’t need to wait. He told his coach, Ian Turnbull, his mind was made up. He wanted to go to school there.

“Well, Seton Hall has to recruit you,” Turnbull responded.

Back then, it was a fantasy, a fantasy that somehow has become reality. The 6-foot-2 Reynolds turned an open gym workout into a walk-on spot, and a year later into a Big East scholarship. Now, he’s in coach Kevin Willard’s rotation, the first guard off the bench for a team ranked 16th in the country.

“That’s what I learned the most during this — you can’t be scared to fail,” said Reynolds, a two-time member of the Big East All-Academic team

He didn’t receive any scholarship offers out of Manchester Township High School on the Jersey Shore. He played for Turnbull at Covenant College Prep (N.J.) to try to enhance his options, rather than play at nearby Division III Stockton University, the other option he was considering. At prep school, Reynolds performed well, but the Big East was a long shot. He only had low-major Division I interest and there were no offers. But Reynolds held onto his dream. He never stopped talking about it.

Shavar Reynolds Jr.'s has become a defensive force for Seton Hall.
Shavar Reynolds Jr.’s has become a defensive force for Seton Hall.AP

“The kid just has a dogged determination about him,” said Turnbull, who credited that to his parents. His father, Shavar Sr., is a U.S. Navy Master at Arms who is now back in the states after being stationed overseas. His mother Teekemia is a social worker. They instilled that self-belief in him.

Reynolds was still looking for a school after finishing up at Covenant College Prep, and he kept asking Turnbull about Seton Hall, which was in need of a walk-on. Turnbull had discussed him with the coaching staff as a possible fit for that spot and brought him to an open gym.

During the workout, Reynolds impressed the Seton Hall players. Angel Delgado loved playing with him. Reynolds kept running picks-and-rolls with him and setting up the big man. Afterward, Desi Rodriguez and Khadeen Carrington raved about him to Willard. His toughness, a Seton Hall trait in this recent run of NCAA Tournament berths, stood out.

That first year, Reynolds didn’t play very much. He got in 19 games, mostly in mop-up duty and scored a total of seven points. But it didn’t alter how he worked. He was relentless, bringing the same determination he needed to get on the team. He was one of the Pirates’ hardest workers, always putting in extra hours in the gym. After that season, Willard called him into his office. He was putting him on scholarship. But he wasn’t giving him anything.

“He earned it,” Willard said. “His attitude was phenomenal. Whatever we asked him to do, he took on the challenge, never complained. I loved having him around.”

“I always will have an appreciation for Coach Willard, because he believed in Shavar when nobody else did,” Teekemia said.

Shavar Reynolds Jr. (right) celebrates with Sandro Mamukelashvili after Mamukelashvili buzzer-beater gave Seton Hall a win over Butler.
Shavar Reynolds Jr. (right) celebrates with Sandro Mamukelashvili after Mamukelashvili’s buzzer-beater gave Seton Hall a win over Butler.AP

His first big moment came last year in the Big East opener after a few quality performances during the non-conference season. Seton Hall trailed local rival St. John’s big early and rallied to within a point in the final minute. Reynolds was inserted in on the game’s final possession, Sandro Mamukelashvili drove and found him on the right wing. He sank the contested game-winning 3-pointer and was immediately swarmed by teammates. The crowd, which included 11 family members, went wild.

“When that ball went in, we cried and jumped and screamed. It was amazing,” Teekemia said. “We were so proud.”

But Reynolds didn’t stop there. He kept progressing, kept putting in extra time. He would spend late nights when he was home working on his game at the Lakehurst Naval Air Station, where he had a key card thanks to his father. This year, he has emerged as a vital reserve — averaging 4.0 points, 1.9 rebounds and 1.0 assists in 15.6 minutes per game. Reynolds frequently is on the floor closing games, a credit to his defense that has alleviated pressure on starting point guard Quincy McKnight.

Even now, as he’s carved out a role for himself on the Big East’s first-place team, as he’s become one of the players Willard trusts the most, Reynolds doesn’t think he’s accomplished anything. He he can’t forget what got him to this point.

“It fuels me to this day, even with everything that’s happened,” Reynolds said. “I still feel like I’m that walk-on that’s being doubted. Every time I work out, I think of that. It keeps me hungry“It reminds me where I could be if I stop working.”

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