Humility, Character and Grace

When I began covering KU basketball in 1998 and realized my professional dream as a writer, a college sports information director gave some information which he thought would benefit and prepare me for my journey ahead.

They're spoiled," he simply said, referring to collegiate athletes.

After I thought about what he said, I couldn't have agreed more. Many of these athletes, especially the stars, have been coddled since they were very young and and told how great they are. As they get older and the stakes get higher, they are put on an even higher pedestal. They get recruited to play on high school and AAU teams, they are exposed to drugs and women, and recruiters beckon at their doorstep and sing their praises in hopes they pick their school, which of course, is the "best" school and they are the "best" player.

By the time they first step foot on campus, many big-time athletes — not all mind you — but many have a sense of entitlement as they use college as a stepping stone to play for pay in the NBA or NFL.

Heck, I know I'd probably get a big head and be spoiled if I was a highly recruited college athlete who grew up in that Me-First environment. How can you help it?

But certainly, not all college athletes are spoiled; there are the exceptions. I've certainly been privileged to interview plenty of humble and classy KU basketball and football players over the years who were unfazed by their celebrity status.

On this current KU men's basketball team, just look no further than senior guard Tyrel Reed as the epitome of humility, character and grace. Reed is an extremely modest and grounded young man who graduated in 3.5 years (last December) and was just named to the Capital One Academic All-America Men's Basketball First Team on Feb. 22.

There is simply nobody more deserving to receive this prestigious academic honor than the former Burlington (Kan.) High School star who all he ever wanted was to play at KU and get a first-rate education.

This is a player who grew up as the son of teachers and learned early about the importance of academics. Reed, who majored in pre-physical therapy and exercise science (3.65 GPA), has already been accepted to the University of Kansas Medical School's physical therapy program. A three-time Academic All-Big 12 First-Team selection, Reed is also one of 10 finalists for the Lowe's Senior CLASS Award, which is given annually to the Division I men's basketball player who has notable achievements in four areas of excellence — community, classroom, character and competition.

Reed was thrilled to be selected as a first-team Academic All-American.

"This is an amazing award and I'm just so excited about receiving it," Reed said. "I wasn't the one that was really in charge of it. I have to give all the credit to my academic advisors and my teammates for being on a good team and for them always supporting me."

Reed has always deflected praise since arriving at Kansas in 2007. He has always seemed uncomfortable in the spotlight even as he's felt at home on the court, hitting big shot after big shot throughout his career.

But that's what has made his his genuine humbleness and modesty even more endearing. He is not putting on an act with his selflessness. This is truly who he is and what he's all about.

With just two regular-season games left in his senior swan song and his final home game against Texas A&M on Wednesday, Reed is enjoying the best year of his career, despite battling a nagging foot injury. He's the only KU player to start all 29 games and ranks fourth on the team with a 9.8 scoring average. He leads the team in three-pointers made with 56 and will finish his career ranked in the top 10 at Kansas for three-point field goals made, three-point field goals attempted and three-point field goal percentage.

Reed, who is KU's top free-throw shooter at 82.6 percent, is also seven wins shy of becoming the winningest player in school history.

Reed is playing good defense, driving the ball more to the basket, and becoming a complete player. That's won over his fans, teammates and coaches as the Burlington native has helped lead KU to an impressive 27-2 record while acting as a stabilizer and calming influence in the backcourt.
   
"I think Tyrel has really kind of emerged as the face of our program, which I think is very, very positive," KU coach Bill Self said on his Hawk Talk radio show back in early January. "Of course, what a great role model, and he hasn't done it by seeking attention, but I think there is a genuine respect by everyone of how hard he tries and what he's done. Tyrel is really playing well. ... He's (a) much better player than what he was before because he's become more and more rounded each and every year."

"He's been the rock of everything we do," Self added most recently.

For Reed, he's just doing his job.

"I just try to be consistent and solid," he said. "I've been here for four years and I've known what to expect. I've played with some great players and I'm playing with some great players this year again. I want to be someone they can rely on and hopefully keep playing hard."

While he has shined on the court, I'll always remember Reed more for the person he was off the hardwood. How he always looked me in the eye during interviews since the first time I met him at Self's Elite Camp in 2007, how he always had great praise for his teammates, how he always spoke so highly of Kansas University and its tradition, and what a true honor it's always been for him to wear the Jayhawk uniform.

Reed is the poster boy of the true student-athlete. He is a role model in the community, a champion in the classroom, a player who competes as hard as anyone in practice and games, and a true winner on and off the court.

He is simply the young man you'd want your son to be. He is class personified and a deeply religious person. He prays before and after every game. He treats others how he'd like to be treated. He even waves to passing cars on the street.

"He's almost too good," Self said. "The only other kid we've had here like that would probably be Wayne (Simien) that was almost too good to be true. But certainly he's a remarkable, remarkable young man."

As his career winds down, it was so appropriate and so fitting that he achieve his greatest honor last week of being selected as a first-team Academic All-American. Reed becomes just KU's 15th basketball Academic All-American first-team selection, one of whom was Cole Aldrich, Reed's roommate for three years and the 2010 Academic All-American of the Year.

"What a great achievement for Tyrel," Self said. "To have two guys on the first team back-to-back years is a great accomplishment to the academic support we have here for our guys. This honor is a testimony to how hard Tyrel has worked. I couldn't be happier or more proud of an individual. To me this is bigger than making any athletic team."

Reed will no doubt figure huge the rest of the season as KU looks to win its seventh-straight Big 12 championship and then achieve his dream of winning another national title in April in Houston like he and the Jayhawks won in 2008 at the Alamodome in San Antonio.

But no matter how far KU goes this postseason, Reed has already passed his biggest test. That's for making the grade as a superior and outstanding representative of Kansas basketball the past four years and etching his name in KU history as one of the classiest players in the school's storied tradition.

His academic honor this week just cemented his legacy even more.

Again, in typical and humble fashion, Reed gave thanks to those that made his honor possible.

"I give a lot of credit to my parents," Reed said of his father Stacy and mother Debbie. "They raised me and my sister (Lacie) in a household that fostered an environment that was conducive to learning and always wanting us to strive to do our best."

Reed has always done his best...and always will.

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