'A great match'

You can't coach height and you can't coach heart. That's why Tennessee's basketball staff was intrigued by its first commitment for the class of 2012.

Derek Reese is a 6-foot-8 wing from Olympia High of Orlando, Fla., whose gritty performances on a bad ankle during the summer elevated him from sleeper to keeper. When Vol head man Cuonzo Martin offered a scholarship this week, Reese accepted.

Reese gave his most memorable performance earlier this summer against the Georgia Stars, a team that features elite national recruits Alex Poythress of Clarksville and Tony Parker of Lithonia, Ga.

"We were playing the Georgia Stars in the nationals to reach the Sweet 16, and he played hurt on a bum ankle," recalled Reggie Tucker, Reese's coach with the Q6 Rams AAU team. "He shouldn't even have played that game but he suited up and got the ankle taped. We lost by two points but Derek had one of his best games. All of the college coaches texted me later saying they were impressed with how well he played that game on a bum ankle.

"I've been coaching this kid since he was 13, and he always showed up in big games, but I'd have to say that was one of his most memorable games. That showed his growth as a basketball player. Two years ago I don't think he would've played in that game."

The witnesses to Reese's gritty performance included Martin and Vol associate head coach Tracy Webster.

"I don't remember exactly how many points Derek scored in that game but he had three 3s and took it to the basket, got a couple of and-ones," Tucker said. "The crazy thing about it is that he didn't play the seven games before that. We were holding him out in hopes his ankle would get better."

Tucker, who also coaches Cleveland (Tenn.) High School, said one of Reese's greatest attributes is his versatility.

"One thing about Derek ... he doesn't have a position," the coach said. "On the AAU circuit he played the 1, 2, 3 and 4. He can play any position."

Despite his height, Reese does a lot of his scoring from the perimeter.

"He can shoot it. That's most definitely his strength," Tucker said. "Through the years he's improved drastically his ball-handling and posting up, though. He creates a lot of mismatches. At 6-8 he's usually going to have a 6-9 guy guarding him who is not as mobile. He was very consistent throughout the AAU season. He was under the radar for a while but he's definitely one of the top five players in Central Florida."

The coach said Reese also was recruited by Ole Miss, Boston College and Wake Forest with offers from Central Florida, James Madison and George Mason.

Ultimately, Tucker thinks Reese will be a terrific fit at Tennessee.

"He's a great kid, truly a student-athlete first," the coach said. "He's a kid that will get it done in class and on court. It's a great match, him and Coach Martin. I've spoken with Coach numerous times about the type of player he's going to bring in and the system he's going to play.

"Derek is a 6-8 forward that can really stretch the floor. He'll be one of the best shooters from 3 on that team. And he can put it on the floor. He has work to do - needs to get stronger and quicker to defend smaller guards — but he fits in well, especially with the style Coach Martin is implementing."

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