Derek Reese will be representing Puerto Rico's under-19 national team in the Nike Global Games July 11-15 at Washington D.C.
Reese, who signed with the Vols last November and is currently attending summer school classes on campus, was born and reared in Orlando, Fla. His parents also were born in America. Because Reese's grandmother is a Puerto Rico native, however, he was invited last November to try out for that country's under-19 national team.
Reese estimated that there were "50 or so" competitors at the camp, which was held shortly before his senior season of competition began at Orlando's Olympia High School. He then waited several months before hearing from the folks back in Puerto Rico.
"I was called last week and told I made the team," he said, "and that I'll get to represent Puerto Rico in the Nike Global Games."
Reese, who will travel to Puerto Rico in late June to practice with his new teammates, believes this experience already has changed him as a person.
"I got to know a little more about my heritage and everything," he said. "I can't speak much Spanish but I'm probably going to learn it better now."
Although something of a sleeper prospect, he may prove to be a pleasant surprise for Tennessee. Mark Griseck, head coach at Olympia High, says Reese played a lot better as a senior last winter than his stats (11 points, 9 rebounds per game) might suggest.
"He did great for us," Griseck said. "We had a pretty balanced team, and he did a great job of rebounding, letting things come to him.
"He does a good job of fitting into a team concept. He played on a team with basically four other college players, so we didn't have to depend on him to score 30 for us to win. He understands about doing the things he does well and contributing in the areas he's good at."
Reese believes he has improved his game in virtually every area during the past year.
"My strength has gotten better," he said. "Also, my ballhandling, my quickness and my shot."
When Reese signed with Tennessee last November, Cuonzo Martin was an unknown quantity who had yet to coach his first game with the Vols. He won over a lot of skeptics by posting a 19-15 Year 1 record and finishing second in the SEC.
"It was great," Reese said. "I really think Coach Martin is doing something big here. I love his philosophy: Play hard, play tough, play defense. I love the mentality, the way we're supposed to play."
Reese says he has added six pounds in his first two weeks at Tennessee and now packs 210 pounds on his 6-foot-8 frame. He expects to contribute significantly as a freshman.
"I see myself fitting in well," he said. "If I come in and work hard, I'll have a good opportunity. I bring the versatility of doing many things on the court."