Because he grew up near Disney World, Derek Reese has been dubbed "Magic Kingdom" by Rocky Top League public address announcer Brian Tate.
There was nothing magical about the Tennessee basketball signee's start in Monday night RTL action, however. Through 12 minutes of play he was 0 for 5 from the field with two turnovers. Just as Vol fans began wondering if Reese might be a 6-foot-8 project, however, he finally found his rhythm.
He scored on a putback with 7:09 left in the half, then added an acrobatic tip-in a minute later. After scoring on a transition dunk, he made his fourth basket in a row — a 3-pointer from the left wing — before missing a 3 from the right wing just shy of halftime.
Reese's rally gave him nine points on 4-of-10 shooting at the break but his second half started no better than his first half. He missed a 3, had a pass intercepted, blew a dunk when he mishandled a lob, missed a 10-footer, then missed a 3-pointer.
Reese turned into Mr. Clutch as the game entered its closing minutes, however. He drained a 3-pointer from the right wing that whittled Rice Buick's lead over Campus Lights to 104-102 with 4:10 to play. Moments later, he nailed another 3 from the same spot, this one narrowing the gap to 113-111 with 1:26 remaining.
Campus Lights wound up losing 124-117 but Reese showed enough to suggest he may not be ticketed for a redshirt year, after all. Made off limits to media by Vol coaches, Reese was unable to talk about his RTL debut. That didn't stop his summer league teammates from weighing in, however.
"Reese did well; he knocked down a couple of important shots late in the second half," said Tennessee senior center Kenny Hall. "He just needs to get more confidence and get more aggressive in attacking the basket."
Based on some Vol pickup games, Hall believes the 6-foot-8, 210-pound freshman has potential.
"He's a hard worker," Hall said. "He brings defense to the table. He's just got to get stronger and get more confident in his shot."
Ex-Vol Dane Bradshaw, another of Reese's Campus Lights teammates, says the slender rookie showed some poise in his first performance before his new fans.
"He seemed really comfortable and natural out there," Bradshaw said. "You usually see more nerves from a newcomer playing in front of Big Orange fans for the first time but he seemed real comfortable. He's an outside threat and he's real long. With his body type, he could be a great defender."
The fact Reese rallied from a poor start probably says something about his composure.
"He was hanging in there," Bradshaw said. "Sometimes it takes awhile to get your legs under you."
ROCKY TOP RECAPS
DeROYAL 87, NEWS-SENTINEL86: Boo Jackson hit a driving layup with one second left to provide the winning points. Former Vols Cameron Tatum (25 points) and Melvin Goins (21) led The News-Sentinel, while current Vol Yemi Makanjuola chipped in 13.
RICE BUICK/GMC 124, CAMPUS LIGHTS 117: Former Vol Wayne Chism scored 25 points to pace the victors. Current Vols Kenny Hall (32) and Derek Reese (15) were productive for Campus Lights.
R. LARRY SMITH 133, CHOICE SPINE 129: Former Vol Bobby Maze scored 44 points to lead the winners. Current Vols Josh Richardson (18) and Skylar McBee (17) lent offensive support. Current Vols Jordan McRae (31) and Quinton Chievous (30) paced the losing effort.