True freshman Reece Beekman represents a milestone of sorts for Tony Bennett: he is the first prototypical lead guard Bennett has targeted out of the gate and actually landed. After years and years and chasing dozens of ball-dominant floor generals without success, Tony Bennett finally got his man [If you are thinking “What about Ty Jerome”, I applaud you but that’s a different case].
Beekman was Tony’s Plan A point guard recruit. I place recruits in four baskets based on analyzing Tony’s recruiting patterns: Plan A, Plan B, Plan C and Plan D. Tony’s Plan A and B recruits have a high rate of college success, either here or wherever they end up. His Plan C and D often do well, and some of them end up as good as a lot of the Plan A recruits (Kihei Clark was a Plan D and look at him). I judge our success at recruiting by how many of the recruits fit into which category, and I base my projections of likely role and expectations on which Plan I think that recruit belongs to. For example, I am excited about Justin McKoy’s future here despite him being essentially unranked, because Tony went after him hard and I consider him a Plan B (Plan A treatment in a limited supply – late spring recruit to fill a hole).
It was clear from early on that Beekman was this year’s top priority Plan A recruit. For that reason alone, we should be very, very excited about Beekman, because Tony knows point guards. Beekman is a top 100 recruit in his own right, as the #57 player on the RSCI Top 100 for the 2020 Class, but for those of us who know Tony, that Plan A status means more.
Reece grew up in Wisconsin and started playing ball there, then at some point his family moved to Louisiana, where he became a star. He distributed his school to four straight state championships, the last two as their leader, and the last as their “Thorterback” – the superhero who did everything. He had “30-10-10” games, and damn near averaged a “20-10-10” for the season. He also excelled on the AAU circuit, driving his team to a lot of wins and helping several teammates build their highlight videos.
The big schools slept on Reece somewhat. Maybe they figured early on that he was going to LSU or Virginia, his two finalists. Or maybe they just weren’t paying attention to Tony’s activities. Reece had plenty of P-5 offers, but you won’t find the NBA pipeline programs among them. Their loss.
Tony was on Reece early and hard, but he had to sweat it out for a long time. The offer came on July 30, 2018. The official visit took place on November 9, 2018. By then, Carson McCorkle was committed. Let me tell you, the idea of Reece Beekman penetrating with McCorkle sliding down the arc to the corner had me salivating. It wasn’t until June 13, 2019, and a bunch more P-5 programs had offered that Reece Beekman committed to Tony Bennett and the University of Virginia. Tony finally had his man.
The 6-3 Beekman is a pure point guard who can create in transition and in the halfcourt for himself and others. He gets to the rim with deceptive ease and when he gets there he is a consistent finisher. He can score at all three levels, including popping threes in your face off a standstill dribble or a single jab step. Good free throw shooter. His drive and dish is as good as anyone’s. He’s a creative player with some flash – but not too much.
He’s a great fit for Virginia’s offense as he will excel in both the Sides and the Continuity Ball Screen sets, as well as in 1-4 and 3-man-motion sets. Late in the clock, you can put the ball in his hands and let him create. He’s probably the best Tony has had in that situation – with perhaps only Malcolm Brogdon coming close. He’ll distribute like Kihei Clark but won’t get in trouble like Kihei simply by virtue of being six inches bigger.
As diverse and explosive as is his offensive game, his best attribute might just be his instinctiveness. It’s not just that he grabs as many rebounds as he dishes assists and is nasty on the defensive end, it’s that he just knows where to be and what to do. When systems break down and situations get fluid – as they do in tournament play – that’s where he is truly deadly.
Look, Reece Beekman just wants to win. That’s a big reason why he came here. But he doesn’t want to win in the way of an NBA free agent who signs with a super team so he can ride a gravy train to a title; he wants to win in the way of an Isaiah Wilkins or Ty Jerome who will do whatever the fuck it takes to win the ball for his team and help SOMEONE on his team put it in the basket.
He doesn’t have Superman’s strength and speed, and he lacks Batman’s utility belt.
He’s a freshman.
He’s a bit slight of build.
His three-point shot is just good, not great. He shot in the mid-30s in EYBL and his stroke is a little funky.
He takes forever to get ready to go places to the universal annoyance of his teammates.
I know, we’re really reaching here, but other than those things, I got nothing. When Tony Bennett calls a player “special”, what do you expect?
Being a pure lead guard, Reece is going to have a primary role as Kihei’s backup, responsible for making sure the Mongoose doesn’t need to be at the top of the ACC in % of team’s minutes played again. Just like the Hoos have the luxury of being able to always have at least one of Huff and Hauser on the floor, Beekman needs to give the Hoos the luxury of being able to always have a great table setter on the floor.
But that won’t be the sum total of Reece’s contributions. He’s going to play next to Kihei. Tony likes having two ballhandlers on the floor, and Kihei at least is good enough playing off the ball after two seasons to allow the two of them to coexist. Defensively, their combined lack of size will be an issue to watch but if they can use footwork and swift hands to disrupt offenders, that can be overcome.
One area I hope to see Beekman have an impact is in late clock situations. Teams quickly figured out how to use Kihei’s lack of height against him and a huge portion of his turnovers came in these situations. Nobody else on the team was better. Hauser is an option for this team but you want your point guard in that spot if you can have it. It’s a role perfectly set up for Reece, and it’s one reason I expect to see him on the floor in the last four minutes of games more than you would expect a freshman to be.
Usually, I counsel against expecting anything from true freshmen, especially with Bennett, but Reece’s situation is a little idiosyncratic. For one thing, point guard is the most common position on the floor for true freshmen to come in and make an impact in college basketball. Think of all the true freshmen who have come in and done well – you don’t have to look any farther than our own starting point guard. For another, the returning players have a dearth of ballhandling, creating a real skill need that Beekman is the most capable of filling. Finally, Beekman is a special player. If Tony Benett says he’s “special,” I am not going to disagree.
So what does that all mean? It means that reasonable expectations for Reece Beekman might not be all that far off of what we would consider optimistic expectations for a true freshman. Let’s take a look at Kihei Clark’s freshman stat line. He was fourth on the team in minutes at 26.8 per game, started 20 games, averaged 4.5 points and 2.6 assists per game, and won himself a nasty nickname, The Mongoose. Kihei stepped into a veteran team that had one weakness: guard depth. Because there was a need despite the presence of a veteran point guard – and Kihei was Kihei – Tony leaned heavily on the true freshman.
There is a need despite the presence of a veteran point guard – and Reece is Reece – so expect Tony to lean heavily on him. If Reece does play 26.8 minutes per game and start half the games – which I expect – he is going to get more than 4 shots per game and score more than 4.5 points per game.
At one point last year, I entertained the possibility that Beekman could come in and start over Clark. The last ten games of the season dispelled that thought. Kihei established himself as last season wound down. Just as he was one of the best players in his league as a veteran high school player, he is now one of the best players in his league as a veteran college player. He’s number one and that is that. However, that doesn’t mean Beekman can’t come in and start next to Clark. Do not be surprised if he does.
So what might optimistic expectations look like? Let’s imagine Beekman starts every game, plays 27 minutes per contest, averages between 8-11 points per game on 37/48/85 shooting and between 3-5 assists per game, makes the all-Freshman team in the ACC and makes some March Magic of his own. That’s what optimistic expectations might look like.
The best teams always feature a combination of experienced veterans and youth. Point me to a championship team, and I will identify a rookie who had an impact. There is a freshness, a certain fearlessness that newcomers bring. The 2020-21 Cavaliers have a strong veteran core and a lot of guys who have been through a lot of wars, but they are going to need at least one of the freshmen to step up and fill in a missing ingredient. Reece Beekman is ideally situated to be that catalyst, that secret spice.