While freshman Derek Reese is just starting to make his name known on Rocky Top, this lanky 6-foot-8 forward has had his ups and downs, such as his stint on the Puerto Rican U19 team and offseason shoulder surgery.
As a three-sport letterman (football, track and basketball) at Olympia High School in Orlando, Fla., not to mention a baseball player in middle school, it is obvious that Derek is a natural-born athlete, but he believes that he was built to play the game of basketball.
"I always played basketball year-round," Reese said. "I played it all the time, even during football season. Basketball has always been there and I always just loved it. I guess I was just built for it, I'm 6-foot-8, at my size you don't see to many football players that tall so I decided that I should focus on basketball."
Even though UT is a long way from Reese's home in Orlando, he said that the team felt like a family and that's why he wanted to be a Volunteer.
"It felt like a family here," Reese said. "I love coach Martin's philosophy, that's the way I was taught, always gotta play hard, always gotta play defense nonstop, and at other schools it didn't feel like a family, but here it felt like everyone was together. It feels like these are relationships I will have for the rest of my life. It's not just about basketball, it's more of a family, and I felt like coach Martin was going to improve me on how to be a better player as well as a better person in life, and that's what I liked a lot."
Prior to attending Tennessee this fall, Reese was invited to play for the Puerto Rico U19 team (Reese was eligible due to his grandparents Puerto Rican descent) in the 2012 Nike Global Challenge in Washington, D.C.
"Before I left to come here, they (the Puerto Rican U19 team) had a tryout in Orlando," Reese said. "At first, when they called me they were like 'you made the team,' but they wanted us to come during the summer and practice and I was little iffy because I just got here, I was having so much fun. I was working hard and I didn't want to miss out on this but coach was telling me that I may never get another chance like this and that made me decide to go, and I'm glad I did because it opened a lot of doors for me."
Reese went on to average 21 points, 12.3 rebounds and 1.3 steals in the four tournament games and was also named to the International All-Tournament Team.
"It was a good feeling, " Reese said. "It was a dedication to all the hard work I put in and I just had so much fun playing. We only won one game, but I had so much fun and it was a great experience."
But this year hasn't been perfect for the freshman. Coming into the season he suffered a torn labrum in his right shoulder that required surgery and forced him to miss the first 10 games of the season.
"The rehab was tough," Reese said. "It was a slow process, the first six weeks I couldn't write, I couldn't do anything with my right arm and it was really tough. I just worked hard and I actually came back two months ahead of schedule than I was supposed to."
Reese has come back from the injury to average 4.3 points this season, but as junior guard Jordan McRae said, he's as good a person off the court as he is on it.
"Derek is (a) cool man," McRae said. "Derek is the kind of guy that if he has five dollars and you ask him for four, he'll give you all five."