SHERIDAN — The first characteristic many see in Cam Reece is his smile.
Sure, the powerful post moves, gravity-defying dunks, and unparalleled leadership all shine through, as well. But upon meeting the Sheridan College sophomore and shaking his hand for the first time, many people simply notice the smile.
“He lights up the room with his smile,” Sheridan assistant coach Dontae Bryant said.
Reece’s smile was molded by his grandmother, hardened by Oakland and has traversed through a basketball career that has seen high school hardships, junior college stardom, and in a few short months, the NCAA Division I level.
“The very first thing you notice is his big smile. He’s always smiling. Very rarely have I ever seen him in a bad mood,” SC head coach Matt Hammer said. “… The second thing you notice is his competitiveness. It doesn’t matter if it’s a 6 a.m. practice or we are playing Gillette here at home, he competes, and he wants to win. His overall physical toughness and mental toughness, you don’t get to coach too many like Cam during your coaching career.”
Reece didn’t particularly care for school. He had little motivation to delve into books, much less reside at a desk inside a crowded classroom at Oakland Tech High School for seven to eight hours a day. And Reece’s report cards reflected that.
Through his first two years of high school, Reece didn’t maintain a high enough GPA to play high school sports, and that didn’t bother him. He didn’t want to play sports. Reece spent many of his high school days on the streets in Oakland, and it certainly wasn’t the best use of his time.
“It’s definitely not the kindest place on earth,” Reece said. “It’s pretty rough. There’s a lot of violence, a lot of gang activity, stuff like that. I’ve kind of been around that my whole life, and I know where that leads to. I wanted to take a different route.”
Reece discovered that his build and athleticism lent itself to success on the basketball court and thus started taking a liking to the sport. Reece improved his grades and made himself eligible for his junior year, when he came off the bench for a team that won more than 25 games.
The sport continued to grow on Reece. His meteoric improvement paved the way for AAU basketball and a starting spot as a senior in high school. It also commanded the attention of junior colleges who wanted the raw athleticism and relentless motor Reece possessed.
In just two short years, basketball had cleared a path through Oakland, around the violence and gave Reece and his grandmother, Carol Curtis, a future to look fondly upon.
Raised by his grandmother
Reece only has two tattoos. Both are small and unassuming, but that doesn’t diminish their importance. One is the year in which Reece was born, and the other is his grandmother’s name.
The tattoo occupies a small place on his hand, but that pales in comparison to what the name means in Reece’s heart.
“She means everything to me. She’s the woman that raised me,” Reece said. “I don’t know where I would be without her. I felt like she saved me.”
Reece moved to Oakland at the age of four to live with his grandmother. Prior to that he lived with his mother in Las Vegas, but when Reece’s father died, he moved to the Bay Area.
Richard Curtis, Reece’s grandfather, also played a large role in his childhood development. Richard Curtis died during Reece’s senior year of high school, but his life lessons still resonate with Reece to this day.
“When I was younger, I didn’t always understand why he did what he did. Why he was mean sometimes,” Reece said. “But now that I’m getting older, I’m starting to understand that it’ll help in long run.”
Quiet and peaceful Sheridan
Many junior colleges in the area and around the country wanted Reece’s talent. Region IX rival Casper College, along with a couple established JUCOs in Texas recruited the Oakland Tech product in the hopes that they could further develop a player who was still relatively new to the sport of basketball.
Tom Parks — a Sheridan College assistant at the time — began the recruitment of Reece. He told Reece about SC and the ways in which he could thrive in the Mountain West Region. Hammer also traveled to see Reece during his time in high school and the overwhelming support from the Generals encouraged Reece to take an official visit.
It didn’t take long for Reece to fall in love with Sheridan. The sounds of gunshots that Reece would hear lying in bed in Oakland were replaced by … nothing. The distractions associated with Reece’s hometown were gone.
“It was a quiet, peaceful place for me to focus and do what I need to do,” Reece said. “I’ll always remember the people. It’s a great environment. It’s always positive. The support is here great. It’s a great place to be.”
Stepping up as a sophomore
Reece experienced a memorable freshman season. He started all 29 games for the Generals who held a spot in the top 25 for most of the season and won the North Division title.
Coming into this season, expectations were bubbling over for Reece and the Generals. Reece played in the JA32 Showcase over the summer, had numerous NCAA Division I schools recruiting him and was fresh off a season where he garnered All-Region IX honors, averaging north of 14 points per game.
It would have been easy for Reece to make the 2018-19 season more about him, but that’s not in his DNA.
“With him having all the hype that he had coming into the season — with the summer he had and the year he had last season — more often that not those kids are a little cocky and self-centered,” Bryant said. “But Cam is all about the team. He’s all for winning at the end of the day and winning the right way.”
Reece — who’s committed to continuing his basketball career at the University of Akron — has actually seen a slight decrease in his overall stat line. He’s averaging 12.8 points per game this season, but those are things that never cloud Reece’s mind.
While he loves soaring above the rim, having the home crowd rise to its feet after an emphatic block, what Reece loves most is his teammates and winning.
“He’s a special player and a special person,” Hammer said. “What I love about him is even with all the success he’s had individually — he doesn’t care if he scores six points or if he scores 26 points — when the team wins, that’s all that matters. There’s so many times where it’s late in the game and he’s on the bench just active and enthusiastic and into it.”
Reece has plans of leading the No. 8 Generals to another North Division title this season and a trip to Hutchinson, Kansas — the site of the National Junior College Athletic Association tournament.
The next chapter
Reece doesn’t like to look ahead. He enjoys living in the moment, but every once in a while, as he practices free throws late at night in a dimly lit arena, he’ll think about how far he’s come. He’ll think about how he flipped the switch academically, maneuvered his way off the violent streets of Oakland and earned his way to greener pastures in a sport he wasn’t playing five years ago.
“I feel like basketball has been a tool for me as far as helping me better myself, fixing myself,” Reece said. “I look back at where I came from, and that’s my motivation to keep going. I feel like I can go farther.”
Wherever that may be, whatever that might entail, Reece will approach it the same way he’s approached everything else — with a smile on his face.