'Way More Than Basketball': UVA's Reece Beekman plays for late brother
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 SPORTS) -- By now ACC players know with Reece Beekman on the court, they are just one bad pass away from being the latest victim of the ACC Defensive Player of the Year.
"He's an elite defensive player, he can guard some taller players, we always put him on one of the other team's best players," senior guard Armaan Franklin said, "I think he should have won it last year in my opinion."
Beekman became the fifth Virginia player to win ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors, joining De'Andre Hunter, Isaiah Wilkins, Malcolm Brogdon and Darion Atkins. His defensive ability has been on display since he first got on Grounds, one of the reasons the Wisconsin native started 20 games as a freshman.
"Quickest hands I've seen in person, he just finds a way, the ball just falls in his hands," senior guard Chase Coleman said, "In practice I'm watching him, if he's not guarding me and I'm throwing the ball in his area, I'm aware of where he is for sure."
With instincts like those many could envision another timeline where Beekman was a ball-hawking defensive back, just like his brother Bryce who played at Washington State. But Beekman quickly opted out of football for soccer as a kid.
"I ain't going to lie, I was playing on the offensive line and I was skinny," Beekman laughed, "So I was kind of like this is not for me, maybe if I was in a different position like wide receiver."
Reece did take up the game of basketball from his older brother and took off, winning four Louisiana state titles and eventually landing at Virginia just in time for the pandemic.
"It's been a crazy ride, coming in during the pandemic it was just different, no classes in-person, everything online, couldn't shower here at first," Beekman said, "It's been just a fun ride for me, experience different adversity through basketball and school."
In an isolated world Beekman dealt with his most challenging adversity, the death of his 22-year-old brother Bryce, following an accidental drug overdose on March 23, 2020, just as Reece started his first year at UVA and miles away from his mom, Julie Jackson.
"The first couple months it was just a lot of isolation with COVID and stuff, so it was kind of hard for me just to not have her around," Beekman said, "But over time I grew into the family that we had here and the teammates really helped me get through that just being around each other."
One of Tony Bennett's Five Pillars was clearly evident to Beekman in this time: unity. Beekman and fifth-year senior Kihei Clark quickly grew a bond not only on the court, but off.
"It's hard to go through those things by yourself," Clark said, "But especially with this team and this family you never go through anything alone and we definitely have each others backs in everything that we do."
A challenging first year was capped by a game winning shot in the ACC Tournament to beat Syracuse at the Greensboro Coliseum, the site of this year's ACC Tournament. Nearly a year later, another one to upset Duke in Cameron Indoor with his mom Julie a couple rows away.
"Maturity that's just a baby word for him because he had to grow up like this in the first week and then coming in and playing his first year, the minutes that he played, he had to learn quick," Coleman said.
Bennett, a Wisconsin native, knows many of the people in Beekman's corner throughout his life and sees someone playing for way more than the accolades and statistics.
"The hardships he's gone through with losing his brother," Bennett said, "People want to see him do well and he's really cared for and loved by so many and that's what you want and that's why he came here because it's way more than basketball."
This season Beekman has seen his name on the NBA Draft radar, something he will sit down with his mom to discuss for a few weeks after the Cavaliers season is over. Again the season Beekman battled his fair share of adversity on the court after picking up two separate injuries to his right leg, the hamstring injury he says is still only at about 95 percent.
As Beekman takes his game to new heights, he keeps what he plays for close by.
"Think about him every day, it's my lock screen on my phone, so I see his face every day," Beekman said, "But it's just the certain moments you wish you had back with him, future moments you wish he'd see."
"It still hurts, I don't think that hurt will ever go away, but we're still working on it each day."