It has been a tumultuous season, to say the least, for Whittier Regional High basketball player Justin Reyes.
There were high expectations for the junior forward as the season began, but he ended up on the bench early in the campaign for disciplinary reasons.
But after he watched two games from the sidelines, the Wildcats are off to one of their best starts in years — and Reyes is one of the players leading the way.
"When you're not playing, you have the feeling that you can make a difference," Reyes said. "I feel like I could have made a difference. I decided that instead of complaining or not doing what I'm supposed to, I need to do what is good for the team."
Reyes responded immediately to being benched for two big conference games against Chelsea and Shawsheen — games which Whittier was able to win without him. He came out against Pentucket on a mission, scoring 26 points in a season-defining win over the non-conference foe. Reyes has scored in double digits in every game since his suspension, including four 20-point games.
"He has responded well (to the benching) across the board," said Whittier head coach Tom Sipsey. "No one's perfect, but he's certainly come a long way.''
Sipsey said he wasn't concerned with the relationship between him and Reyes after the benching, but Reyes did have to mend another relationship.
"He had to do some work with his teammates," Sipsey said. "They trust him now and they know that he's a guy they can go to war with."
Sipsey cautioned that Reyes wasn't the only member of the Wildcats having individual problems. With a 12-1 start, players have started to look at what they can accomplish as a team, rather than what they can as an individual.
"I think the whole team is focused on team goals more than they were at the beginning of the season," Sipsey said. "Maybe they didn't think those goals were reachable. Clearly they are, and as we inch closer to where we want to be, (Reyes) has understood and he wants to be able to do this the right way."
The 6-foot-3-inch Reyes is one of the tallest players on the team, but he is also very lanky and hasn't quite filled into his body yet.
"When you watch him run, he looks like Bambi," Sipsey said. "He's still growing into his legs."
Although it's scary to think what might happen once Reyes develops some more size and muscle, Sipsey believes that Reyes can currently be a top-notch player in the Commonwealth Athletic Conference.
"When he decides that he wants to be relentless, he is as good a player as anyone in the league in terms of offensive rebounding and finishing," the coach said.
The Gazette sat down with Reyes to talk about life on and off the court.
What is it like to share the court with a dynamic player like Ryan Grant?
He's a great player and it's fun to be out there with him.
What is the biggest thing that Coach Sipsey stresses to you on a daily basis?
It's not only basketball. Success in basketball comes from more than what you do on the court.
What are you looking for from the team and individually the rest of the year?
I want to win the CAC (Commonwealth Athletic Conference) and personally I want to continue (progressing) forward and not take steps back.
What is your favorite aspect of basketball?
It takes your mind away from everything else in life because it is its own world.
When did you start playing basketball?
I started playing in the sixth grade at the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Haverhill.
Have you always lived in Haverhill?
I was born in New York and moved to Haverhill when my mother got married.
What made you choose Whittier instead of Haverhill High School?
My older brother and sister went to Haverhill High and they believed that Whittier would be the best fit for me.
Have you started thinking about college plans?
I haven't started looking, but I know I want to go on to play in college.
Let's do some favorites. Favorite band/artist?
"Work Out" by J. Cole
Miami Heat. You can see the potential they have and they resemble us. We have both developed so much more over the last couple of years.
Michael Jordan. He's the greatest of all time.
Subject in school?
Math because I like to solve problems
"Fresh Prince of Bel-Air''
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