Journey’s End

When Antonio Reynolds-Dean ’99 left the court in March 2008, the sports world didn’t skip a beat. Reynolds-Dean never made it to the NBA; he spent his entire career toiling far from the limelight and played out his final game in a mid-level league 5,000 miles from home.

But he never became a statistic—he became a man.

Antonio de Andre Reynolds-Dean was born and raised on the west side of Atlanta and bore the scars of the city that bred him. Decades after the civil rights movement, the city was still reeling from the effects of slavery, reconstruction, and the Jim Crow south.

The west side is the most downtrodden section of a city that boasts one of the nation’s highest murder rates. As a youth, boarded up and burned out buildings, vacant lots, corner hangouts, and drive-bys were all Reynolds-Dean knew: “I knew nothing of the outside world; I thought I was going to live and die in Atlanta.”

Many of Reynolds-Dean’s childhood friends never made it out, but basketball served as his lifeline. After starring for Douglas High he accepted a scholarship from the University of Rhode Island: “When you’re 16, 17 years old, you don’t understand the magnitude of the decisions you make. I didn’t know it at the time, but going to URI was the biggest and best decision of my life. I don’t know what would have happened to me if I had stayed in Atlanta, but I know I would never have had a chance at the life I’ve lived if I hadn’t gone to Rhode Island.”

The story goes that Reynolds-Dean arrived in Kingston without a jacket to his name, unprepared for the harsh New England winters. After living in a segregated community his entire life, he found himself surrounded by people with backgrounds very different from his own. “It was a definite shock to my system,” he says.

While Reynolds-Dean struggled to adjust socially off the court, he hit the ground running on the hardwood. Generously listed at 6’7”, he relied on an unmatched work ethic and a big heart to get the job done in the low post for the Rams. “He was a very undersized guy, but his mental toughness and his heart were as big as anyone’s that I’ve ever coached,” says former URI head coach Al Skinner.

Although he spent his entire career playing in the shadows of future NBA stars Cuttino Mobley ’98 and Lamar Odom, it was Reynolds-Dean—whom Odom refers to as a father figure—who was the heart and soul of the team. “Antonio gave every ounce he had every time he set foot on the floor,” remembers former teammate Preston Murphy ’99, now director of basketball operations at URI.

And for one magical month in March 1998, Reynolds-Dean shone on college basketball’s biggest stage, leading the eighth-seeded Rams to a stunning upset over top-ranked Kansas and an appearance in the Elite Eight.

Reynolds-Dean set school records for games played and games started (131), finished second in school history in blocks (235) and third in rebounds (1,028), to go along with 1,576 career points scored. Arriving at URI as an unknown high-school player, Reynolds-Dean graduated as a professional prospect.

But his real transformation took place off court: “I was forced to come out of my comfort zone. Back in Atlanta, it was easy to just stay in your community and avoid everyone different. At URI, I couldn’t just go home and hide—I was forced to adapt. URI gave me the forum to really interact with different people for the first time in my life. It changed my life.”

Reynolds-Dean credits Skinner and his coaching staff with helping him navigate unfamiliar territory: “I can’t fully put into words the impact my coaches had on my life. Al Skinner, Ed Cooley, and Bill Coen (Skinner’s assistants) were really father figures; they helped me become a man.”

Reynolds-Dean met his future wife at URI and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in human development and family studies: “I came to Rhode Island with all these notions of how people were and what the world was, and I left with an entirely new outlook on life.”

When his college career ended, Reynolds-Dean attended the Chicago pre-draft camp, where he competed against numerous future NBA players, more than holding his own. But NBA scouts couldn’t see past his camp measurement of 6’5”. “His physical size prevented him from playing in the league, but it didn’t detract from the size of his heart and the effort that he gave every night,” Skinner reflects.

Reynolds-Dean’s name wasn’t called on draft night in 1999, but his NBA dreams lived on. Symbolically wearing his NBA shorts from the Chicago pre-draft camp underneath the uniforms of the Idaho Stampede, Dakota Wizards, Florida Sea Dragons, and Brooklyn Kings, he chased his dreams through the dark gyms and empty arenas of the minor leagues.

“For a year I gave my dream everything I had,” he says of his time in the International Basketball Association, Continental Basketball Association, and United States Basketball League (all have since folded). Reynolds-Dean led the IBA in rebounding, averaged a double-double, was selected to the All-IBA first team, and was named league Rookie of the Year, but the NBA still wasn’t calling. So in 2000 he signed to play professionally in Spain.

In March 2008 Reynolds-Dean stepped off the hardwood for the last time in an aging arena in Argentina. For eight years he had traveled the globe. Along the way he married, had two daughters, and made a very nice living playing the game he loved while competing against some of the world’s best players: “Basketball took me around the world and allowed me to see things and experience a life that I never could have had without it.”

Weeks after his final game, Reynolds-Dean joined the staff of Fairfield University’s head coach Ed Cooley. The following season he was hired as an assistant coach at Northeastern University, joining the staff of Coach Bill Coen.

Reynolds-Dean’s journey officially came full circle in December 2009 when he stepped onto URI’s Ryan Center’s floor as an opposing coach: “My time in college made me into the man I am today.”

By Sam Perkins