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Portland native plays point guard for Tennessee Vols, dreams of going pro

COURTESY OF UNIVERSITY OF TENNESSEE - Sophomore Jordan Reynolds, the starting point guard for the Tennessee Volunteers and a Portland native, goes up for a jump shot. Reynolds and the Vols are ranked sixth in the nation and are a No. 2 seed entering the NCAA womens basketball tournament.Ever since attending Beaumont Middle School, North Portland native Jordan Reynolds dreamed of suiting up and contributing for the eight-time national champion Tennessee Lady Vols and in Hall Of Fame coach Pat Summitt’s system.

Dreams do come true.

Reynolds, a sophomore who graduated from Central Catholic High, is starting at point guard for the sixth-ranked Volunteers, a No. 2 seed going into their NCAA Tournament first-round game, at home in Knoxville, on Saturday against Boise State.

The 5-11 Reynolds is averaging 7.0 points and 2.3 assists in 25.0 minutes per game. She has started 31 of 32 games for the 27-5 Vols, whose résumé includes a 74-63 victory Dec. 28 at home over Oregon State. The Vols and 10th-ranked Beavers could face each other again if both win two tourney games and reach the March 28 round of 16.

Reynolds scored a career-high 17 points in the SEC tournament title game last week, a 62-56 loss to No. 3 South Carolina. She had 13 points and seven rebounds in the SEC semifinal victory, 74-64 against Kentucky.

“She brings tremendous amounts of energy,” Tennessee coach Holly Warlick says. “She’s very vocal, which we love. She’s very knowledgable, which a point guard should be. She gets people where they need to be.”

Reynolds says her team has what it takes to go all the way, even though the Vols lack a big-time scorer (she is seventh in points per game, with Isabelle Harrison atop the list at 12.2).

“Since preseason, we have made it our focus to work on everything defensive-related — transition, boxing out and rebounding, which can lead to easy buckets,” Reynolds says. “We lost a big-time scorer last year (guard Meighan Simmons, now with the WNBA Seattle Storm). So we’re all picking up the slack. A lot more players are getting different looks.”

Reynolds narrowed her college choices to Tennessee, Louisville, Ohio State and USC after leading Central Catholic to the Class 6A championship and earning McDonald’s All-America honors as a senior.

She ultimately followed her heart and went with the Lady Vols, even though Summitt wasn’t able to coach anymore due to early onset dementia. 

Reynolds was impressed with Warwick, who took over the program in 2012 and had worked under Summitt for 27 years.

“Pat still comes around here and there,” Reynolds says. “We go to her house whenever we can, and we continue to ask ourselves in practice and games, ‘What would coach do?’

“She has such a legacy here, and nothing has died down. Coach (Warwick) has been around this program for a while, and she still yells at us like Pat would and is doing a great job.”

Reynolds, who also played on Jefferson High’s 2010 Class 5A championship team, is one of three Oregon players on the Vols roster. Jaime Nared, from Westview High, and former Springfield High standout Mercedes Russell played with her on the Team Concept AAU squad.

Nared, a 6-2 freshman guard-forward, has three starts and 32 appearances, with 5.1 points and 3.3 rebounds per game.

Russell, a 6-6 sophomore center, had 6.3 points, 5.0 rebounds and team bests of 40 blocks and 59.6-percent field-goal shooting in 2013-14, but she has had to sit out this season after surgery on her right foot.

“I’ve been playing with Jaime since the sixth grade, and that’s when we started talking about going to the same (college),” Reynolds says. “In eighth grade, during an AAU tournament in Seattle, the Lady Vols had just won back-to-back (championships) and had players like Candace Parker. I knew I wanted to play for the best.

“Where else would you want to go other than the best? Plus, compared to West Coast athletics, it’s much more amazing with the fan base here.

“It’s unreal ... I’m living out a dream.”

Reynolds says she owes a great deal of thanks for her skill set to her family, especially her parents, who pushed her to the limit without burning her out.

Growing up, she spent a lot of time in the gym with her father, Gary Thomas, who ran an AAU program. Thomas coached and worked one-on-one for more than 30 years with basketball players such as Aaron Miles (Jefferson High, Kansas Jayhawks), Michael Lee (Jefferson, Kansas), Terrence Jones (Jefferson, Kentucky Wildcats, Houston Rockets) and Andrew Andrews (Benson High, Washington Huskies).

“She was like a gym rat,” Thomas says. “Jordan had her little purple basketball and was always ready to go to the gym. She was addicted to the game since she could hold a ball.” 

Reynolds’ mother, Kimberly James, played basketball at San Diego State from 1987-89.

“I knew what I wanted for her all along, and I knew what her lifelong dream had been and still was,” James says.

The recruiting process was surprising difficult, James says, but “when she finally did make the decision, my heart leaped for joy. I knew it was the choice for her.”

The Lady Vols had been sending letters to Reynolds and her AAU Team Concept coach, Michael Abraham.

Abraham, who has coached for more than 37 years, saw something special in Reynolds’ athleticism, ball-handling and jumping ability.

“The day I saw her playing basketball, I knew she was something special,” Abraham says. “And I’ve been around the block for a while.

“You see the gifted girls right away, and her talent level jumped through the roof.”

Abraham says Tennessee was a perfect fit for Reynolds.

“Those (coaches) at Tennessee have absolutely the most faith in her,” Abraham says. “Tennessee gets the best of the best.”

Abraham was an assistant coach for the WNBA Los Angeles Sparks in 2006 and 2007 under Joe “Jellybean” Bryant (Kobe Bryant’s father) and Michael Cooper. Abraham says he believes Reynolds has what it takes to get to the next level.

“One-hundred percent,” Abraham says of Reynolds’ chances of playing in the WNBA. “Zero chance she won’t get an opportunity and have a long and illustrious career.

“She will represent our country someday. She’s that talented.”

Warlick agrees.

“No question. Absolutely,” she says. “Jordan has an unbelievable future, whether she goes to the WNBA or plays overseas. She understands the game and loves playing it.”

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