When first years from opposing basketball teams step onto the Henry Crown center court this year and take their first glance at Derek Reich, they are more likely to utter a guffaw than any remark of wonder. Reich doesn’t have a very imposing appearance. His shaggy, dyed-blonde hair falls around his eyes; his beak nose, and his half-open eyes aren’t exactly features that one associates with basketball standouts. No tattoos scrawl down his arms; no fancy Jordans are donned on his feet; no special entourage of groupies screams his name during warm-ups. It’s easy to dismiss him as any other normal University of Chicago, well, nerd.
His appearance won’t fool any opposing coach this year. Reich’s number, 50, will be the first uttered in pre-game pep talks. Many teams will be ordered to double-team Reich anytime he gets the ball from the start of the game. Reich richly deserves all of the attention.
Reich, a fourth-year forward/center for the men’s basketball team, was named October 16 as Division III Preseason Player of the Year by Division III News, an organization that follows Division III sports. “There were many strong candidates for this award, but we felt Derek was the most deserving,” said Division III News editor Gary Rubin. “He had a tremendous season last year, and is expected to have another great campaign.”
This comes after being voted an All-American last year for the second season in a row, and a preseason first team All-American this year. Already Chicago’s all-time scoring leader with 1,618 points in only three seasons, Reich is expected to only add to what has been a phenomenal career at the University of Chicago.
Reich will once again be asked to lead his team this season. Head coach Mike McGrath has no illusions about his being anything else but the focal point of the team. “I’ve already told the team. We have many talented players, and what we hope to have is a balance of Derek being the focus of the team and having other players at the same time stepping up. But we can’t change him being the focus.”
“He’s not like other players we play against, because he can both post and shoot,” sophomore teammate Bryan Fitzgerald said. “He just causes match-up problems.” For most opponents, it’s impossible for just one player to contain Reich. Bigger players have a problem coming out and defending his outside shot and Reich can simply body smaller opponents out of the way. McGrath added, “Derek has both size and mobility. He has great touch around the basket and finishes well.”
When he entered the basketball program as a freshman in the 1999-2000 season, Reich made an immediate impact. Averaging 18 points a game, almost six more than the next highest scorer, he also led the team in three-pointers (48), field-goal percentage (.526), and rebounds. He was voted the Most Valuable Player, and earned the first of his three University Athletic Association’s Player of the Year awards as the team made it to round sixteen in the NCAA tournament.
As a second year, Reich became a nationally recognized player, and was voted an All-American. Averaging 20.2 points a game and 8.6 rebounds a game, Reich was the leading scorer on the team in 21 of 28 games. This was accomplished on a team that had many other standout basketball players, including Rhodes Scholar Brad Henderson. “There were other great players on the team, so he wasn’t the entire focus of our team,” noted McGrath. That year, the team tied for fifth place nationally, and made the Tournament quarter finals.
Last year, Reich found himself more of a focal point than he had in years past. Now in a leadership role, his coach challenged him to fine-tune some of the mental facets of the game. “Derek’s development has had less to do with him becoming bigger, faster, or expanding his game. It’s been more the mental way he approaches the game,” McGrath explained. “He let things get under his skin, for instance if a defense played him hard, if an official made a bad call, or if he got fouled hard .[Men’s Soccer Head Coach] Coach O’Connor refers to it as ‘tuning in’. That was the biggest change in Derek.”
In the 2001-2002 season, Reich was both the nation’s 18th top scorer (averaging 22.6 ppg), and tied for 13th nationally in rebounds (10.8 rpg). He not only earned his third UAA Player of the Year award, but also broke his own school record for the most points in a season (566one more than his 565 of the 2000-2001 season).
While Reich has always been a star at school, he fails to draw much attention from the University’s community. He seems to be very content remaining incognito. Being a commuter studentReich lives with his parentshis absence from campus contributes to keeping him out of the public eye. However, the main reason for his low-key presence seems to stem mainly from his character. “Without being a jerk, he is own person,” said McGrath.
With the new season approaching fast, the newest honor of Preseason Player of the Year only adds to the pressure Reich will be asked to bare. “Derek has always been unselfish. This year we need him to assert himself. Every time he touches the ball he needs to look to score,” remarked McGrath. “He needs to establish himself and his will on the team. If he does that, we should have a great season.”
Reich will also need to link up with the six incoming freshmen and inspire the team to play as a unit, McGrath added. “As a senior, there probably aren’t many interests the freshmen and Reich are going to share in common. He needs to go out of his way to create opportunities to build relationships with the younger players.” With one week of preseason practice under their belt, the cohesion seems to exist.
Reich’s career as a Maroon already rings of the classic sports hero story. Three years after his first practices in a University of Chicago jersey, he is listed as an inch taller (he is now listed at 6’8″) and twenty pounds heavier than his freshman frame (245 lbs.) The short flattop haircut he entered with has been grown out and now is held back with a white headband. Each year he has set a new scoring record, and each season he has collected over 200 rebounds. There isn’t any reason he won’t post the same stats this year, nor that this will be his last year in competitive basketball. At the moment, he is investigating opportunities to play professionally next year, either here or abroad. Yet the immediate Chicago season currently looms ahead. Chicago missed making the NCAA tournament for the first time in Reich’s career here, and the primary goal for the team is returning to the big dance. The campaign begins first at home with the Midway Classic on Saturday and Sunday, November 23-24.