Wyoming guard Noah Reynolds hushing the doubters
LARAMIE -- Xavier DuSell crudely fell to the floor as the buzzer sounded.
Instead of celebrating a rare road win at Utah State, one that took a game-winning shot by Graham Ike with just 3.3 left on the clock, the visitors' attention was squarely on the freshman guard, who needed assistance getting to the locker room after the 71-69 victory.
Already without the services of Kenny Foster, the Cowboys were in scramble mode with a game at Nevada on the docket two nights later.
Enter Noah Reynolds.
Fresh of a 10-day quarantine due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the true freshman was back in Laramie, raring to go. In fact, he was running steps inside the Arena-Auditorium at midnight after watching his teammates take down the Aggies. The only question remaining, how would he get to Reno?
Luckily for Jeff Linder and Co., the Cowboys' charter was still in Denver.
"I'll never forget it, he hops off the plane looking like Drake in a private plane, like it's super cool," UW assistant coach Sundance Wicks said with a smile.
Reynolds' task for the evening -- help limit Grant Sherfield, the defending Mountain West Player of the Year.
He did just that.
Sherfield did net a team-high 20 points but the senior connected on just 8-of-19 shots, including just 2-of-7 from deep. He only attempted a pair of free throws in the 77-67 loss to the Cowboys.
"We just kind of threw him out there like, 'Hey, man, you're going to go play,'" UW assistant coach Ken DeWeese recalled. "We were hoping that we would get 10 or 15 minutes out of him and see how it was. I mean, he was exceptional."
Reynolds, seeing his first action in 23 days, scored a then season-high seven points in 24 minutes on the floor. He also finished with a steal and went a perfect 3-for-3 from the charity stripe.
That last stat is an important one.
It will tell you all you need to know about the "Pit bull from Peoria."
"At the end of the game, he has the ball," Wicks said. "Coach is like, 'pass it to Drake (Jeffries), pass it to Drake, pass it to Drake.' They were going to foul and Noah just held it. He fouls him and coach, again, says 'get the ball to Drake.' Noah goes, 'coach, chill. I got these.' Coach goes, 'you better.'
"He bangs both of them and looks over at the bench. That's one of those aha moments when you know, like, that's when a guy becomes a guy. That's when you know that guy is going to become a real dude down the line."
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Confidence has never been an issue for Reynolds, but that's not to say his morale hasn't been tested a time or two since arriving in Laramie.
Reynolds could only stare at the ground and slightly shake his head when the topic was brought up. Disappointed. That was the first word that came to mind.
Devastated. That's the word that followed.
More than six months later and the memory is still fresh. Yes, Reynolds was using those descriptors to express his feeling about the Cowboys falling in the First Four game of the NCAA Tournament to Indiana, 66-58.
So did the fact he never left the bench.
"I had to look at myself in the mirror and understand why maybe I wasn't called upon in that situation," he said. "I took that personally. I took that to heart."
Reynolds had appeared in 10 consecutive games leading up to that meeting with the Hoosiers in Dayton. He said his expectations were to play, even if that was for a two-minute spurt. That didn't happen.
Hunter Maldonado manned the point for all 40 minutes that night. He scored a team-high 21 points in the loss. He also turned the ball over 10 times. Linder said postgame that his star point guard needed to slow down, opportunities were there.
At any point did Wyoming's head coach think about sitting Maldonado and giving Reynolds a shot?
"It's hard, but where we were at it was just one of those deals where just the game just didn't present itself, or at least I didn't think so," Linder said. "I told Noah afterwards, hindsight is always 2020, but, you know, we just rolled with those guys that got us there, for the most part."
Though the frustration is still apparent, Reynolds said he has shifted his mindset when thinking back on his brief March Madness experience. Despite averaging better than 15 points per night at Notre Dame High School and earning an All-State selection, college recruiters weren't banging down his door. In fact, until Wicks and Wyoming came along, Reynolds didn't field a single a Division-I offer.
"I kind of look at it as, you know, I wasn't even supposed to be here," Reynolds said. "They picked me up late, so I probably would've been in a whole different situation if they wouldn't have come calling. So, just just to be able to go there and witness the tournament -- I'm not going to say it was enough for me -- it was a whole experience in its own that allows me to look back at it and work just as hard so we can get back there so I can say I played in a March Madness game."
Linder said Reynolds may have taken the biggest steps this offseason of any other player on his roster. He lauded his effort, work ethic and consistency.
"He wants to prove people wrong," he said. "He's going to be a lot different player this year than he was last year just in terms of his aggressiveness ... I think the experience that he got last year is only going to help him. And I plan on him being a big, big part of what we're doing this year."
Maldonado agrees, wholeheartedly.
"Noah is like a little brother to me," the senior guard said in October. "He's worked so hard and I love him for that. I think this year everyone will be able to see how much work he's put in. He's grown a tremendous amount."
That has been apparent already through just seven games.
Reynolds has already scored in double figures in three of those outings, including a career day Wednesday in which he netted 25 points in an 89-85 overtime loss to Santa Clara in Salt Lake City. Two other times he has scored eight points, all while sharing time at the point with USC transfer Ethan Anderson and averaging just over 15 minutes a night.
The disappointment in Dayton just threw gas on Reynolds' fire.
"All I could do is transfer that energy onto the court and work my ass off last summer," he said. "So, that's what I tried to do so that this year we can get to that same spot."
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