Kowacie Reeves continues to rise for Georgia Tech

Tech's Kowacie Reeves gets fired up during the Georgia Southern at Georgia Tech basketball game, November 6, 2023, (Jamie Spaar for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jamie Spaar

Credit: Jamie Spaar

Tech's Kowacie Reeves gets fired up during the Georgia Southern at Georgia Tech basketball game, November 6, 2023, (Jamie Spaar for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Just a few months into his Georgia Tech tenure, Kowacie Reeves has a bit of a different outlook, one equals parts retrospective, focused on the present daily challenges of life at the institute and calculated toward the goals of a not-too-distant future.

And it’s an outlook that certainly includes always being on the right side of the scoreboard.

“My driving force is just winning,” he said. “On top of all the individual stuff, my main reason to come here was to go to the (NCAA) tournament. I’ve never experienced that. And I thought going to college, especially like a Power 5 school, that’s what you want to experience. Especially the opportunity we have here, I feel like we have a chance to reshape and get Georgia Tech back to the heritage and stuff like that.”

On the downbeat of the word, “that,” Reeves glances over each shoulder at the murals on the wall inside the Zelnak Center (Tech’s practice) facility. Players such as Kenny Anderson, Brian Oliver, Dennis Scott, Matt Harpring, Mark Price and Jarrett Jack, among others, adorn the wall as part of the homage to Tech’s storied history.

Reeves, Tech’s 6-foot-7 junior wing known to most as “Wacie,” sits in a comfortable blue chair inside the Zelnak Center lobby with these legendary players looking down behind him. It’s before 9 a.m. on a Thursday, and it takes Reeves a bit to become conversational. He woke up not too long ago after sleeping on a vacant couch inside McCamish Pavilion – he explains its easier after a late-night workout to just find somewhere inside the building to pass out than to go back and forth between his residence.

That tidbit is just a small example of how Reeves is approaching basketball and life, a bit differently than conventional thinking. From his ever-changing hairstyles and outfits to his fascination with Japanese culture and life, Reeves typically stands out.

“I joke with his dad, ‘Man, you got a weirdo on your hands.’ I say it in the most complimentary way,” Monquencio Hardnett laughed.

Hardnett has known the Reeves family a long time. About 10 years ago he began working with Reeves, a youth who didn’t exactly have the greatest basketball foundation, and shaping Reeves’ basketball game.

Reeves played baseball (pitcher) and football (wide receiver) growing up in Macon. He began to gravitate more toward basketball, he said, simply because he played it more often with his friends, whether that be in gymnasiums or driveways throughout town.

It wasn’t until November 2017, in a sort of epiphany of a moment, that Reeves realized not only that basketball was the sport for him, but basketball could open an array of opportunities for his future. As a freshman on the Westside High School varsity team, Reeves watched in awe as the Seminoles lost their season opener 103-55 to Montverde Academy (Fla.).

Former Yellow Jacket Michael Devoe, current Indiana Pacer Andrew Nembhard and current Toronto Raptor R.J. Barrett were just a few of the standouts on that powerhouse of a Montverde roster.

“I started to understand there were levels to basketball,” Reeves said. “I really didn’t think about college when I was a freshman in high school. I just was playing.”

Reeves averaged a little less than six points per game as a high school freshman, but his height, length and athletic ability were enough to make college programs, namely Florida, take notice. Reeves continued to grow and develop into a high-level player and high-level recruit, finishing his career at Westside as a McDonald’s All-American nominee and finalist for Georgia’s Mr. Basketball. Reeves averaged 27 points and 9.9 rebounds per game as a senior.

Hardnett, who coincidentally played at Connecticut from 1996-98 when Karl Hobbs, now a Tech assistant coach, was an assistant coach there, witnessed Reeves’ rise firsthand.

“It’s been incredible watching him just go from that fifth grader that really didn’t have an idea of what he was doing until now he’s in the gym every single day. I don’t think we’ve ever taken a day off since that day,” Hardnett said. “Just an incredible worker. Just a kid that knows what he wants, a kid that keeps me on my feet as well. If we don’t have anything planned, he’s calling me getting me to the gym. Just an incredible worker, man.”

Choosing Florida over Stanford, Reeves enrolled in 2021 and, despite all the hard work and accolades in the previous years, quickly was served a dose of reality. He played in 29 games and made 10 starts as a freshman but averaged only a little less than 16 minutes per contest.

Playing time for Reeves during the 2022-23 season increased by about four minutes per game. His offensive production, along with his minutes, remained sporadic. But as frustrating as those days at Florida were, Reeves acknowledges he has a better grasp on why things played out the way they did.

“It was hard for me to understand what was going on. It was hard for me to understand why people was doing certain things,” Reeves said looking back at his time at Florida. “I’m a freshman and regardless whether I work my butt off to play, I have a grad senior in front of me, and he’s more experienced, and he’s played a lot. My leash is shorter than his, and that’s just what it’s gonna be. Now looking back I can understand that way better.”

In March 2022, Florida coach Mike White left to take over Georgia’s program. Reeves and many of his teammates opted to find a new home of their own. In less than a month, Reeves had signed to play with Tech and for coach Damon Stoudamire.

The move made the most sense logistically. It gave Reeves a chance to return to his home state where his mother is a nurse for Emory and his father now helps coach Reeves’ sister on the Central High School basketball squad in Macon. The transfer also allowed Reeves to recalibrate his expectations for himself and from his new teammates and coaches.

“It’s a blessing,” he said of being in Atlanta. “Finally, I feel like I’m reaping the benefits of individual discipline and individual perseverance of my college career and stuff I’ve endured as far as the nuances and the ups and downs of college.

“(Stoudamire) just invested in getting me to grow as a human being. I’ve just accepted the challenge and allowed these guys here to pour into me and allowed myself to be vulnerable to grow. I feel like that’s what’s happening.”

Reeves has started all 17 games for the Jackets (9-8, 2-4 SEC) and likely will be in the starting lineup again at 6 p.m. Saturday when Tech hosts Virginia in another pivotal ACC contest. He is averaging 12.2 points per game, has scored at least nine points in six consecutive games and in double figures 10 times this season and knocked down five 3′s on Tuesday in Tech’s double-overtime triumph at Clemson.

A 41.9% clip from 3 for Reeves, whose shot form might certainly be described as unconventional, leads all Tech players (he connected on only 26.2% of his 3-pointers last season). His jaw-dropping dunk Saturday at Duke may be the Tech highlight of the year thus far.

“He’s been the most consistent player since the day I got here,” Stoudamire said. “He’s accepted his role, and he’s been a star in his role. He hits big shots, he’ll get a big rebound, he makes the right play defensively, he’s always solid. Guys like (Reeves), when you don’t call their name a lot, he just does the right thing each and every time. He’s been great since the day he walked on campus.”

Reeves is studying history and technology at Tech. His education, however, doesn’t start and end in the classroom. He often animates, using an application on his smartphone, and draws. He has a bookcase full of comic books. He has spoken to his family about the real possibility of living in Japan – and all things considered, he said, giving the opportunity to play in the NBA or join a pro basketball league in Japan, he very may well choose the latter.

Until then, though, Reeves will continue to do what he has always done: work hard. It’s a life skill he learned from both his parents, one harped upon even more by his father.

“My freshman year when I was struggling to even play, then I remember the contrast of when I did play, I was still doing the same thing. We’d go play Kentucky on the road, we’d get back off the plane, I sit in my locker and wait until everybody leaves, work out, go back to my dorm, get up a couple hours later, work out before class, go to class, practice, work out again later that night. Nobody would know that, and nobody would notice it,” Reeves said. “That’s the part that people don’t talk about. You don’t have to have somebody watching. Just because I did that still didn’t mean I was gonna get in the game.

“That’s the realism that comes with hard work. You have to do it consistently and you have to have a certain discipline that you just don’t know what results you’re gonna get, you just know you’re getting better.”