After incoming freshman high jumper Maalik Reynolds committed to Penn this winter, men’s track and field head coach Charlie Powell received at least three or four phone calls from friends with roughly the same message.
“‘Wow, you just landed one of the top kids in the country.’”
His response each time? “‘Yeah, I know,’” Powell recalled yesterday with a laugh.
A two-time regional champ at Westminster High School (Ga.), Reynolds has earned that type of reputation within track circles, especially after the way he closed out his pre-collegiate career.
Back in June, he finished second at the USA Junior National Championships with an incredible leap of 7’2.5 — which happens to be equal to the Penn high jump record — and his stellar performance qualified him for the World Junior Championships, held in Moncton, Canada.
And, even with buzz swirling over Reynolds’ commitment to Powell’s program, there may be even more intrigue in one of Penn’s incoming freshmen: he’s attempting to walk onto the basketball team.
The 6-foot-7 Reynolds certainly has the genetics to excel in both sports. A freakish athlete who is about “as long as he is tall” (according to Tray Malloy, his high school basketball coach) and possesses a self-reported vertical leap of 35 inches, Reynolds would bring unparalleled athleticism to both squads.
Yet the forward’s skills on the basketball court go beyond his leaping ability. Malloy fired away positive attributes when breaking down his former star’s game.
“He is very long, lean, [and] mobile,” Malloy said. “He handles the ball extremely well for a kid that is his size. He runs the floor extremely well … [and] he’s got a very good first step.”
What makes the potential addition of Reynolds all the more compelling is the current state of the men’s basketball roster.
With 14 players returning and eight new basketball recruits coming in — what Reynolds called a “small army” — there are simply too many bodies and not enough roster spots. Teams can only travel with 15 players on road trips.
Nevertheless, Reynolds remains optimistic that he can make the team, citing his ability to add a new “dynamic” to the team with his unique frame and explosiveness. And he’s not alone in that outlook.
“I think what’s going to afford him the opportunity to make the team coming in is his ability to play multiple positions,” said Malloy, who believes Reynolds can play shooting guard in addition to both forward spots.
Men’s basketball coach Jerome Allen, meanwhile, was unavailable for comment, but logic suggests that his interest will be more than piqued once tryouts roll around in the fall.
But while it remains to be seen whether or not Reynolds will make the cut, there is little doubt about his track future.
Powell called his recruit “the real deal” and believes that Reynolds can be even better with some adjustment — better than current high jump record holder Adam Chubb, who played basketball and jumped in the early 2000s.
“While he’s a very, very good jumper, one, we know we can get him stronger and more powerful; two, technically, he’s got a little hitch in the middle of his approach that we think that if we can smooth out,” Powell said.
“You kind of hate to say it every now and then because sometimes kids have that burden of expectation, but he could be on that podium,” he continued, in reference to Reynolds’ potential to be an All-American. “He could be in the top three in the nation and maybe even be a national champion.”
Reynolds himself shares some of those high expectations.
When asked about his goals, he was quick to assert, “Make an impact,” but beyond that, he did have some numbers in mind.
“7’6,” he mentioned, a height he hopes to clear sometime during his freshman year. The high riser has cleared 7’4 in practice before and said he just clipped 7’6, but is primed to finally do it in competition and place his name in the school record books.
Time will only tell, but Reynolds may be leaping over both high-bars and helpless defenders on the fastbreak very, very soon.
SP Sports Editor Brian Kotloff contributed to the reporting of this article.
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