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Freshman point guard Kemari Reynolds is getting her first taste of the Palestra and college basketball after having her last high school season cut short. (Photo from Kemari Reynolds)

Freshman point guard Kemari Reynolds is finally getting a chance to step onto the Palestra floor, and with her final high school season cut short, she is eager to get on the court with her teammates.

For Reynolds, basketball is a family affair. Growing up in a military family, she lived in Japan before moving to New Jersey. It was there that her father started to play basketball, and everyone else in the family naturally followed. 

Reynolds' brother, Shavar Reynolds Jr., is a senior guard at Seton Hall, having walked on as a freshman. His hard work and determination are what make him her biggest role model. Shavar was also a critical element of Reynolds' at-home regimen during the height of quarantine. 

“[We made] sure we were staying in shape and since we couldn’t really go outside, we did a lot of calisthenics workouts, like pushups and sit-ups inside the house. My mom bought us a basket to put up out on the street, so we were always staying in shape and making sure we were getting some type of work in every single day.”

Beyond spending time with her brother, Reynolds has also been able to engage with her teammates over the Internet. Like many other sports teams at Penn, the women's basketball team has emphasized staying in touch even when not on campus. 

“I made sure I stayed in contact with a lot of my teammates just to kinda keep the chemistry going, because during the summer, we had a big GroupMe for sending our workouts, for sending pictures. We were always staying engaged with one another.”

Beyond team Zoom calls, and before official practices started, members of the team were able to meet in-person to use an off-campus gym complex to work out and run pick-up games. Reynolds and some of her freshman teammates were also able to stay in shape by going on runs at Penn Park.

This sort of connection made it a lot easier for Reynolds to transition to practices and college life since she moved on campus in January. Additionally, because she was training daily in the fall, she feels confident in her ability to manage her workload as practices begin.

While it is nice to get on the court, Reynolds is still greatly looking forward to a real Division I basketball experience.

“I’m most excited for seeing how far I can go," Reynolds said. "I’m ready for the challenges that are going to be put on me, as a freshman, as a sophomore. I’m more excited too to just get that Ivy League feeling, being out in the Palestra with the light shining down on me in the middle of the court, and running the offense. Just being fully a part of the Penn women’s basketball program that is spoken so highly of.”

The compliments go both ways between Reynolds and the women’s basketball program. The hard work and spirit that Reynolds has displayed over the past year are exactly what McLaughlin saw in her as a recruit. 

“[Reynolds] has a very competitive spirit about her," McLaughlin said. "She distributes the ball really well. She’s got that spirit about her that’s hard to teach."

When McLaughlin was asked about what he expects from Reynolds across the rest of the semester, he said the expectations are no different than any other freshman. 

“To be a Penn player, to compete, to be selfless, to share," McLaughlin said. "My expectations are for her and every other freshman to understand where this program is, and how we got here, with a consistent everyday commitment to play basketball at Penn.”

Although the recruiting process for Reynolds, like any other D-I athlete, was a challenging one, she knew that Penn was the place for her right when she stepped on campus, and she is excited to be part of Penn’s legacy.  

Her basketball goals, however, do not end with Penn. 

“One hundred percent [I want to play professional basketball]. Me and my brother, that’s been our dream since we were kids," Reynolds said. "He’s going to be playing in the NBA soon and my dream is to definitely play overseas or go to the WNBA. I know I have the skills to do it and the coaches who are going to help me get there. I’m just excited for the journey.”

After setting the assist record for her high school, a big part of this journey will be to keep up her prolific passing, but her goals for the team are even greater.

“I want to win an Ivy League Championship all four years,” Reynolds said.

Penn students are lucky to have the chance to accompany her as she chases these goals at the Palestra. While we might have to wait a while to get the chance to see Reynolds leading Penn’s offense, there is no doubt she has the potential to become a strong leader.