R eece Castor’s indoctrination to basketball occurred before he could learn proper shooting technique or how to dribble with his opposite hand. It happened at a time when most toddlers his age could be entertained with cartoons and toys. But for Reece, he found his joy in basketball.
It started with his dad, Clayton, bringing little Reece to his men’s league games and setting him down in his car seat as he watched his dad under the supervision from the players on the bench. As he grew older, he would beat his dad to the car and anxiously wait for him before a scheduled trip to the gym. By third grade, Reece’s dedicated work ethic became apparent, and Clayton sharpened his son’s skills so that he could eventually become the all-around talent that he is today.
“I never once asked him to go to the gym,” Clayton said. “That made it really easy to be around together in the gym with coaching and everything.
“When we first introduced Reece to basketball, we always had the philosophy that everyone needed to dribble the ball, and everyone needed to shoot because you don’t know who will be five-feet tall or seven-feet tall.”
Clayton’s emphasis on fundamental skill work has helped in turning his 6-4 son into a defensive nightmare for Gladstone’s opponents. Kids Reece’s size in the UP typically play center and don’t come anywhere close to having his unique guard skills. He can make 3s off a step-back or on a pull-up, hit teammates with a left-handed no-look pass from the right wing to the left block and on layups, he can switch hands mid-air to adjust for the help defense and still convert in traffic. Any conversation revolving around the best player in the UP typically begins with Reece.
“Players like him only come along once every couple of generations,” Gladstone coach Dane Quigley said. “He’s by far, throughout my years coaching basketball, the most talented player I’ve had the privilege of coaching.”
The pure love for basketball is still there for Reece; he uses it as an escape from a tough day or when something is on his mind. He’ll get shots up or lift weights to flush certain thoughts out of his brain. And during his career, there’s been a lot to think about.
In the summer before his freshman year, Reece was 6-feet tall, and he was skilled to the point where it was evident he would have a four-year varsity career at Gladstone. This was after North Central’s Jason Whitens — who entered the preps scene with sizable expectations and had success right away as a freshman — finished leading the Jets to their first of three straight Class D state titles. For the next two years in basketball discussions around the central UP, the two were compared when considering their potential and depending on who you talked to, the opinions could be split on who could turn out to be the better player.
“I didn’t really think about it,” Reece said. “I don’t want to go out there and try to compare myself to this guy or that guy, because in the end, I think we’re all different players. I just tried to go out there and do the best I could.”
While Reece would never acknowledge any sort of those discussions, his play certainly managed to amplify his hype and reputation. As a freshman, he averaged 16.3 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game and was named to the Class ABC All-UP Second Team. The next season was even better. He put up 40 points in a win against Mid Pen, led the Braves to a district championship and earned Detroit Free Press Class B All-State honors.
But while Reece excelled, Clayton was fighting a drama-filled battle off the court during the past two seasons. And after the Braves’ run to the regional title game, the interference of parents from the Gladstone community pushed Clayton to resign at the end of the season.
“I quit coaching because of the parents,” Clayton said, “and at the same time, I can see the value of not being a helicopter parent and being involved in everything my son does.
“The conversation with Reece was that I wouldn’t be there at practice with him anymore, but I’ll always be at home to help you. I think in the end, I believed it would be a positive thing, and I thought he would grow as a man without his dad looking over his shoulder.”
Now put yourself in Reece’s position. You just had a stellar sophomore season that included a district title and all-state honors. You’re on the rise on various recruiting rankings and begin getting interest from Division I schools such as UW-Green Bay and Central Michigan. It’s supposed to be an exciting time for a prospect, but for Reece, it was clouded with the tumultuous resignation of his dad.
Then there’s the awkwardness of staying with the program and representing the same community that features people who forced your father out.
“It was kind of weird and kind of hard to get used to, but he’s still in the gym with me practicing when we’re not in the high school season,” Reece said. “It was kind of a tough blow. I didn’t want him to stop coaching, but I understood why he did with the parents and everything like that. In the end, whatever makes him happy. He’s pretty content now with being in the stands and being able to watch us play and be there for us.”
Perhaps no other teenagers are scrutinized more in the UP than the talented, well-known athletes. When they play on the road, the opposing hometown fans go to get a glimpse so they can formulate their own opinions. A bad night, or even a bad couple of plays can lead to a “not that good” verdict. Then — as things do in the UP — words travel. Criticism can also come from a kid’s own hometown, “Yeah, he/she is good, but they can’t (insert complaint).”
This is Reece’s type of world, and he understands it. It’s what drives him to three-hour workouts every day in the offseason where he dedicates one hour to the weight room and two hours for shooting and ballhandling drills.
“I’m under a magnifying glass almost,” he said. “Everything I do is going to be magnified, but I don’t want to give into that. I want to do as good, if not better, than those expectations and what not.”
Reece also finds motivation in more direct ways than the perceived magnifying glass.
After one road game during his sophomore year, Clayton found the opposing team’s scouting report. By Reece’s name, it said “All or nothing,” meaning if Reece drove to the basket, he was going all the way to the hole. If he was on the perimeter, he was going to shoot the 3. Taking the slight in stride, Reece dedicated his offseason to adding a midrange jumper to his game.
After the drama-filled offseason, in his first varsity campaign without his dad as head coach, Reece averaged 21.1 points, 6.6 rebounds and 3.7 assists and was named to the All-UP First Team for the second year in a row.
“I think Reece consistently tried to identify his shortcomings and tried to get better,” Clayton said. “There was a big concern when I quit coaching on how Reece would respond. I just always believed through the whole process that I know my son, and I know he will respond in a positive way. It might take him a while to process it, but he’s a fighter and he will keep coming back and keep grinding, and that will never change. That’s the employee he’s going to be, and that’s the husband he will be someday.”
Reece is set to become the Gladstone boys all-time scoring leader. With 1,277 points, he’s 48 shy of the mark set by Doug Ingalls. He’s also on track to become the school’s overall leading scorer, a record held by Jammie Botruff (1,465). But that’s not what has dominated his thoughts as he prepares for his senior season.
With a 37-30 halftime lead over Boyne City on their home court, the Braves appeared poised to repeat as district champions. Then things unraveled. Boyne City took a 48-47 lead into the fourth quarter and then managed to outscore Gladstone 10-4 for a seven-point lead with just two minutes left. The Braves would lose, and the sting of watching his team fall apart provoked the quiet and unassuming guard to take on a larger leadership role this season.
“That’s been on my mind all summer. I definitely don’t want to feel that again,” Reece said.
Reece also decided to continue the work on his midrange jumper. Rae Drake, the former Bay women’s coach and now Michigan Tech men’s assistant, went through rhythm shooting drills with Reece to improve that area of his game.
Reece also had one more critical decision to make: college.
He didn’t want his senior year to be tainted with worrying about what coaches were in the stands on a given night, or about talking to this coach or that coach. He knew he wanted to commit before the season started.
Officially, he received full-ride offers from Northern Michigan and Michigan Tech. Of course there was the communication with the Division I schools, and the allure of going D1 is always an intriguing option for kids. But what appears to be the “cool” option and what is smart are two different things for certain individuals, and Reece understood that. He could wait around throughout the season and hope the offers from the Division I schools eventually came after the top prospects committed elsewhere, or he could go to a place he could contribute right away and get his education paid for.
“I had a chance to go to school for free, and that’s all that really matters,” Reece said. “I’d rather be a school’s first option than wait until the end of the season when a school’s first, second, third or fourth option fall through. I didn’t want to be someone’s fourth or fifth option.”
That left NMU and Tech, and both schools intrigued Reece. He felt a connection with the coaching staffs and the current guys on each roster; so much so, that he felt bad after he told the Tech coaches he would not be choosing their school.
For Reece, NMU’s location — one hour from his house — meant his family would be able to come and watch him play on a regular basis. And even for an introverted person like himself, there was a bond Reece immediately felt with the program during his visit to Marquette.
“I’m a pretty quiet kid, so being comfortable was a big thing for me,” he said. “I love that they preach a family type atmosphere as well. Everyone on their team is from different places and different backgrounds, but they jell really well.
“Coach (Bill) Sall was the first coach to really start talking to me and recruiting me, as well as being the first coach to offer me a scholarship. That meant something to me when it came to deciding where I wanted to go.”
A lifetime of honing every nuance in his game has prepared Reece to be the most well-rounded version of himself. He added a jumper so teams couldn’t treat him as a one-dimensional scorer. He speaks up more in practices, now, by taking on a leadership role that isn’t overly authoritative or condescending. And yet, this season has the potential to be the most challenging on the court of his career. When Rudy Peterson broke his leg during football season, it meant that for an extended time, Gladstone will be without a clear-cut No. 2 scorer next to Reece for the first time in four years.
There’s an analogy Clayton uses with his son during difficult times; it’s about chopping wood. It revolves around the idea that no matter what goes on, you just keep chopping the wood, putting in the work and trusting that it will get you to where you need to go in life. It’s what got him through the unfair criticisms, the unruly taunts from AAU opponents that are too vulgar to be printed for public viewing, and the emotional affair of his father’s resignation. And it’s what will allow him to work through the fluid roster changes of this year’s Braves team, because compared to the rest of the things Reece has been through, this is just basketball, and he’s been playing it his entire life.