• EDITOR’S NOTE: On Campus features graduates of area high schools who are playing college sports. This weekly installment appears every Friday in The Indiana Gazette throughout the school year. It will return on Jan. 10 following a holiday hiatus. If you know of anyone who should be featured or included, email Mirza Zukic at email@example.com or call (724) 465-5555, ext. 267.
Jesse Reed isn’t playing basketball just for himself anymore.
For the past two weeks, since the sudden death of his close cousin, Aaron Ulisse, Reed has laced up his shoes with a heavy heart, and Ulisse hasn’t been far from his heart or thoughts.
When the going gets tough at practice, and he wants to stop, Reed pushes himself through it with thoughts of his recently passed cousin.
Ulisse died Dec. 2 at age 23. Although the cousins graduated high school four years apart and never played high school basketball together, they had a bond that went back to their toddler years.
“It’s really hard. It’s been really tough on us. We were kind of like brothers. We all grew up in the same town. He’s the closest thing I had to a brother,” Reed said. “It’s hard. It definitely has inspired me, gave me more motivation to play. I’m not playing for myself anymore. I’m reppin’ No. 14 just like he did. Hopefully, I can do him some justice. If I ever think I’m tired or I don’t want to work out, he’s in the back of my mind. I know he’s watching over me. It’s like, ‘I’ve got to do this. I’ve got to make him proud while he’s watching over me.’”
A 6-foot-5 guard for the American University men’s basketball team, Reed is coming into his own as he begins his sophomore season. He’s a regular in the starting lineup this season, and he leads the Eagles in scoring with 13.5 points per game.
A Saltsburg native who played at Saltsburg High School as a freshman and sophomore before transferring to Greensburg Central Catholic, Reed is living his dream of playing Division I basketball. Although he loves the big-city life of Washington, D.C., Reed admits he misses home, too.
“I love it down here,” Reed said. “I definitely miss my family, though, that small-town feel. But it’s cool to get the experience of the big city. I feel like I have the best of both worlds.”
Since his younger days at Saltsburg, Reed has never had trouble getting to the basket or filling up the score sheet. His game consisted of either driving to the basket or shooting the 3, and he doesn’t shy away from driving the lane even against the tall oaks of Division I.
“Actually, I like seeing the big guys in there,” Reed said. “Driving is the part of my game I’m most comfortable with, because I can finish or try to get myself to the free throw line to get going. I’ve always felt most comfortable doing that, even last year (as a freshman). It’s just that the opportunities aren’t there as much because of the offense we run and everyone is a better defender. It’s not that I’m hesitant to drive the basket, but there aren’t as many opportunities.”
Because of that, Reed has focused on improving his midrange game this season.
“In our offense there’s more opportunities for pull-up jumpers, and coaches stress it, so that’s my focus this year,” he said. “I was always either a 3-point shooter or driving to the lane. Now it’s about finding that midrange game.”
Just six games into his sophomore season, Reed already sees a difference in himself from last season, when he was adjusting to the college game. The biggest difference is in his preparation and most importantly, in his defense.
“In high school you can kind of slack off and take breaks on defense,” he said, “but in college you’ve got to play hard on every single play, and you’ve got to prepare yourself not to back off.
“I kind of know what to expect, kind of know how to prepare mentally and physically for it. The biggest thing is my confidence level. You’re not the top dog like you were in high school, and it’s weird going back to the start and trying to get back to the top. But my coaches have been telling me to be more confident and aggressive, and it’s paying dividends.”
KEVIN STAPLETON and KEVIN SNYDER (Juniata, basketball): A starting senior guard, Stapleton is the Eagles’ leading scorer with 15.9 points per game. He also leads Juniata in 3-point field goal percentage (51.7) and ranks second in overall field goal percentage (51.9).
An Indiana graduate, Stapleton also leads the Eagles in minutes played, and in addition to his scoring, he adds 5.7 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game.
Juniata is off to a 6-1 start this season, and the Eagles have won six straight since a season-opening loss to Mount Aloysius on Nov. 15.
The 6-foot-3 Stapleton has scored in double digits in every game, including a career-high 27-point game in a 77-71 win over Saint Vincent on Nov. 30. In that game, Stapleton was nearly perfect from the floor, shooting 10-for-11 overall, including 5-for-6 from 3-point range.
For that effort, Stapleton was named the Landmark Conference player of the week for the week of Dec. 2.
Stapleton ranks sixth in the conference in scoring, seventh in field goal percentage and third in 3-point field goal percentage.
Also a senior and an Indiana graduate, Snyder is a backup guard. He has appeared in four games. He has not attempted a shot, but he has collected three rebounds and three assists.
NICHOLAS SMITH (Westminster, swimming): A junior from Indiana, Smith is a member of the Titans’ nationally ranked swimming program that has won the past five Presidents’ Athletic Conference titles.
Westminster is off to a 5-0 start in dual-meet competition, and the Titans have posted a pair of top-five finishes at invitationals to start the season.
Serving as the host team for the Westminster Relays on Oct. 25, the Titans claimed a first-place team finish. The Titans followed that up with dual-meet wins over Penn State-Behrend, Bethany, Allegheny, Washington & Jefferson and the College of Wooster in a three-week span.
Last weekend, in their last competition before a monthlong holiday break, the Titans finished fourth in the nine-team field at the College of Wooster Invitational.
Most recently, at the Wooster Invitational, Smith posted a 14th-place finish in the 500-yard freestyle. Before that, he was having a strong November.
A middle-to-long-distance swimmer who specializes in freestyle events and the individual medley, Smith is having a particularly strong start to the season.
In his best day in the pool, Smith won three individual events against Washington & Jefferson on Nov. 13, when he won the 1,000 freestyle (10:22.98), 100 freestyle (55.44) and 200 butterfly (2:01.06).
For his efforts, Smith was the named the PAC swimmer of the week for the week of Nov. 18.
Smith also won multiple events against Allegheny on Nov. 9, finishing first in the 1,000 freestyle (10:21.41) and the 200 butterfly (1:59.65). He won the 200 butterfly and 500 freestyle against Wooster on Nov. 16.
In the latest Endless Pools/CollegeSwimming.com Division III national rankings released Thursday, the Westminster men are ranked 24th.
TIM OFMAN (Pitt Johnstown, soccer): The Mountain Cats’ starting goalkeeper, Ofman finished the season ranked among the top one-third of all Division II goalies in a pair of categories.
Ofman was tied for 28th in the country in total saves (84) and tied for 33rd with 5.25 saves per game.
In their first season in the PSAC, the Mountain Cats endured a trying 2-16 season. Ofman carded 16 starts and had a 2-14 record with a 3.04 goals against average. He allowed 47 goals in 1,393 minutes of playing time behind a shaky defense that yielded 352 shots on the season, including 298 against Ofman.
A graduate of United, Ofman posted one shutout, a 1-0 win over Chowan on Sept. 21. Although he allowed two or fewer goals in nine games this year, the Mountain Cats were 2-7 in those games.
BLAINE WAINWRIGHT (Mansfield, sprint football): A four-year starter on the offensive line for the Mounties, Wainwright capped his career with a postseason honor this week.
A Blairsville graduate, he was voted to the all-Collegiate Sprint Football League first team. It was his second career selection to the all-league team.
Wainwright played mostly center this season, but he played tackle in 2011 when he earned a second-team all-CSFL selection. He started 27 of 28 games during his career at Mansfield.
Sprint football is football for players 172 pounds or lighter.