Standing 6-foot-8 and having had an accomplished high school and college basketball career, first as a player and now as a coach, it could be said that Reece Wiedeman has often been a “big man on campus.” But it wasn’t always that way. As much the former Greater Atlanta Christian and Georgia College and State University forward has thrived in the gym, and has a family history with the game, it might be surprising to learn that he started playing basketball a lot later than one might think. It was actually another sport that was his first love, and the current North Gwinnett boys assistant coach recently discussed both, and more, with staff writer David Friedlander.
DF: Basketball has a long history in your family. Your father Dirk played in high school. Your mom Leeann is in Georgia Tech’s women’s basketball Hall of Fame. And your younger brother Trent played in college at College of Charleston and Georgia Southern, and even played pro ball in Europe, I think. I have to think that was a big influence on you growing up, no?
RW: When I was a kid, I guess I started playing basketball kind of late. … It wasn’t until I was 11 or 12. It was something we watched a lot, March Madness being the best time of the year in the house. It was just exciting to watch professional or college basketball or anything. Then once I started playing, that was it.
DF: These days, that’s considered kind of late. Even back then, that seems kind of a late start, at least for organized basketball. I’m sure you shot the ball around on a hoop in the driveway or at the local schoolyard or gym or whatever. But was there are reason you waited so long to take up organized basketball?
RW: I honestly can’t remember. It was just one of those things where at that time, I just decided to start playing. I played baseball before that. It was kind of the first love, watching it on TV and I continued to play through middle school. Just rec ball, nothing special. But once I played basketball, that became the first love.
DF: So considering how tall your entire family is, was it a situation in which you were bigger than the other kids at an early age and were able to succeed a lot early on in your career?
RW: I was tall when I was younger, but I wasn’t very, very tall. I wasn’t 6-foot until I was a sophomore in high school. I hit a big growth spurt as a sophomore. I grew about four inches in three months, so that really helped. So I was 6-6 by the time I was a senior, and then I grew a couple (more) inches in college, as well.
DF: And you had your share of success in college at GCSU, but you also had your share of injuries to deal with. How tough was it to push on through the pain to finish off all four years there?
RW: My senior year, I’d hurt my ankle every other week or so. It was one of those deals trying to rehab during the week and get ready for practice and the games. I (eventually) redshirted, so I was there five years.
DF: Is that experience something you like to use as an example of perseverance to your players now as an assistant coach to encourage them to face adversity head on?
RW: Exactly. … We have one of the best athletic trainers at North with Doug Wardy, and he’s just great with our kids. … I know personally that if you don’t do your rehab, you’re not going to get healthy enough to play.”
DF: Getting back to the growth spurt you mentioned in high school and college, Sprouting up so quickly probably got some stares even before people knew you played basketball. And I’m sure some assumed you did before even knowing it. Did that get even a little annoying at times?
RW: Yeah (laughs). I mean, it still (a situation where I’m) out shopping … and it’s almost guaranteed someone will say, ‘You must’ve played basketball.’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah I did. Not anymore. I’m just a coach now.’ It was always something I ran to. I almost thought about making out a little business card that said, ‘Yes, I played basketball. I’m 6-8. Let me know if you have more questions.’
DF: On to another subject. Having grown up in a private school atmosphere at GAC and then going on to attend a public college at GCSU, and now coaching at public school, did that take something of an adjustment at first?
RW: Honestly, besides the obvious religious aspect at being at a private school, it was really more the size (of the schools that was a big adjustment), I guess. I graduated with about 160 people, and I think North’s (latest) graduating class is around 700 people or more. So the size is the biggest thing. But quite honestly, North Gwinnett kids and GAC kids are pretty similar. I guess growing up in the same kind of communities — there are kids from the North Gwinnett district who got to GAC — it’s really not too much different.
DF: If anything, going from metro Atlanta to GCSU in Millledgeville, which has a population of probably only about 20,000 or so, had to have been a bigger culture shock.
RW: It’s definitely different. It’s a pretty small town where a lot of people know each other. I guess it’s considered small (compared to) Atlanta, but it’s grown so much. Still, it makes Suwanee look huge.