By Matt Franzblau
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Kansas senior Tyrel Reed is living a dream scenario. The Burlington, Kan., native finished his bachelor's degree in three and a half years, meaning he is already a college graduate that is still playing Division I college basketball. With no homework on the horizon, the guard is free to focus on hoops, but that doesn't stop him from looking toward his next educational goal: medical school.
"I just have that drive to be the best that I can in each course," Reed said. "I am definitely not the brightest student in the classroom, but I just try to do the best with what God has given me."
The tools that Reed possesses have thus far helped him be named to the Academic All-Big 12 First Team on two occasions and nominated as an Academic All-American each of the past three seasons. The physical therapy and exercise science major has also recently been named to the list of finalists for the Lowe's Senior CLASS Award, which recognizes graduating seniors who stand out in the community and classroom and who show a respectable amount of character and competition.
"It is a really great award," Reed said. "To be named a finalist with all those other great players around the country is an honor and it's nice to be recognized for something other than basketball."
"There's a direct correlation between being responsible off the court and being successful on the court," said KU Head Coach Bill Self. "Tyrel feels good about himself because every single day he is productive and responsible, so I am not surprised at all of the success he has in either area because he knows no other way to do it."
Despite his achievements in the classroom, Reed's claim to fame in Lawrence is still on the historic hardwood of Allen Fieldhouse. During his tenure in the Crimson and Blue, Reed's 'Hawks have won more than 120 games, including three Big 12 titles and a national championship his freshman year.
"It has just been such a great experience," Reed said. "To win the national championship when I was a freshman, I know how lucky I was to be a part of that. Now that it is my senior year and I am playing with such a great bunch of guys, it makes me want to experience the same thing as I did when it was my first year here."
The four-year veteran has come a long way since his first season in Lawrence. Reed averaged 2.0 points per game in 2007-08 in just 6.3 minutes of play. Fast-forward to his senior season, and he is a perennial starter who is averaging a little less than 10-points per game in 27-minutes of play.
"I came in as a bright-eyed freshman who was really unsure of himself and was nervous to be out on the court," he said. "The past four years I've been able to spend a lot of time with my coaches and teammates and have grown up a lot because of it, both on and off the court."
One of those teammates, who helped Reed become the person and player he is today, is former Jayhawk and current Oklahoma City Thunder center Cole Aldrich. Aldrich was roommates with Reed last season and was coincidentally named Academic All-American of the Year as Reed was nominated for team honors.
"Cole is the same kind of person that I am in that aspect," Reed said. "He might not be the most gifted or book-smart person in the world, but he worked very hard for his grades. I just try to be like him and strive to be a good student in the classroom and the best basketball player I can be when I am out on the court."
One of the people who sees No. 14 when he's not at practice or on the road is Professor Bernie Kish. Kish had Reed as a student for one class, Sport Ethics, and two seminars over the last few semesters.
"We had about 80 students in our class so he did not talk as much as he might have had it been a smaller class. When he did speak though, he made very compelling comments and was very much the quiet leader of that class," Kish explained.
For Reed, balancing basketball with his books is truly a juggling act. Even after a long night playing a hard-fought conference game, the senior still finds the time and the discipline to sit down and finish his school work.
"I have had nights were we had an 8 p.m. tip on a Big Monday and we finish around 10:30, and get back into town around one in the morning," he said. "On top of that I would have a test the next morning, so I would study all night, try and get some sleep and then wake up and take the exam the next day. It's just one of those things you deal with. You don't really think about it. You know that you have to be prepared for the test, so you just block out being tired and go to work."
Despite sometimes working on little or no sleep, Reed is still able to perform up to his highest ability. That discipline and dedication leaves some of his professors and coaches in awe.
"He never missed a class and was always on time," Kish remembers. "He did very well on the exams and was a straight-A student for me. Even when we had group projects, his team always did really well and he was very engaged."
"His whole life is connected because of the way he carries himself," Self said. "Someone's performance is a direct reflection of their attitude and he has an unbelievably positive attitude."
With most of his time devoted to school and basketball, Reed knows all too well that other parts of his life often take a back seat.
"I am not really able to see my friends and family as much as other students do," he said. "I basically get to see my parents on game day for five or 10 minutes after the game. That's why you have to have good time management skills, to try and fit all those things into your schedule, while trying to be the best student and the best athlete you can be at the same time."
Those skills will come in handy when Reed takes his game to the next level--medical school, not the NBA. The recent college graduate has already been accepted to the KU Medical School's physical therapy program but won't necessarily rule out playing basketball professionally.
"My future is kind of just up in the air," Reed said. "I would love to further my career in basketball if given the opportunity, but right now I am just concerned with finishing up the season on the best note we possibly can. Afterwards I will just see where the chips fall into place."
If there is a chance to play beyond the college ranks, Reed can rest easy knowing he has an education waiting for him when he comes back to KU.
"If I am able to continue my career in basketball for a while, I would love to do that," Reed said. "I have already talked to KU Med, and they offered me two years where I can defer being accepted into the school, so I can come back without having to reapply."
Even though Kish admires his student's athletic prowess, he thinks Reed might have a future under the bright lights of an operating table rather than a basketball court.
"I think physical therapy is a very respectable profession," Kish said. "But I think Tyrel would be a very good medical doctor or orthopedic surgeon. I at least want him to consider that because I could see him as Dr. Tyrel Reed someday."
No matter what direction Reed goes once his college playing days are over, he knows the memories he has made while at KU will last a lifetime. For this life-long Kansan, suiting up for the Crimson and Blue is literally a childhood dream come true.
"When I was growing up I pretty much idolized all the KU players," the Burlington native said. "Whether it was Kirk Hinrich, Jacque Vaugn, Paul Pierce or Jerod Haase, I knew I wanted to be like them and play for the Jayhawks."
With Reed's hometown just 75 miles from Lawrence, coming to KU seemed like the most natural fit.
"I had several schools looking at me like North Carolina, Stanford and some from the Big 12, but Coach Self called me at the beginning of the signing period and told me there was a scholarship available if I wanted to become a Jayhawk," Reed recalls. "It was pretty much an easy choice from that point on because I wanted to be a Jayhawk my whole life. Looking back, I'm very thankful that I am a kid from Kansas who was able to live out his dream."
Whether that dream continues with Reed's name being called out over the public address system of a basketball arena or a hospital remains to be seen. Either way, one thing is certain: the same work ethic that carried the kid from Burlington, Kan., to the legendary court of Allen Fieldhouse will go far in serving him later on in life, no matter which line of work he chooses.