Antonio Reynolds-Dean’s long and winding road to becoming a man

Antonio Reynolds-Dean blossomed into a star at URI. Courtesy photo / URI Athletics
Antonio Reynolds-Dean (left). Courtesy photo / CofC Athletics.
Antonio Reynolds-Dean (left). Courtesy photo / CofC Athletics.

When Antonio Reynolds-Dean left the court in March 2008, the sports world didn’t skip a beat. Reynolds-Dean never made it to the NBA; he spent his entire career toiling far from the limelight and played out his final game in a mid-level league 5,000 miles from home.

But he never became a statistic—he became a man.

Antonio de Andre Reynolds-Dean was born and raised on the west side of Atlanta and bore the scars of the city that bred him. Decades after the civil rights movement, the city was still reeling from the effects of slavery, reconstruction, and the Jim Crow south.

The west side is the most downtrodden section of a city that boasts one of the nation’s highest murder rates. As a youth, boarded up and burned out buildings, vacant lots, corner hangouts, and drive-bys were all Reynolds-Dean knew.

“I knew nothing of the outside world. I thought I was going to live and die in Atlanta,” says Reynolds-Dean, now a first year assistant coach at the College of Charleston.

Many of Reynolds-Dean’s childhood friends never made it out, but basketball served as his lifeline. After starring for Douglas High he accepted a scholarship from the University of Rhode Island.

“When you’re 16, 17 years old, you don’t understand the magnitude of the decisions you make. I didn’t know it at the time, but going to URI was the biggest and best decision of my life,” he says. “I don’t know what would have happened to me if I had stayed in Atlanta, but I know I would never have had a chance at the life I’ve lived if I hadn’t gone to Rhode Island.”

The story goes that Reynolds-Dean arrived in Kingston, Rhode Island, without a jacket to his name, unprepared for the harsh New England winters. After living in a segregated community his entire life, he found himself surrounded by people with backgrounds very different from his own.

“It was a definite shock to my system,” he says.

While Reynolds-Dean struggled to adjust socially off the court, he hit the ground running on the hardwood. Generously listed at 6’7”, he relied on an unmatched work ethic and a big heart to get the job done in the low post for the Rams. “He was a very undersized guy, but his mental toughness and his heart were as big as anyone’s that I’ve ever coached,” says former URI head coach Al Skinner.

Although he spent his entire career playing in the shadows of future NBA stars Cuttino Mobley and Lamar Odom, it was Reynolds-Dean—whom Odom refers to as a father figure—who was the heart and soul of the team. “Antonio gave every ounce he had every time he set foot on the floor,” remembers former teammate Preston Murphy.

And for one magical month in March 1998, Reynolds-Dean shone on college basketball’s biggest stage, leading the eighth-seeded Rams to a stunning upset over top-ranked Kansas and an appearance in the Elite Eight.

Reynolds-Dean set school records for games played and games started (131), finished second in school history in blocks (235) and third in rebounds (1,028), to go along with 1,576 career points scored. Arriving at URI as an unknown high-school player, Reynolds-Dean graduated as a professional prospect.

But his real transformation took place off court.

Antonio Reynolds-Dean blossomed into a star at URI. Courtesy photo / URI Athletics
Antonio Reynolds-Dean blossomed into a star at URI. Courtesy photo / URI Athletics

“I was forced to come out of my comfort zone. Back in Atlanta, it was easy to just stay in your community and avoid everyone different,” he says. “At URI, I couldn’t just go home and hide—I was forced to adapt. URI gave me the forum to really interact with different people for the first time in my life. It changed my life”

Reynolds-Dean credits Skinner and his coaching staff with helping him navigate unfamiliar territory.

“I can’t fully put into words the impact my coaches had on my life. Al Skinner, Ed Cooley, and Bill Coen (Skinner’s assistants) were really father figures; they helped me become a man,” he says.

Reynolds-Dean met his future wife at URI and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in human development and family studies.

“I came to Rhode Island with all these notions of how people were and what the world was, and I left with an entirely new outlook on life,” he says.

When his college career ended, Reynolds-Dean attended the Chicago pre-draft camp, where he competed against numerous future NBA players, more than holding his own. But NBA scouts couldn’t see past his camp measurement of 6’5”.

“His physical size prevented him from playing in the league, but it didn’t detract from the size of his heart and the effort that he gave every night,” Skinner reflects.

Reynolds-Dean’s name wasn’t called on draft night in 1999, but his NBA dreams lived on. Symbolically wearing his NBA shorts from the Chicago pre-draft camp underneath the uniforms of the Idaho Stampede, Dakota Wizards, Florida Sea Dragons, and Brooklyn Kings, he chased his dreams through the dark gyms and empty arenas of the minor leagues.

“For a year I gave my dream everything I had,” he says of his time in the International Basketball Association, Continental Basketball Association, and United States Basketball League (all have since folded). Reynolds-Dean led the IBA in rebounding, averaged a double-double, was selected to the All-IBA first team, and was named league Rookie of the Year, but the NBA still wasn’t calling. So in 2000 he signed to play professionally in Spain.

In March 2008 Reynolds-Dean stepped off the hardwood for the last time in an aging arena in Argentina. For eight years he had traveled the globe. Along the way he married, had two daughters, and made a very nice living playing the game he loved while competing against some of the world’s best players: “Basketball took me around the world and allowed me to see things and experience a life that I never could have had without it.”

Weeks after his final game, Reynolds-Dean joined the staff of Fairfield University’s head coach Ed Cooley. The following season he was hired as an assistant coach at Northeastern University, joining the staff of Coach Bill Coen.

Reynolds-Dean’s journey officially came full circle in December 2009 when he stepped onto URI’s Ryan Center’s floor as an opposing coach.

“It was definitely an amazing experience to be back there, and it really reminded me of just how far I’ve come,” he says.

Reynolds-Dean spent five seasons coaching under Coen, his former mentor during his playing days, at Northeastern. During those five years, Reynolds-Dean and his family lived in Providence and he commuted in to Boston on the train daily.

“Those train rides were definitely a time for a lot of reflection on my career and my life,” he says.

During his five years at Northeastern, Reynolds-Dean played an integral role in recruiting and developing the Huskies big men, among them Reggie Spencer and Scott Eatherton, and helped lead the program to NIT appearances in 2010 and 2013, while simultaneously earning his master’s degree in sports leadership from Northeastern in 2012.

“Honestly, it might sound corny, but education really brought me into an entirely new world, I wouldn’t be here without it,” he says.

By nature a career coaching college basketball means spending your life in constant motion, living out of a suitcase and never being able to truly put down roots in one place. After four years at Northeastern, Reynolds-Dean took a position at CAA rival College of Charleston over summer.

“My goal when I came to Northeastern was to leave the program in a better place than when I came there, just like when I went to URI as a player. I think I helped accomplish that,” he says.

It was bittersweet, as it meant moving on from one of the mentors who played a big role in his development as a player, coach and person in Coen, along with several players that he had recruited, but was also a necessary step in his own career.

“It was definitely a very hard decision. Bill Coen was the one that recruited me and mentored me and I grew up playing for and then grew up in the coaching business under. But he wanted what was best for me and there were no hard feelings at all,” says Reynolds-Dean. “We still talk to each other to this day.”

Moving to Charleston also meant returning to live in the south full time for the first time since he left Atlanta nearly two decades ago.

“Obviously I grew up down this way. My life’s kind of been split between the Northeast and the South, but it definitely feels like home down here.”

Reynolds-Dean’s first season at Charleston hasn’t been the smoothest of rides, as the team is in full rebuilding mode and sits at 1-4 in CAA play and 6-12 on the year.

“We’re a young team, we’ve got to go through the bumps and the bruises, just like when I first came to Northeastern and we were starting two freshmen in the front court in Quincy Ford and Reggie Spencer,” he says. “But I think once we get through it, we’re going to be a force to be reckoned with.”

It’s been nearly two decades since Reynolds-Dean first arrived in the northeast, a young kid introduced to a completely new environment. At times it feels like it was a lifetime ago. But other times, like when it was announced on Dec. 3 that he would be inducted into the URI Hall of Fame, it feels like it was just yesterday.

“It has been a long, long road. A lot of highs, a lot of lows. But everything along the way made me who I am today, and it all started by taking a chance on going to the University of Rhode Island,” he says. “And that is something I will never forget.”

Photo courtesy of CofC Athletics.
Photo courtesy of CofC Athletics.