In the construction management software industry, one might not expect to find a former professional athlete. Kahua has the privilege of working alongside an individual whose exceptional talent extends far beyond his job title “Senior Client Executive.” Meet Lucis Reece, whose awe-inspiring journey from the basketball court to the sales division serves as a testament to the power of determination, resilience and the pursuit of excellence.
As the 2023 NBA Championship kicks off tonight, delve into the remarkable story of how this former basketball player traded in his jersey, bringing his well-earned teamwork skills and an unwavering drive to conquer new challenges. (By the way, Reece predicts Miami Heat as this year’s winner!)
From a young age, Reece was surrounded by the game of basketball and inspired by the greats. Though he initially doubted his talent and had a late start playing, he quickly discovered his proficiency and love for the game. Playing as a forward throughout high school, college and two years in a European league was exciting, but Reece found an even bigger passion once he began coaching and inspiring the next generation.
His basketball story begins with him shooting hoops in a southern Illinois town and ends with him having coached nine players that went on to play for Division I schools; six made it to the NBA. And with Reece playing in Illinois during the heyday of the Chicago Bulls championships in the 1990’s, of course there’s a couple of Michael Jordan interactions.
Reece’s neighborhood was full of basketball players. He began hanging out on one of the more popular courts. One day Ricky Frazier, who later played for the Chicago Bulls, was jumping and dunking.
“I just started rebounding for him,” Reece remembers. Frazier complimented Reece’s shots and asked him if he had thought about playing college basketball. At that point, Reece was in the seventh grade and had never even played on a team. Frazier had advised him, “It is not enough to be good at basketball. You have to have good grades, too.” After that conversation, Reece became a straight-A student obsessed with basketball.
Reece would not get a chance to play on a team for a few more years. He would still play pick-up ball in the neighborhood occasionally, but he also started to visit the Southern Illinois Student Center and play with the college students there. Around this time, Reece was being mentored by Stephen Bardo, who would go on to play for three NBA teams.
He grew four inches in one summer, and as a sophomore, he stood 6 foot 3 and tried out for the high school team. “I was incredibly nervous,” Reece recounted. Expecting to make the ninth/tenth grade team, he checked the roster on the wall and was upset not to see his name. Friends crowded around and told him, “You’re looking at the wrong list, man!” Reece checked the junior varsity list and still did not see his name.
Then he checked the varsity list: “Lucis Reece.”
He approached the coach and asked him, “Are you sure? I have never even played on a team before.” Reece was shocked even more when in his very first game, he saw his name on the starting lineup: “No one in the crowd even knew who I was,” Reece said.
He scored 12 points and had eight rebounds. “I was finally playing on a team,” he said. “And after all these people believing in me, it started to make sense.” He was hooked. “High school basketball was so fun.”
As an upperclassman, he started thinking about college basketball, particularly those schools in the Big 10. He was recruited by several schools but decided on Northwestern University. Reece’s position shifted slightly to the perimeter.
“This was a big change for me. I worked hard on improving my ball handling, perimeter defense and three-point shots,” Reece said. He adjusted quickly. Among Reece’s favorite teammates was Rex Walters, who went on to play for the New Jersey Nets. He said some of the most challenging moments were guarding talented players like Steve Smith, Nick Anderson, Willie Burton, Roy Marble, Jim Jackson, Glen Rice and Calbert Cheaney, all of whom later played in the NBA.
While in college, Reece also played at a local sports club. There he met Tim Grover, who was a personal trainer and helped teammates improve their game. Since Grover was majoring in kinesiology, Reece noted that he “truly brought the science to working out.” Reece remembers when Grover first approached Michael Jordan about becoming his trainer. This was well into the 1990s, when Jordan was with the Chicago Bulls, earning championship rings. Jordan was not working with a trainer at the time, and Grover convinced the future MVP to give him 30 days. Grover ended up working with Jordan for the next 15 years and trained other elite athletes: Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Scottie Pippen, Russell Wilson and Charles Barkley.
Reece graduated with a business degree from Northwestern in 1991 and hired an agent to help him through NBA tryouts. He came close with one team but fell short in the last round. So, he connected with the European league and played in London, England. He came back to Illinois that summer and played in a summer league to prepare for his second year of tryouts. That was not successful, so he went back for one final year with the European league. When intense back pain began, he decided to come home for good.
Reece had been hanging out with some connections in Chicago when he got a call from his friend Tim Grover, asking him to be an extra in a commercial. There were no other details. When Reece arrived at the University of Chicago the next morning, he learned he would be filming a Nike commercial with none other than Michal Jordan. They filmed for three days, and the commercial aired during the 1994 Super Bowl.
Multiple days of commercial shooting resulted in Reece being on the screen for three seconds. “I didn’t mind,” he said. “I was standing shoulder to shoulder with Michael Jordan. And it was one of the most fun experiences I have ever had.”
After moving to Minnesota for medical imaging equipment sales, Reece and a friend talked about coaching their own youth team. Other teams were already established, so they ended up with players the other teams cut.
“When I do something, I am all in.”
“We were tough and strict,” he said “We talked to the parents to make sure they were on board. They were all incredibly supportive.” Over the next few years, they worked hard at fundraising so they could travel to tournaments. Reece made sure that no matter where they traveled and what their budget, the kids had fun.
At one tournament, Reece ran into Joe Branch, a fellow Northwestern basketball alum. Branch noticed the team did not have matching jerseys or shoes, and he asked Reece if they had a sponsor; Reece explained they had to fundraise just to get to the tourney. Branch – who was working with Adidas at the time – said, “Well, you have a sponsor now.”
The team continued to improve, and it was not long before Reece and his friend coached all the top kids. At the end of Reece’s coaching career, he had nine kids go on to play in Division I basketball, and six made it to the NBA, including Allen Anderson and Patrick O’Bryant.
For all his amazing roles in the game, his favorite was guiding those kids. “I stay connected with all my players. They still call me coach.”