Sunday March 23rd, 2008

TAMPA, Fla. -- The Villanova career of guard Scottie Reynolds began, shockingly enough, with a phone call from Kelvin Sampson that didn't violate NCAA rules. Reynolds, then a happy Oklahoma signee, received a call from Sampson during the 2006 McDonald's All-America festivities. Sampson told Reynolds he had accepted the job at Indiana. On the other end of the line, silence.

"I couldn't even speak," Reynolds said Sunday as he sat at his locker after scoring 25 points to lead 12th-seeded 'Nova to the Sweet 16 with an 84-72 win against Siena. "I didn't even speak to him. I had the phone, and he was talking. But I just couldn't."

Sampson gave Reynolds a chance to collect his thoughts before calling back. After a discussion, Reynolds understood why Sampson left Norman for Bloomington. "He made ... a family-oriented decision," Reynolds said. "That's what you have to do. You have to put your family first."

That philosophy also explains why Reynolds chose Villanova. In the abbreviated recruiting crush that followed Reynolds' release from his Oklahoma letter-of-intent -- his mom, Pam, called the period "painful" -- dad Rick finally offered Reynolds the criterion he needed to choose from suitors that included LSU, Michigan, Illinois, Oklahoma (again) and 'Nova. "If you can't decide," Rick told Scottie, "pick a place where your mom can come see you play."

So Reynolds chose 'Nova, less than three hours' drive from his suburban D.C. home in Herndon, Va. Rick and Pam, who adopted Scottie when he was two days old, rarely miss a game. Now, their son's career will take them to another exotic locale. As he and the rest of the Wildcats' parents celebrated the win in the stands Sunday, Rick Reynolds yelled at the top of his lungs: "Detroit!"

Exactly a week before 'Nova whipped Siena, the Wildcats -- losers of five consecutive games at one point in Big East play -- sat in Philly, watching conference tourney title games and wondering whether they'd play in the NCAA Tournament or the NIT. They'd needed a win against Georgetown in the quarterfinals of the Big East tourney to cement an at-large bid. But the Hoyas cruised to a win after Reynolds, with blood gushing from a cut above his right eye, sat for more than five second-half minutes. Still, the selection committee took mercy on the Wildcats. Give a committee member a truth serum, and he'll probably tell you 'Nova was the 65th team penciled into the bracket.

Even after the committee spared 'Nova the ignominy of the NIT, Wildcats coach Jay Wright joked that after 'Nova won two games in Tampa, he could send the team home Monday and drive to nearby Clearwater and take in a Phillies spring-training game.

"I joked because I didn't think it was going to happen," Wright said. "Now I've put my foot in my mouth, because I've got to go home with the team."

Wright will miss watching the Phillies' Ryan Howard in the cage thanks to Reynolds, who committed only two turnovers against Siena's smothering press and who shut down Saints guard Ronald Moore (three points, five assists), the guard who ignited Siena's offense in its 21-point thumping of fourth-seeded Vanderbilt on Friday. In fact, it was an early Reynolds three-pointer that convinced Wright he made the correct decision Saturday when he kept the Wildcats on the practice court for exactly 14 minutes. Wright had wanted his team to heal after a black-and-blue win against Clemson on Friday. But early Sunday, he worried the lack of shooting would cripple 'Nova. He stopped worrying 90 seconds in when Reynolds drilled one from high above the top of the key.

Reynolds kept scoring, and so did freshman Corey Stokes (20 points). Meanwhile, junior forward Dante Cunningham -- the only current Wildcat who played significant minutes on the team that reached the Elite Eight in 2006 -- scored 14 points and provided the same steady leadership he's offered all season. Harold Cunningham, Dante's father and a retired Air Force man, marveled at the Wildcats' resilience, for which much of the credit should go to his son. "Last team in," Harold said. "But hey, they're still here."

For that, they should thank Kelvin Sampson. Had he not left Oklahoma for Indiana, Wright never would have received the phone call from Herndon High coach Gary Hall explaining that Reynolds might be in the market for a new school. Did Wright remember Reynolds? Absolutely. He'd seen him play exactly once, at the Peach Jam, when he went to recruit current Georgetown player Chris Wright.

"I go, 'Is that Chris Wright?' I loved him," Wright said. "[An assistant] goes, 'No. That's Scottie Reynolds.' I said, 'Why aren't we recruiting that kid. That kid's unbelieveable."

Reynolds had already committed to Oklahoma, so Wright never gave Reynolds another thought until he got Hall's call. Given a second chance, Wright said he was interested, but he didn't have a scholarship. Not long after, guard Kyle Lowry declared for the NBA draft. This time, Wright called Hall. Less than two years later, the player who fell into Wright's lap has the Wildcats back in the Sweet 16 a year earlier than expected.

"We were handed on a platter a McDonald's All-American," Wright said. "So anything that happens to us negatively in recruiting, we can never complain."

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