When Julie Jackson needs to escape, she puts on headphones and listens to music. The Lox is her go-to, but there’s also R&B playlists, gospel playlists and some newer hip-hop as well. Even in the most raucous environments, she can find calm as she watches her son.
When the Virginia Cavaliers need to escape, they turn to Jackson’s son, junior guard Reece Beekman. A lock-down defensive possession is his go-to, but there’s also a pair of game-winning 3-pointers and some rim-rattling dunks that send statements louder than any words from the soft-spoken Beekman could.
Jackson got her strategy from Jalen Suggs’ mother. The former Gonzaga star, now with the Magic, played with Beekman on the AAU circuit, one of Beekman’s many high-profile teammates at the youth level. Beekman got his mind-set, at least on the defensive end, from his older brother, Bryce.
“Bryce played basketball, phenomenal at basketball,” Jackson said. “He was a master of steals, and on the football side, he’s a free safety. So Reece gets his defensive instincts [from Bryce].”
To know Reece Beekman is to know his mother. Jackson has a bubbly personality and a joyous laugh and estimates she’s been to 90% of her son’s games. She sometimes makes trips from Milwaukee to wherever the Cavaliers are playing on a whim. Reece’s father, Demetri Beekman, starred at Assumption College and still holds the Division II career assists record. Jackson and Demetri Beekman divorced when Reece was young, though, and Jackson and her two sons grew tight.
“We’re really close,” Jackson said. “You know, I really don’t even talk basketball with Reece. Sometimes he asks me what I think, and then I’ll give him my opinion. I’m just supportive on hard days. We’re very honest with each other. If he just doesn’t play well, I’ll just say something like ‘I love you, and I’m proud of you.'”
To know Reece Beekman is also to have known his brother. Bryce was the outgoing one, Jackson says, while Reece is more reserved.
“He’s a quiet, to-himself guy,” Virginia associate head coach Jason Williford said. “Loves his teammates. It takes him a while to get to know you.”
Bryce, a starting defensive back for Washington State in 2019 after transferring from Arizona Western, died in late March 2020. He was 22.
It came weeks after the COVID-19 pandemic rocked the United States and Beekman won his fourth state title in four years at Scotlandville Magnet High School. Bryce had been home but unable to attend the game due to COVID-19 restrictions. In Bryce’s final Instagram post, he and Reece are together, Reece with trophy in hand, both brothers holding four fingers up, one for each state title. On Bryce’s shirt is a picture of the brothers and the words “Brother’s Keeper.” That was the last time the family of three was together.
Days after Bryce’s death, Reece was named Louisiana’s Gatorade Player of the Year with a heavy heart.
“We were so devastated,” Jackson said. “And we’re still devastated. Bryce was Reece’s biggest cheerleader.”
After one of Beekman’s best AAU games — a loss, no less — Virginia assistant Orlando Vandross called Jackson and said, “That’s a kid I can take into Cameron Indoor with me,” referencing Duke’s iconic arena where the Cavaliers had won just once in Beekman’s lifetime before he arrived in Charlottesville.
In February 2022, Beekman nailed the game-winning 3-pointer with less than a second left at Duke, proving that he was someone Vandross could not only take into Cameron Indoor, but win with at Cameron Indoor.
“He’s comfortable with big shots,” said Williford, who drew up the play. “He’s not afraid of the moment. You wouldn’t know that, but he’s got ‘onions’ as ‘Raf’ (legendary commentator Bill Raftery) would say.”
It’s moments like those — and there have been plenty — why Jackson switches between past and present tense when talking about her older son.
“You know, a lot of people don’t believe in stuff, but there are certain shots that Reece makes that should not have gone in,” said Jackson, who made the choice to attend the Duke game earlier that day. “Just certain things that happen that don’t make sense.
“I think Bryce is present. I think Bryce motivates Reece. And even though it’s the saddest thing, I think we just have to go on knowing how proud Bryce was of him and what Bryce would want him to do.”
Beekman’s bond with his mother and his brother has fueled his rise from defensive specialist as a freshman to all-around standout on the nation’s seventh-ranked team as a junior.
“They’ve been with me from the start, you know, middle school, elementary, all the AAU trips, high school trips, and they’re still making their way out here to support me,” Beekman said.
But he knows there’s more work to do. His story is still being written.
Long before there was Reece Beekman the All-ACC defender or Reece Beekman the big-shot maker, there was Reece Beekman the quiet kid in the land of the unknown after moving from Milwaukee to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in eighth grade. Well, it was mostly unknown. The hardwood was familiar, and it became home.
“I saw him play in the eighth grade, and you could tell, he was special,” said Scotlandville High coach Carlos Sample. “He probably could have started on our varsity team as an eighth-grader.”
That was even with Javonte Smart as the team’s lead guard. Smart, who played for LSU and is currently with the G League’s Birmingham Squadron after stints with the Heat and Bucks, also got a strong first impression.
“At first he was knocking down trey ball after trey ball; he was a shooter to me,” Smart said. “But then as I started watching, he started making plays and becoming a playmaker. His game kind of evened out.”
And there was always the defense.
“I really wouldn’t say I have any tough matchups,” Smart said with a laugh. “But he’s definitely a great defender. He has a unique talent on his own. His wingspan, that helps him out a lot. He’s got good feet.”
Smart and Beekman both admit the battles in practice and the togetherness on the court helped them improve.
“He taught me a lot,” Beekman said. “Just little things with the shot. How he gets to the goal, his hesitation, his pull-up. … Seeing his mindset and how he plays helped me a lot in high school, and it’s definitely helped me a lot now in college.”
It was more than a long wingspan and good feet, though. Beekman’s feel for the game was apparent early. When Beekman was young and his Milwaukee-based AAU program hosted tournaments, coaches turned to him to help create balanced brackets. He’d remember stats and playing styles for events that attracted some of the nation’s biggest prep stars.
On the court, Beekman learned quickly to play alongside star recruits such as Jalen Johnson (now with the Hawks), Patrick Baldwin Jr. (Warriors), Jaemyn Brakefield (Ole Miss) and a handful of other D-I talents on his AAU team. At Scotlandville, Beekman shared a backcourt with Smart, a three-time Louisiana Gatorade Player of the Year, for two years. Beekman won his own as a senior, leading the offense and defending every position on the court.
“I think when they made him, they broke the mold,” said Sample, who has coached several future pros. “Not often do you get to coach a talent such as Reece Beekman. I mean, I had Damian Jones and Javonte Smart come through, but Reece brings some other stuff to the table that makes him the player that he is.”
“He’s always had a composure, he always just found ways to fit, and that’s his game” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “He doesn’t care if he gets a ton of shots. He just fits in.”
Fitting in on the court at Virginia was seamless. Even for a program that’s had great success with redshirt years, and even on a team that featured current NBAers Trey Murphy III and Sam Hauser, Beekman brought a valuable dimension.
“The way we saw him slide his feet and guard, and the way he was able to get steals, you could just see from an early time to where he was gonna be a special player,” Beekman’s backcourt mate Kihei Clark said.
“It was day one in practice,” Williford said. “I mean his anticipation, his quick hands. It was immediate.”
Beekman points to his second career game — a one-point loss to San Francisco — as a moment he knew he belonged, not just in practice but against real competition. Against the Dons’ outstanding backcourt, Beekman scored 11 points, made five of six shots, gathered four rebounds and didn’t have a turnover in 27 minutes.
“I didn’t know how the season was going to go,” Beekman said. “But playing that much, it kind of just surprised me a little bit, but it kind of told myself that they believe in me — I have the ability to be out there.”
Off the court, with the pandemic raging, it was harder. Beekman was still dealing with his brother’s death and had few outlets outside basketball to help him cope.
“At the end of the year, he said, ‘Mom, I don’t think you realize, I didn’t meet one kid this year that wasn’t associated with the basketball program,'” Jackson said.
That freshman season ended with the biggest play of Beekman’s career — and then with a thud days later. Beekman made a game-winning, buzzer-beating 3-pointer against Syracuse in the ACC Tournament quarterfinal.
It was another one of those moments that Jackson says Bryce was there. Beekman had missed all five of his shots in that game and hadn’t made a 3-pointer in over a month.
What could have kickstarted a strong postseason did anything but. The Cavaliers had a positive COVID-19 test the next day and were immediately out of the conference tournament. After a week of quarantining and essentially no practice, the cold-shooting Cavaliers lost to Ohio in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Though the 3-pointer against Syracuse was his biggest play of his season, Beekman finished shooting just 24% from deep on the year.
Beekman typically splits his offseasons between Charlottesville, where he works with strength and conditioning coach Mike Curtis; Baton Rouge, where he often works alone; and Milwaukee, where he works with his longtime trainer, Luke Meier and, often, other college and professional players. But after his freshman year, Beekman spent about a month with Meier one-on-one, altering his jump shot. They specifically focused on changing his hand placement and body posture so Beekman could get more arc on his shot.
“He would have a tendency to kind of get hunched over and get the ball out away from his body,” Meier said. They wouldn’t count makes but rather shots with correct form.
“My goal was to get him comfortable enough that when he went back to UVA, he had the mental ability to kind of coach himself and be comfortable with what he was doing,” Meier said.
To Bennett, who still holds the D-I record for career 3-point percentage, the adjustments were needed, but they didn’t come without concerns.
“Luke did a good job,” Bennett said. “You always have a dilemma when a young man comes into your program, you know, he’s shot hundreds of thousands of shots, and habits are formed. … So, you’re always smart with your changes. But sometimes they need to be made, and they help.”
Beekman jumped to 34% beyond the arc as a sophomore and is up to 47% this season. His numbers reflect that across the board offensively.
Beekman getting better
|Reece Beekman Points Per Possession by Play Type||2021-22||2022-23|
|Pick-and-Roll Ball Handler||0.54||0.74|
— Source: Synergy Sports
Early this season, Beekman’s improvement became clear. At the Continental Tire Main Event in Las Vegas, he posted a double-double in a win over No. 5 Baylor and, one night later, had 17 points, four rebounds, three assists and three steals against No. 19 Illinois in the event’s championship. Beekman was named MVP.
Shortly thereafter, at Michigan, Beekman recorded an 18-points, five-assist, four-rebound gem that included a thunderous first-half dunk — “a pretty big play for us,” Beekman sheepishly admits — and, in the final minute of the game, an assist on the go-ahead shot, a steal, a free throw and a defensive stop at the buzzer to preserve a win.
NBA Draft prognosticators took notice, too. Beekman, despite his best efforts, couldn’t help but be a little excited.
“Going professional is something that we never really talked about. Never,” Jackson said. “Just this fall is when he started coming up in mock drafts and he would just text me, like, ‘Oh my God. I can’t believe it.'”
One NBA scout noted that Beekman’s defense — proven against plenty of current and future NBA guards — was a known quantity. The improved shooting and expanded offensive repertoire has generated more interest, though there’s room for growth on that end.
Then came a hamstring injury in early December against James Madison. Beekman gutted things out, missing just one contest, but the Cavaliers struggled, losing three games with their versatile guard far from 100%, the only three games they’ve lost this season.
It wasn’t until over a month later, against North Carolina, that Beekman had regained his normal burst. Against the Tar Heels, Beekman recorded 13 points, five assists and five steals, capping the performance by blowing past former AAU nemesis Caleb Love and dunking and then blocking Love to seal the deal. In a rare outward display of emotion, Beekman thumped his chest twice.
“That game was very, very personal,” Jackson said.
“You want them to be sort of fearless and stay within your game,” Bennett said postgame. “I’m starting to see that, just the evolution of him.”
More recently his dunk to close out the first half vs. Virginia Tech earlier this month whipped the crowd (including Steph Curry) at John Paul Jones Arena into a frenzy.
Beekman’s normally reserved nature belies a fierce desire to win. Williford compares him to former Virginia star and current Celtic Malcolm Brogdon, who was the 2015-16 ACC Player of the Year. Meier says the stoic intensity reminds him of two-time NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard. Beekman is rarely on social media — if he is, he’s often sharing good news about teammates past and present — and offseason workout videos are impossible to find. Jackson says her son takes losses extremely hard and would be hard-pressed to name hobbies outside watching college football and playing basketball.
“He just really wants to hoop,” Meier said of the offseason workouts. “Anything that’s outside of that, you could probably leave.”
He’s slowly becoming a more vocal leader, too.
“He is sort of quiet, but I think he really does a great job of leading on the court through his play and getting guys energized through the big plays,” Clark said. “When he’s steady on the ball, it picks up everybody, and he’ll start to get on guys when you need to pick it up and tell guys, ‘You need to bring more.’ I’ve definitely seen that part of him grow a little bit.”
For all of Beekman’s big plays and statistical milestones — he broke Virginia’s single-season steals record last year and finished second in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio, for example — he’s yet to make his mark on March Madness. The Cavaliers haven’t won an NCAA Tournament game since the 2019 championship. COVID-19 canceled the 2020 tournament and disrupted Virginia’s preparation in 2021. The Cavaliers didn’t make last year’s tournament, which frustrated Beekman deeply, Jackson said.
This year’s Virginia team is in position to end the drought, led by the guard play of Beekman and Clark and a strong supporting cast. So, for Beekman, NBA thoughts can wait. He’s come too far and overcome too much to get caught focusing on anything other than the task at hand.
“[My motivation is] being the best I can be and getting the full potential out of myself,” Beekman said. “I just don’t want to sell myself short. I know a lot of people have put a lot of time and energy into me trying to achieve my dreams.
“I just want to do the best I can for them and just put everything I got out on the court.”