Don't Get Too High, Don't Get Too Low: The Story of Reese Mona
When comparing college and NBA basketball, one difference that is often overlooked is the role that walk-ons play. Not on scholarship, these players sacrifice time and hard work just to have a shot at playing for a high level teams. However, the stories of these walk-ons are more interesting than any other player on the planet, and each and every one provides lessons that we can all learn from.
Born and raised in La Plata, Maryland, Reese Mona knew exactly what he wanted to do when he grew up: Play basketball for the University of Maryland. However, by the time he entered high school, this dream had been diminished.
"It was always my dream to play Division I basketball, but by the beginning of my senior year I almost started to doubt that dream," Mona explained. "I didn't really have any offers except for one with Wagner, but they didn't really pursue me much after."
Fortunately, Mona found a path to Division I through his high school. St. John's High School, which is located in Washington, D.C., was the alma mater of Anthony Cowan Jr., who was already blossoming as a freshman at the University of Maryland.
"I reached out to Coach Turgeon, and he knew me through Anthony who was on my AAU and high school team," Mona said. "I asked him about the possibility of walking on there, and he said absolutely and was excited to have me as part of his program."
Finally, Reese had accomplished his goal. He would be going to play basketball for the University of Maryland. But, he knew that as a walk-on, nothing would be given to him.
"When you come in as a freshman walk-on, you're expected to never play really. You're basically the worst player on the whole roster," Mona said. But, I knew what I had signed up for when I committed to be a walk-on at a program like Maryland.
However, Mona knows that the three years he spent as a walk-on at UMD would provide him with many lessons that have helped him in his senior season and will serve him well in the future.
"If there's one thing I learned it's that you should never doubt yourself. Even though I was the worst player on the roster and wasn't on scholarship or getting playing time, I knew I had to always keep my head up," Mona explained.
One philosophy that Mona says helped him throughout his college career comes from Coach Turgeon: Don't get too high, don't get too low. For Reese, that meant to not take his few minutes of playing time for granted, while also not giving up when the playing time and the results aren't there yet.
Coming into his final year at Maryland, Mona was well respected despite his role as a walk-on. However, that role would soon change after Coach Turgeon awarded Mona with a scholarship on a team zoom meeting before the season started.
"I was speechless when Coach gave me the scholarship. I was so happy for me and my family. I called my parents right after they were so proud of me," Mona said as he described the day.
With the scholarship, Mona saw his minutes per game double, and he appeared in 23 games, a huge increase from the 10 he played in during last season. Then, on the Terrapins' final game of the regular season against Penn State, Mona got one last surprise when he got his first ever start.
"Despite the loss, Senior Night was one of the most awesome and memorable games of my career. To be at Maryland, get a scholarship senior year and finally start in the final home game of my career was just a big dream of mine that I never thought would happen," Mona said as he reminisced on his career.
Mona's advice for other walk-ons coming in as freshman? Find the right guys with good work ethics and be good followers.
"A part of leadership is following. Before you can lead yourself, you want to follow the right guys and learn as much as you can. For me, it was Kevin Huerter who took me under his wing, and we got a lot of shots up together over the course of our careers," Mona said.
Additionally, Mona believes that all players should remember Coach Turgeon's philosophy in order to keep their heads up and stay mentally strong during the season.
"If you dribble a ball off your foot in practice or if you feel like you did bad, don't quit. Keep your head up and things will get better," Mona preached. "That philosophy is a big part of my journey, and it really helped me trust the proceed and enjoy the journey."
Coming into his final March Madness, Mona was looking forward to enjoying his final few games with the team as well as hopefully cutting down a net.
"I'm excited about enjoying these last few weeks with my team, and my last few games as a college athlete. There's a lot of excitement that comes with postseason tournaments, as it's a whole different ballgame," Mona explained. "So, it's important to enjoy it and take in all the excitement that comes with it."
After reminiscing on his career with the Terrapins, I asked Reese a couple more fun questions about his time as a student athlete. First we talked about his favorite memory at Maryland, which of course included Maryland's first ever Big Ten regular season title win over Michigan on 2020 senior night.
"My best memories at Maryland have to be the last two senior nights, more specifically the game where we won the Big Ten regular season. It was an awesome day and I have pictures in my room from that day of us celebrating and enjoying that moment," Mona replied. "You always talk about hanging a banner, and to do it was a big win and a great achievement for all of our careers."
Throughout his career, Mona has played with multiple NBA players and All Americans. But, which one does he think will have the most successful pro career? The answer is Mona's mentor and Atlanta Hawks sharpshooter Kevin Huerter.
"[Kevin] will be in the league the longest because his jump shot allows him to shoot from anywhere on the court. He still hasn't reached his prime yet, and his shooting ability is only getting better," Mona reasoned. "Also, shooting is something that doesn't go away with age, so he'll be in the league for a while."
However, as for the best teammate, Mona had to go with his high school teammate Anthony Cowan Jr.. However, two of his current teammates were also in the running.
"Anthony was a great teammate. He was a winner, such a winner, and he brought passion to our team," Mona detailed. "However, I think Aaron Wiggins and Darryl Morsell might be my two favorite teammates in terms of the way they carry themselves on the court and the way they lead the team."
As for Mona's life plans after this season, he is already set and has a job lined up at Morgan Stanley as a financial advisor. He is excited to begin a new chapter of his life and see where his plan might take him.