George Mason is the only men’s basketball team in the country to return every player from last season. Yet in order to contend for the Atlantic 10 championship and earn an NCAA tournament berth for the first time in eight years, the Patriots needed to fill a critical void.
Meet Jarred Reuter, who gave up two wheels long ago to pursue basketball and, after stops at two prep schools and two years in Charlottesville, will occupy a large space, literally and figuratively, in the Mason lineup.
The Patriots, who will open Tuesday against Pennsylvania at EagleBank Arena in Fairfax County, have guards who can shoot and slash, wings with shooting range and forwards who gained valuable time as freshmen last season. But they have lacked bulk and experience on the front line, a cavity exposed against bigger, stronger opponents.
Reuter arrived last year, choosing George Mason over conference rival George Washington, and had to watch from the bench because of NCAA eligibility rules for transfers.
“The thing that stood out the most for me was the frustration with us not having a lot of depth, especially at my position,” he said. “There were times when we needed another big guy.”
The Patriots' biggest players were Greg Calixte (6-8, 225 pounds), A.J. Wilson (6-7, 201) and Goanar Mar, a 6-7, 209-pound shooter. All were freshmen; Wilson and Mar are pencil-thin. The top rebounders were 6-5 Jaire Grayer and 6-4 Justin Kier.
Senior guard Otis Livingston II said Reuter “is like that last piece for the frontcourt.”
Coach Dave Paulsen called the front-court “an area of strength for us now."
“We can play through there to some degree,” he said. "It was hard for us to get easy baskets last year. We had to manufacture everything.”
Reuter is a native of southeastern Massachusetts. He attended Tabor Academy (Mass.) and Brewster Academy (N.H.) — five years of high school overall — before picking Virginia over Rhode Island, Providence, Iowa and South Carolina.
For the nationally resurgent Cavaliers, he appeared in 26 games as a freshman, then 32 as a sophomore, averaging 3.8 points and 2.2 rebounds as Isaiah Wilkins’s backup. The long-term outlook for substantial playing time, however, was not bright.
“I really just wanted an opportunity to have a bigger role,” he said. “I absolutely loved my time there. Ultimately, I didn’t see the role opening up that I saw for myself.”
Reuter did see a role at George Mason, which continues to rebuild after three consecutive 20-loss seasons from 2013-14 to 2015-16 and finished tied for fifth in the A-10 last March, its highest place since joining the league five years ago.
Reuter has added not only height and width but experience. With five years of high school and an extra year in college because he transferred, Reuter is five years older than two freshman teammates.
“He is a guy with size, presence, experience, a high basketball IQ and innate leadership qualities,” Paulsen said. “He’s a terrific passer, so he can facilitate offense. It gives us a lot of stuff we didn’t have last year.”
Because of Reuter’s size, stamina is a work in progress,
“It’s vastly improved, but he’s not going to be a 30-minute-a-game guy right now,” Paulsen said before the junior forward posted 10 points and 11 rebounds in 20 minutes in an exhibition against Johns Hopkins on Thursday. “And there is nothing like playing in a real game. He has to get the rust off. It’s been a long time coming for him to be an integral part of a team again.”
Before he was an integral part of basketball teams, Reuter was a BMX superstar. His father owned a bike shop, and both parents cycled and participated in triathlons.
“They asked me, ‘Do you want to race?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll try that.’ I got to be pretty good and experienced things most kids don’t.”
He traveled to the West Coast regularly for races and, between ages 9 and 11, won a world championship in the Netherlands and finished fourth in France.
Reuter participated in many sports, and as he got older and bigger, he turned his full attention to basketball.
Did cycling skills carry over to basketball?
“I definitely learned at an early age about working hard because being good mattered at 9 or 10 years old,” he said. “And I was probably more coordinated for a tall kid.”
His teammates know only a little bit about Reuter’s BMX exploits. Preseason fitness workouts on stationary bikes offered clues.
“Jarred can knock out the miles fast,” Livingston said. “It’s like 3.5 miles in 10 minutes or something. He gets it in like 6 or 7. It all starts to make sense.”