Sun staff predicts the Ravens-Jets game

Key School's success driven by players who have overcome heartache

Bob Hough

As juniors in high school, Key School's Jelani Reid and Mike Jackson have each had to deal with loss that some don't have to endure until much later in life.

Yet, there they are every morning, up at the crack of dawn to get ready for another day of academics and athletics at the small Annapolis private school.

Key's boy's basketball team currently sits atop the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association C Conference, and Reid and Jackson are two of the main reasons why. The top scorers on the team, the pair has helped the Obezags win their first six conference games in search of their first title since 2008.

Reid leads team in scoring at 22 points a game for the Obezags, who have already equaled their conference win total from last year.

When the Obezags defeated Beth Tfiloh on Thursday, Reid scored 20 points, handed out five assists, grabbed four rebounds and added four steals. His numbers were even more impressive considering he was playing with a heavy heart.

Reid's mother, Denise, died of lung cancer on Jan. 22, 2013. By the time Thursday's game ended, the third anniversary of her death was just a few hours away.

"It was hard because growing up I had always seen her healthy," Reid said. "Then, I saw her when she was sick and when she had to go through chemo and when she was losing weight."

While Reid's father, Jeffrey, took four months off, Jelani Reid kept with his routine and maintained his focus in the classroom and on the basketball court.

"As a young man, it was very challenging when he lost his mother. They were very close," Jeffrey Reid said. "He stuck with school. He did have some challenges academically, but he stuck with it. He's very dedicated."

Jelani Reid was in middle school at the time of his mother's death. He moved on to Key's upper school his freshman year and played on the junior varsity basketball team. He was moved up to the varsity his sophomore season and is currently in his second season as the Obezags' shooting guard.

"He's gotten so much better every year, mainly because he works so hard," Key coach Joe Mathews said. "He's really responded to the adversity. Sports is supposed to teach you about adversity, and he's really manifested that on the basketball court. Everyone has so much respect for him."

It's not uncommon for Reid to get up early each morning and go to a local gym near his Bowie home to shoot basketball and work on his game. He's also been known to put in some extra time before or after his team practices each day. Just last week, the day prior to the Beth Tfiloh game, Reid stayed after practice an extra hour simply to shoot.

When he needs that extra push to put in some extra time following practice or to go a little harder in a game, he just thinks about his mother.

"It's been hard, but I use that as motivation to get up every day because I know she's watching and she wants me to be successful," Reid said. "In practice, when I don't think I can run that extra step I push myself. In games, when I don't think I can hit that shot I know I can because she gives me that extra boost that I think every athlete needs."

Playing at a high level and currently a junior, this would be the time Reid might start to garner interest from college programs. He knows he has generated some interest based on what his dad has told him, but it's been made clear to him that academics come first.

"My dad won't let me get into all of that," Reid said. "He said a couple of coaches have contacted him, but he said in order for that to happen and if it's a goal and dream of your's you have to hit the books. So, that's what I'm trying to focus on."

While Jackson's loss wasn't as recent as Reid's, he lost his father in 2007. He has lived with and was basically raised by is aunt, Gaye Cotton, since he was 5.

"He's had some real obstacles," Cotton said. "Some adults just can't let go of some things and see where they are, but he has done well very with that."

Jackson, a three-sport athlete during his time at Key who's earned All-Conference honors in soccer, basketball and lacrosse, is averaging 10.9 points and 2.5 assists per game. After the Obezags fell behind by six after a quarter on Thursday, Jackson hit three 3-pointers in the second to help the team take control. He finished as the leading scorer with 21 points, 12 rebounds, four steals and four assists.

Jackson is also known to put in some extra time in the gym. Some mornings he'll ask Cotton to leave early for the 45-minute drive to school so he can get in the gym and shoot before classes start. Playing sports in each season, it sometimes takes him some extra time to hit his rhythm in the current sport, but it hasn't stopped him from playing at a high level in all three sports.

But, right now, that focus is on basketball. With rival Indian Creek, which won the last three MIAA C Conference titles, now in the B Conference, the Obezags appear to be the favorite to win it all this year.

"I love the way we're playing right now, especially in the conference," Jackson said. "We don't let our heads get too big. We definitely stay game to game and just worry about our next opponent. I think we'll do fine."

Like Reid, Jackson enjoys the family atmosphere at Key. There are roughly 200 students with a fairly even mix of boys and girls. Jackson, who also lives in Bowie, prefers the much smaller school to the larger public schools.

"I love the community aspect and the fact that everyone is so supportive no matter what," Jackson said. "Plus the academics are very strong here."

Mathews lives on a farm in Davidsonville and said Reid and Jackson sometimes come by to help out, while also taking the time to get in some time on the court with Mathews' three daughters.

"Coaching basketball is so much more than just the X's and O's. These boys have become part of my family. They are not the kind of kids to say that they have been dealt a bad hand and just feel sorry for themselves. They are the opposite. They recognize everything in life, or sports for that matter, is not always fair, and they have always accepted that challenge," Mathews said. "They are a constant reminder to me, and to our team, that success in life is about how you respond to adversity."

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