BURLINGTON, N.J. — Nikki Reed knew she had to move. Though she had lived her entire life in Mobile, Ala., Reed watched her oldest son, Jacoby, go from being a promising high school basketball player to being sent away to state prison at age 17 for robbery.
Reed didn't want her younger son, Trayvon, to get caught up in the culture of their Down the Bay neighborhood.
That decision to move, first to Montgomery, Ala., for three years before settling a little more than two years ago outside Atlanta in Snellville, Ga., helped put Trayvon Reed on a path that will land him at the University of Maryland this summer.
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Life Center Academy, 2045 Burlington Columbus Road, Burlington Township, NJ 08016, USA
"I had to [leave], the area was drug-infested," Nikki Reed recalled earlier this week. "You know how some people's scenery is nice buildings and the riverfront? Our scenery if we looked out the window was somebody selling crack."
Trayvon Reed, who was 11 when his brother went to prison, recalls what his mother told him as they prepared to move from Mobile a couple of years later, "how you're going to do something special with your life."
Having given in to his mother's wishes to stop playing football after they left a state where that sport is treated as religion, the now 7-foot-1 Reed is rated by many among the top 10 high school centers in the country.
Reed is a major part of Maryland's 2014 men's basketball recruiting class, currently ranked 10th nationally by ESPN.
Asked if he could help a team badly in needed of a shot-blocker, Reed said last week, "Most definitely, when I get to college next year I know I'm going to [have] a real defensive impact right away. I'm still working on my offense. It's getting better."
'It's a blessing'
While the family's move to Georgia allowed Reed to get on the Amateur Athletic Union basketball circuit, another decision could ultimately impact his basketball career even more. It came last summer, when Reed transferred to Life Center Academy in Burlington, N.J., for his senior year.
Sitting in the gym of the Christian-based school, located amid the subdued suburban sprawl 30 minutes northeast of Philadelphia, Reed said he is grateful for what his life has become and what the future seemingly holds.
"I had my own mindset when I was little," Reed said. "I hung out with bad people and I did bad stuff, but I always said I wasn't going to jail. I was always into sports, but I [didn't] think I'd be as into it as I am right now. Growing up [in Mobile] was rough."
Coming to a part of the country where he had never been before is the latest part of Reed's journey to College Park.
"It's crazy. I never even [saw] myself playing basketball. Growing up, I was playing football," said Reed, who is averaging 12.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and 6.5 blocked shots per game. "For me to make it this far in my basketball career, it's a blessing."
Not many high school prospects are coached by a former Final Four MVP and No. 1 overall NBA draft pick.
Now in his third year at Life Center Academy, former Louisville star Pervis Ellison, who played 11 seasons in the NBA, said that he's "never coached anyone like Trayvon."
"He's an intriguing prospect because of the uniqueness of his size," Ellison said.
Reed's height, and a wingspan that easily approaches eight feet, is what turned him from a marginal Division I prospect into a recruit sought after by several programs, including Florida State, Florida and Auburn.
Nikki Reed, who is 6-3 and has several family members 6-9 or taller, said her son once felt awkward standing a head or two above his peers.
"He has not always been comfortable with his height," she said. "We told him, 'God blessed you to be this tall for a reason and you've got to be appreciative of it.' He loves it now, where at one time it was a self-esteem issue with him. It's a beautiful thing."