May 10 began like any other Mother’s Day. Julian Reese intended on giving his mother, Angel S. Reese, a present she knew was coming. She just didn’t think it would arrive so soon.
The St. Frances boys basketball standout called for his mom to come downstairs in their Randallstown home and gave her a black sweatshirt. The front showed a picture of Julian and his older sister, also named Angel, on a visit to the University of Maryland. On the back was the word “Committed.”
“I was a little lost at first,” the elder Angel said.
Julian’s commitment, the first for the Maryland men’s basketball team in the Class of 2021, wasn’t just special for his mother. It ensured that he and his sister, two Baltimore-area products, would continue to share the same court as they have throughout the years.
A bond, and rivalry, formed on the court
While many linked Julian to the Maryland men’s basketball program after his sister committed to the Terps in November 2019, he said that his recruiting journey was separate.
It still helped that Maryland’s coaching staff showed an early interest in the 6-foot-9 power forward. Even with months ahead before he needed to make a decision, he felt comfortable with the state’s flagship university.
“It meant a lot to me,” said Julian, a four-star prospect. “I felt like that was [the elder Angel’s] top pick too, so I feel like that would have been a good surprise for Mother’s Day.”
Julian’s decision continues to tie the siblings through a bond that was forged by athletics. At a young age, the two played a bevy of sports. Julian split time with football and basketball, while the younger Angel also participated in track, swimming and ballet.
Over time, they devoted more time to the court. It didn’t hurt to have a family pedigree with the sport. The elder Angel is in the UMBC Athletics Hall of Fame.
The younger Angel joined Julian on his boys recreation league teams and they clashed over the type of sibling rivalry that engulfs so many athletic households.
“That’s kind of where I got my heart and stuff from, like being a dog, that’s from playing with the boys,” the younger Angel said. “My brother didn’t want it to look like, ‘Oh, your sister is better than you,’ and stuff like that, so it was always a competition.”
Said Julian: “It was very competitive. We used to always go at it, wouldn’t finish any [one-one-one] games because we ended up fighting. We still go at it in workouts sometimes, but our trainer doesn’t usually let us go at it as much, because we’re older. But when we go at it, we probably won’t be able to stop.”
As they grew older and their skills took shape, so did their prospects for playing basketball at a higher level. The younger Angel quickly became a star at St. Frances.
The 6-foot-3 wing helped the Panthers win four straight championships in the Interscholastic Athletic Association of the Maryland A Conference. She was named Baltimore Sun All-Metro girls basketball Player of the Year in back-to-back seasons and this year named a McDonald’s All American. St. Frances retired her jersey in February, the first-ever player to receive the honor.
And after fielding offers from top programs across the country, she chose Maryland over a list of schools, including South Carolina, Syracuse, USC and Tennessee. As a five-star prospect and ESPN’s No. 2 overall recruit, she became the highest-rated player to commit to the women’s team.
“I saw it as an opportunity to have everything at home,” she said, with plans to major in journalism at the university’s Merrill College.
Julian would soon follow. After two years at New Town High School in Owings Mills, he transferred to St. Frances. In his first season playing against a national schedule and tougher talent, he was named Defensive Player of the Year.
“[The younger Angel’s] star started to shine a little bit sooner than Julian’s,” the elder Angel said. “Julian was a late bloomer. So he just, in the last year and a half, two years, he’s developed more and more people know his name.”
Maryland assistant coach Orlando “Bino” Ranson was a constant at Julian’s games and struck an early rapport with the budding recruit. While the younger Angel was heavily recruited by the women’s side and went on official visits, Julian joined, allowing him to see what College Park had to offer.
“He kind of got a sneak peek of what college campuses look like,” the elder Reese said.
‘A great storyline’
The University of Maryland has welcomed its fair share of siblings over the years: The Costes brothers in baseball. The Bernhardts in lacrosse. But the athletic department hasn’t had such highly-regarded siblings join two programs around the same time.
The younger Angel joins a Maryland women’s basketball team that is reigning Big Ten champions and would have been one of the top seeds in the NCAA women’s basketball tournament had the coronavirus pandemic not shuttered college sports. She’s also the sole incoming freshman for a team that was recently hit by an exodus of players, notably the graduation of AP All-American Kaila Charles and the transfers of Shakira Austin and Taylor Mikesell.
“I know I’ll be held to big expectations, but I’m really ready,” she said. “Whatever Coach [Brenda] Frese asks me to do, I’m just going to do whatever coach asks me to do. I’m really working hard. I can’t really take a break right now because I know as soon as I come in, I’m going to be expected to do a lot.”
Julian’s expected entrance in 2021 comes in a similar transition period, two years after Anthony Cowan Jr., as consistent a player as the men’s side has seen, graduated, and as the program figures to usher in a new era of talent. Ike Cornish, a four-star recruit and Cockeysville native, joined Julian in the Class of 2021, committing to Maryland in early June.
“It’s definitely a big role to take on at our age, but I feel like we can really be leaders in our class,” Julian said of himself and his sister.
Expectations are always great for local recruits, but the spotlight becomes greater when you’re as recognizable as the Reese siblings.
“It makes for a great storyline indeed,” the elder Angel said. “However, I think it puts different pressures on both of them. For Angel, she is so highly ranked, so there’s a lot of pressure for her to immediately do well. And for Julian, he’s playing at the same school where his sister is already known. So he’s expected to do well. ... Plus they’re local kids, they stayed home and I think it’s a lot of pressure in my opinion.