Beekman closes out Senior Night like a winner

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Photos: UVA Athletics

Sticking around college basketball for another year was one of the best decisions of Reece Beekman’s life, one that Tony Bennett believes should be heralded more on the national scene.

Saturday night, as Virginia fans bid farewell to the senior point guard in his final home game, Beekman gave us a sampling of why one more year was important to him, vital for UVA and good for college basketball.

The Baton Rouge, La., guard, who prefers to be identified with Milwaukee, Wisc., where he grew up, led the Cavaliers to their 22nd win of the season and locked up third place and the No. 3 seed in next week’s ACC Tournament with an easier-than-expected 72-57 win over visiting Georgia Tech.

Beekman was again outstanding, leading UVA with 21 points on an 8-for-10 shooting performance (3 of 4 from the arc), 9 assists against a lone turnover, a block and 3 steals in 35 minutes-plus of floor time.

From the opening minutes, JPJ’s crowd sensed another gift from Beekman, the mild-mannered kid off the block, who’ll take you lunch money on the court. He drilled a 3-pointer to get things rolling and never let up.

Scoring 21 points in Tony Bennett’s offense is almost like Maravich scoring 40 in his dad’s at LSU back in the day.

When it was academic, Beekman received a standing ovation from his audience, another masterpiece on hardwood.

Bennett couldn’t let the moment pass without a curtain call for his prized pupil when the game ended, presenting Beekman with a ball that commemorated him breaking UVA’s all-time steals record, a mark set by the pit-bullish Othell Wilson 40 years ago.

Bennett’s praise didn’t end there. Later, in his postgame, the coach spoke from his heart.

“A lot of stuff gets talked about, about the state of college basketball, well let’s celebrate a guy like Reece Beekman, who came to Virginia and he stayed four years,” Bennett said. “He tested (the NBA waters), but decided to come back and help his team win.

“He’s always been a good player, but he’s taken a step each year and improved. Let’s talk about that. I know we talk about the transfer portal, I know we talk about NIL, a lot of those things, but this young man chose to come here, he’s our career leader in steals and won two ACC championships. He’s done so much, and that’s what’s right.”

It’s impossible not to be a Reece Beekman fan. He leads by example, he’s not a trash talker. Kind of quiet, really. Must be hell to draw Beekman one-on-one, knowing that the reigning ACC Defensive Player of the Year is about to take your cheese. Just ask North Carolina’s R.J. Davis.

Davis, the odds-on favorite to win ACC Player of the Year, probably still has nightmares about spending the evening with Beekman a few weeks ago. The Virginia guard handcuffed Davis when he walked off the bus and suffocated the Tar Heel star’s game, holding him to a 1-of-14 shooting performance.

Oh, and yeah, Davis averages 21 points a game.

Other opposing guards have their own nightmares to share about facing Beekman, a modest sort who won’t even mention it unless asked specifically on how he smothered his victim.

Last spring, when Beekman tested his marketability on the pro level, performed well in the NBA Combine and had attracted attention from the big leagues, Virginia fans were more than nervous.

UVA already had its roster reduced to only three scholarship players — Isaac McKneely, Ryan Dunn and Taine Murray — at one point, due to the portal, etc., and Beekman’s decision to return didn’t come until the 11th hour.

Bennett was in favor of whatever was good for Beekman, supported his decision either way, but did confess Saturday night that, “I don’t want to think about this year without him.”

While some still don’t hold Beekman in high regard in terms of the 2024 draft, Bennett is hoping the aficionados of the game see it differently.

“I believe this, that the important people see it and know. That’s what matters,” Bennett said. “His game is understated. You’ve got to watch him over time. What he’s done to get a third-place finish for this team … he’s had a lot on his shoulders. He’s had to play well on both ends of the floor for us to have a chance to be in games — not win games — to be in games.

“People are saying where he is on lists and all that stuff. The next-level people who understand, I think they see that.”

One of those next-level people had a front-row seat for the Beekman Show on Saturday night, Georgia Tech coach Damon Stoudamire, a 13-year NBA point guard and a former assistant for the Memphis Grizzlies and Boston Celtics.

“I spent a lot of time with (former UVA star) Malcolm Brogdon (in Boston), and [Beekman] looked like Malcolm tonight,” Stoudamire said. “He controlled the game and did some really good things. He’s the head of the snake, and when he plays well, they tend to play well.”

Stoudamire, in his first year as Georgia Tech’s head coach, said that Beekman plays to his strengths and never to his weaknesses.

“Knowing your game is one of the biggest parts of playing at the next level, especially today,” Stoudamire said.

If he were to give Beekman advice, it would be to remain a great defender, to focus on being able to run a team, make open shots and be really vocal on the floor.

“You’ve got to love practice and the grind, but I think he’s built for it. I think he’ll get an opportunity,” Stoudamire said. “There’s always room [in the NBA] for leaders, and the biggest thing is there’s always room for winners.”


Beekman checks that box every time, something next level is already noting.