He had left Peoria, Ill., behind to play basketball for Bobby Knight – to be the famously demanding coaching icon’s point guard, no less – and that, in itself, presented an additional set of challenges.
It all might have been a little overwhelming if Reynolds hadn’t partnered with people who could help him navigate the system and show him how to schedule the considerable demands on a student-athlete’s time at a national basketball powerhouse.
Reynolds found one that came in a most unlikely package, a sophomore he now recalls as “5-6 and 140 pounds. When he was 18, he looked 8.”
That sophomore was Lawrence Frank, a veteran of one season at Knight’s knee as a basketball student manager at IU, and Reynolds wound up tagging along with Frank on his many forays to the campus library.
“He might not remember this,” Reynolds began, “but we used to study together at the main library on Saturday mornings. Many students don’t study on Saturday mornings at a college campus, but because of our responsibilities to the basketball team, time was limited. You had to take advantage of free time. That was a very important time in my development as a young man. Lawrence was so disciplined, it helped me to be around him and study together. As a freshman, that was critical to my success as a student – having someone there from day one to go through it with me.”
Oh, Frank remembers. When I mentioned to him that I planned to talk to Reynolds, he said, “Tell Chris I want the keys to the library back. That was our running joke with each other because we’d stay so late at the library, we’d say, ‘Who’s going to close it?’ ‘I’ve got the key.’ ‘No, I’ve got the key.’
“Chris is an unbelievable story. He was probably an average student in Peoria. He came and we started going to the library every single night. So he goes on to get his law degree and now he’s working on his PhD. He now is so into education – advocates education, a faith-based person, just a tremendous human being.”
Reynolds, who has returned to IU as associate athletic director with oversight of the basketball program, wound up rooming with Frank and IU All-American Calbert Cheaney for Frank’s last two seasons on campus at the Varsity Villas apartment complex a short walk from Assembly Hall, where they spent endless hours.
It didn’t strike Reynolds as particularly unusual that Frank migrated several states west from his native New Jersey specifically to train as a basketball coach under Knight because that was the goal of many on the 16-man student manager stuff.
“But there was something different about Lawrence,” Reynolds said. “I’m not saying this because he’s a friend of mind, but because it’s the truth. He was and still is one of the hardest-working people I know. He was like that as a teenager. A lot of people talk about wanting to coach; Lawrence showed up with his clipboard and was always taking notes. First one in and last one to leave. He’s been doing that all his life. He was like that in high school. His work ethic, his desire to want to know, really separates him from a lot of coaches today and it’s what separated him as a student when he was 18 years old here.”
When Frank was named New Jersey Nets coach midway through the 2003-04 season, most were taken aback. Frank was just 33, after all, and had never been a head coach at any level – and had never had a playing career, in the NBA, college or high school. His physical stature and boyish looks also worked against him
“He’s always looked really young for his age, slight build, all of those combinations,” Reynolds said. “The thing about Lawrence, he was always outspoken. He always spoke his mind and you had to listen to him because he was always talking about something. He was very confident in terms of where his life was going. He was always so focused on being a coach. When he became a head coach in the NBA, while many thought, ‘Wow, I can’t believe that just happened,’ I was saying, ‘It didn’t just happen. It’s been 30 years in the making.’
“He’s passionate, very knowledgeable. With Lawrence, you trust him. He is what he is. There are no surprises. What you see is what you get. But his knowledge of the game – he’ll put people in the best positions for them to be successful on the court.”
Neither one is sure who has the key to the library these days. But it sounds like the keys to the Pistons are in pretty good hands