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March 3, 2016

Returning home works out for JP

jpBob Ellis/staff photographer
Cortland High grad JP Reagan of SUNY Cortland throws up a jumper against Elmira College back in December.

By ALAN BUTLER
Sports Editor

SUNY Cortland’s JP Reagan is living proof that you can go home again.
The 6-foot-6 forward made a difficult decision to depart after three basketball seasons at RIT to spend his senior year in the town where he was raised, and is now an integral part of a Red Dragons squad that will open up NCAA Division III tournament play on Friday night.
Though he hasn’t started a single game for this surging 20-7 Cortland club that captured a SUNY Athletic Conference playoff title this past weekend, Reagan is still second on the team in scoring. He averages 11.3 points per contest, grabs 3.7 rebounds per game and has connected on 33 shots from beyond the 3-point arc while making the most of his court time.
A former fixture on some successful Cortland High teams before moving on to RIT, Reagan discussed transferring from the Division III Rochester school with Red Dragons head coach Tom Spanbauer prior to the 2015-16 season. He was looking to switch majors to physical education, with future coaching ambitions.
“We discussed it a little bit. He seemed pretty optimistic about me coming here, and that didn’t hurt my decision to come here at all,” said Reagan, whose initials stand for John Paul.
“The transition was amazingly smooth. I couldn’t imagine it being any better. It’s a cohesive team. We never fight and that just contributes to us being the team we are. It doesn’t matter who’s playing, we’re all out there just trying to win,” he added.
More amazingly, Reagan became the first Cortland High product to play for Coach Spanbauer, who is finishing up his 21st season prowling the sidelines at his alma mater.
“It wasn’t for lack of effort, because the area has had a lot of good players and Cortland High has had a lot of really good players,” said Spanbauer, who has welcomed in talent from other area schools on past squads.
“In defense of those players who have come through the Cortland High program and have chosen to go elsewhere, it’s the opportunity to go away to college, the opportunity to have a bigger challenge away from where they grew up,” he added. “I couldn’t fault any player who didn’t come to Cortland. I’m just hoping local players see maybe the other side, the benefits of being local, the positives that are there as well.”
REAGAN WAS VERY productive at RIT. He averaged seven points per game as a freshman for the 9-16 Tigers, topped the team with 14 points and 5.6 rebounds per game during a successful 16-9 sophomore season and averaged 10.5 points and 6.5 rebounds last season when RIT finished 13-13.
Though noting the reason for transferring is “a long story,” Reagan did reveal: “A lot of pieces fell into place and it was the best move for me to come back. So my parents and I made this decision, and here I am.”
“He’s done an outstanding job of fitting right in,” said Coach Spanbauer. “I think his personality has helped him. He’s very likable and the guys like being around him. He’s got a lot of personality, he’s always upbeat, so I think that’s helped him transition right into the group.”
Reagan often has his own cheering section at Corey Gymnasium, too. “It was great having people I played in front of during high school coming out. They thought they’d never see me play again,” he says of that local support.
Those fans have seen Reagan fit into his role as a valued substitute who can ignite things offensively and change the mood of a game with a timely trey or a determined drive to the rim.
“In his role off the bench, we ask him to come in and do some scoring for us, and he’s just done a great job of recognizing where it’s going to be best for him to get his shots from and how he can score. So him not starting, not being in that starting lineup, allows him to figure that out coming into a game,” said Spanbauer.
Reagan was at his best during a regular season stretch run that moved the Red Dragons up to second place in the standings. He scored a career-high 28 points in a 73-72 win over Brockport, followed that up with 22 points in a 72-61 beating of Oswego in a second place showdown — those being the same two foes Cortland conquered in the exact same order in the conference semifinal and championship contests last weekend in Plattsburgh.
At those playoff wins were sweet, beating Oswego 77-74 in the finals on James Morales’ last-second 3-point shot to advance to nationals.
“There were smiles, tears of joy.. it was all good after that,” said Reagan of capturing the crown. “The seniors were stoked and it made the freshmen excited about their next three years here.”
“I”M EXCITED HE HAS had a great year and he’s been a great addition to the program, not from the playing standpoint but from the personal standpoint,” said Spanbauer.
“I think he embodies everything that we ask our players to do, as far as being responsible putting academics first, working hard and contributing into the team culture,” he added. “He’s done all of those things. And of course, he’s brought a unique skill-set to the program from a basketball playing standpoint and he’s been able to flourish in that of late.”
So now a career that has produced 1,064 points will eventually end in the NCAA tournament, which Reagan and the Red Dragons head into with high expectations.
“We’re going to make as much noise as we can in the big dance,” said Reagan of prior to taking on WPI to begin the NCAA tournament at 5:30 p.m. Friday at Amherst College in Massachusetts. “Our team has a game that is conducive to make a run in the tournament, and we’ve been flying under the radar all year.”
Cortland’s recent trend of coming from behind to capture close victories will also come in handy, this team heading into the NCAAs winners in eight of their last nine contests.
“We feel comfortable if we hang around,” said Reagan. “We don’t have to play with a lead. We can hang around, and we don’t mind being a pest. We’re comfortable playing that role.”

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