Taking it Back to Gates Park

Feb. 14, 2005

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article originally appeared in the February 12, 2005 men’s basketball game program.

When Doug Thomas and freshman Carlton Reed connected for a flashy behind-the-back assist and dunk, sparked by a fast-break by Jeff Horner against Purdue on Jan. 22, Reed just thought about one thing: Gates Park Youth League Basketball.

“I took it back to Gates Park with that pass,” Reed remembers saying to his teammate and fellow Waterloo, IA-native Mike Henderson. “Everything we do refers back to that because it brings back a lot of memories.”

Gates Park isn’t considered to be located in the best part of Waterloo, but it has produced some of the best basketball players in the state, including Reed and Henderson. And Reed’s father, Walter, was in charge of the league for 15 years.

“It was a big thing, and that’s what everybody did,” Reed said. “Basketball was real big in Waterloo. All the neighborhood kids even up to 18- to 19-year-olds did it.”

Living right next door to the park helped Reed out too, and it was his mother, Geneva, that really got him started in the sport.

“When I was younger my mom would walk me over there while my brothers and sisters were at school, and this was before I was in school, and we’d shoot shots and she’d rebound for me,” Reed recalls. “I’d throw up grannies and have so much fun over there. I never really forgot that. I’ve been there ever since.”

Reed finds it funny that his father, who played semi-professional football, turned out four basketball players – including his three older brothers.

“It’s kind of weird how all his kids played basketball,” Reed says, “but all the kids in the neighborhood would be at the basketball court.”

While he was always a good basketball, Reed had a rough time adapting to the sport, especially in middle school when he was forced to wear glasses through games.

“I was always embarrassed about that, but I was killing guys and I was wearing glasses,” Reed said. “Sometimes every now and then somebody would knock them off and they would stop the play so I would have to go and pick them up. I needed contacts bad. I don’t know why they let me play in them but they did. And I was playing pretty well in them.”

“Those same guys that did make those bad decisions did a good job of guiding us and staying in our ears about the things that you need to do to get out of (there).”
Freshman guard Carlton Reed

The thought of Reed playing in the glasses and being so tall and lanky at the same time continues to give Henderson, his lifelong friend, a big smile.

“He was like real skinny, so he looked real funny,” Henderson recalls. “People would push him around all the time, but as we got older we started to form into basketball players.”

At the same time Henderson and Reed continued to turn into Division I-A basketball players, though, many of the other players at Gates Park decided to take different paths. And that experience has profoundly affected both Reed and Henderson.

“It always seemed like they always ended up making the wrong choice or the wrong decision and ended up not being able to go anywhere with their talent,” Reed said. “I was lucky that I was able to sit back and see not to make those decisions. I knew what to do and what not to do in order to achieve.”

Reed says many of the players who got into trouble with the law or were otherwise unable to fulfill their dreams stayed close to Reed and Henderson so they wouldn’t make the same decisions.

“Those same guys that did make those bad decisions did a good job of guiding us and staying in our ears about the things that you need to do to get out of (there),” Reed said. “I think if we did make the wrong decisions we would have failed them and the whole community. The whole community was pushing for us and saw that we had talent. We were the first ones to get out of our city and play major Division I basketball.”

An incident that happened when Reed was a junior was particularly devastating.

Just weeks before the No. 1-ranked Waterloo East High School basketball team started state tournament playoffs in February 2003, two players were kicked off the team after being charged with third-degree burglary while trying to steal a safe from a house in the middle of the day. The two were among the best players on the team.

“It cost them the rest of the season,” Reed said. “I’m sure that they wish they could take that day back because we ended up winning the state championship, and I know they would have loved to be a part of that. But some people don’t learn. When you tell them right from wrong, some people still choose to do wrong. They have to accept the consequences.”

Reed and Henderson used the bond they had developed after playing summer after summer in the Gates Park league to lead their team to the state championship that year, and Reed was named Mr. Iowa Basketball his senior season before coming to Iowa.

Now that current team faces a similar situation, Reed realizes he has to step up and try to get his team back on the right track.

“Everybody’s role on the team is going to be a lot bigger now,” he said. “We’re going to have to go out there and work harder and get better and have more energy – whatever it takes to help the team.”

Barry Pump, hawkeyesports.com