November 22, 2009
Adopted as infant, family ties tug at Villanova's Reynolds
By Marlen Garcia, USA TODAY
VILLANOVA, Pa. — Scottie Reynolds made the most dramatic play of last season's NCAA men's basketball tournament.
With a chance for Villanova to go to the Final Four, Reynolds weaved his way upcourt, dribbling until he released his winning shot with a half second left against Pittsburgh in a 78-76 win.
That secured his place in Villanova and tournament folklore, but there is more to Reynolds, 22, a senior point guard who seems capable of again leading Villanova (2-0) to the Final Four. It's his compelling life story that inspires strangers to stop Reynolds on the street to say thank you. He has spoken for years about being adopted and his desire to meet the birth mother who gave him up. Finding the right time to do it is complicated.
Born in Huntsville, Ala., Reynolds was adopted as an infant by Pam and Rick Reynolds, an Alabama couple who already had three biological children. The tight-knit, racially blended family has lived in Herndon, Va., for eight years. His parents and three older siblings are white. His younger brother and sister, both African American, also were adopted.
There are two chapters to his life, Reynolds says. The first embodies his adoptive parents, who are fixtures at his games and in everyday life. "My parents made me the young man I'm becoming today," he says.
The second chapter — about his biological mother — has tugged at Reynolds since he was a child.
"I know that one day, both my mothers will be sitting together watching me play basketball," he says. "I think it will be one of the significant things in my life."
His biological mother gave him up and the records are sealed. She was located three years ago by a private investigator hired by his adoptive family. His birth mother doesn't know who he is, Reynolds says.
In interviews during the last two NCAA tournaments, Reynolds said he planned to contact his birth mom once the season ended. But after each season, Reynolds did not reach out to her.
"Last year, I just said it so people wouldn't ask me," he says. "I plan on it. But deep down, I was like, 'I don't know.' "
As a child, finding his birth mother became a mission. He recalls breaking down in tears after school in the fourth grade because of upsetting remarks his classmates made about adoption.
"I was like, 'I have to find her,' " he says. " 'I have to bring her to school.' I wanted to prove to everybody that I knew who my mother was."
He says he cried until midnight, and his mom wept with him as she consoled him. After that, he decided he would not cry again about it for fear of hurting his parents.
"They've done an unbelievable job," he says of his parents. "They were probably feeling bad about themselves. I was like, 'I can't make them feel bad.' "
The desire to meet his birth mother, however, never waned. His parents told him once he turned 18, they would search for identifying information for her in Alabama.
"If he needs that in his life, I want that for him," his mother says in an interview at her home. "I want him to be whole."
The family assumed Reynolds could seek the information at 18. Then they found out Alabama law requires adults be 19.
"Some people are like, 'I'm 18. I can smoke,' " Reynolds says. "I was like, 'I'm 18. I can find my mother.' When I found out I had to wait another year, it burst my bubble a little bit. It sucked."
At 19, as Reynolds started his freshman season, the private investigator located and contacted Reynolds' birth mother.
"She was like blown away," Reynolds says. "I know it was an emotional time for her."
He had waited for years to meet the woman, but after hearing this, Reynolds decided he would wait longer.
When an adopted child receives information about a biological parent, the child usually needs time to digest the information, says Eileen McQuade, president of American Adoption Congress. Putting off a reunion is not unusual, she adds.
"It's just a question of processing this stuff," McQuade says.
Asked whether it was difficult to delay his reunion, Reynolds doesn't answer but says: "I thought maybe I should just focus on college basketball. The biggest thing when I hit college was to be the best player I could be. I didn't want nothing to interfere with that."
Enduring the taunts
Reynolds has flourished in basketball — he is on pace to surpass 2,000 career points — despite enduring potshots on the road from opponents' fans over his adoption. Reynolds says at times he has been jeered with the title words of the punk rock song Scotty Doesn't Know.
"It's as bad as I've ever heard," Villanova coach Jay Wright says. "There are times I want to go after somebody, but Scottie sets the example."
Reynolds, he says, has never acknowledged the taunts, nor has he complained privately.
"It's never affected his play," Wright says. "It's amazing."
Some players might be tempted, in light of the harassment, to gloat after a victory or great play, but Reynolds doesn't play that way, the coach adds.
"I've talked to the team about it and said, 'You all hear it,' " Wright says. " 'We all feel for Scottie, but the way he handles it shows how strong he is and how strong we can be.' "
Reynolds says that in his sophomore year, he heard cracks in a game at Pittsburgh that he found especially mean-spirited.
"Some of the stuff I'd never heard before," he says. He listened for the first time to jabs about the biological father he assumes he will never know.
"That's the only time it really got to me," he says. He wanted to act out but instead went into the locker room to keep his cool.
Reynolds says he has learned to compartmentalize his emotions to keep them in check. He chooses his words carefully when he speaks and says his reactions are programmed.
"If I didn't have mental toughness and know how to turn it on and off, I probably would have cried at Pitt," he says. "For me to do that in a big game ... that's not going to help anybody."
The reunion question
Reynolds does not discuss the adoption with teammates. "If we're in class, and (adoption) is a subject, he feels open and talks about it," teammate Corey Stokes says. "He's proud of the parents he has. He's happy. I don't ever bring it up."
His impact on other adoptees is not lost on him. "There are so many people I meet on the street saying, 'I'm adopted; you've helped me with this,' " he says.
Some want to thank him; others want him to be a sounding board. Reynolds says he wants to lend an ear. "I'm in this position," he says. "Why not help?"
As a child, Reynolds says, he felt confused about the adoption. As a teen, he realized his birth mother made a brave decision to give him a chance at a better life.
Reynolds says he must personally thank his biological mother. "In the worst-case scenario, if she didn't want to have nothing to do with me, if she didn't want a hug, I could understand it," he says. "I would just shake her hand and say thank you. I have to get that off me."
He really has no timetable to reach out to her. "I'm more worried about her than me," he says.
In their interview with USA TODAY, Reynolds' parents expressed frustration at the publicity Reynolds gets about the adoption and the questions he faces, from reporters as well as friends, about reuniting with his biological mother. They fear he will feel rushed to meet her.
"He hasn't done it, and that ought to be a message," his mother says. "You know what? He may never contact her. And if he doesn't, that's fine."
Reynolds sometimes is definitive about a reunion. Other times, he uses the word "if."
"I can wait," he says. "Sometimes I wish both my mothers were in the stands watching me play for Villanova, but I don't really think about it that often."
If the reunion takes place, he'll finally release the emotions that for years he has kept bottled.
"The only time I'll ever cry again," he says, "is if and when I meet her."