The 2005 ABCD Camp video touts Damion James and Scottie Reynolds as "a modern-day hoops Odd Couple." As the camera pans their hotel room, it's hard to argue with the analogy: There's the fastidious James playing Felix Unger to Reynolds's Oscar Madison, scolding his roommate for letting the volcano of stuff atop his bed erupt onto the floor. Reynolds gets his jabs in, calling James "ugly" and mimicking his East Texas drawl. It's funny: When Reynolds, a 6'2" point guard from the northern Virginia suburbs, first called James, a 6'7" forward from the projects of Nacogdoches, after learning that James was also interested in playing at Oklahoma, "we couldn't understand each other, our accents were so different," says Reynolds. Now, he says, even though they don't talk as much as they'd like, they're like "real brothers."
Actually, they've always had a lot in common. Both were born to unwed teenage moms and raised in unconventional families. Both are guileless, almost to a fault, yet stingy with their trust. Both have remained tight with their high school coaches, and both felt a similar bond with Oklahoma coach Kelvin Sampson. They took their visit to Norman on the same weekend and committed as high school juniors in the spring of 2005 before rooming together at ABCD. "It was a connection you don't find with too many people," Reynolds says of James. "I felt I could trust this dude and that we could be a real force together."
But in the spring of their senior year, Sampson left Oklahoma for Indiana under the cloud of an NCAA investigation, which would reveal that he and members of his staff had made more than 500 impermissible phone calls to recruits between 2000 and '04. James and Reynolds reconsidered their futures, ultimately heading in different directions— James to Texas and Reynolds to Villanova.
Four years later they are again in eerily similar situations: Both seniors are All-America candidates trying to help freshman-laden teams live up to lofty expectations. Moreover, both are leaving a stamp on the record books—James holds the Big 12 career rebounding record while Reynolds is on pace to top the career list at Villanova—and on their coaches, each of whom has had to rethink his assumptions about player motivation.
When Rick and Pam Reynolds decided to move to Virginia in 2002, after the Chicago-area Motorola plant where Rick had worked for 2½ years shut down, they told a crushed Scottie, who was rated one of the top eighth-grade basketball players in Illinois, that he could decide where they would settle. Scottie chose Herndon because his old AAU coach, Gary Hall, had moved there. Herndon High was not known for hoops, but even when Hall told Scottie after his sophomore season that he should transfer to a higher-profile program, Scottie stayed. "He has a great respect for the title of coach," says Hall. "He needs and thrives on relationships, and he is very loyal."
But nothing trumped Scottie's commitment to his faith. As a freshman he led the Hornets to the regional championship game and then, as a crowd of 5,000 at Robinson High in Fairfax, Va., looked on aghast, left early in the fourth quarter because it was time for Wednesday-night Bible study. Herndon lost in double overtime. Scottie took flak from schoolmates but never reordered his priorities. Is it any surprise his nickname around town was the Exception?
Born in Huntsville, Ala., Scottie was adopted as an infant by Pam and Rick, a white couple who had three biological children and would adopt two more African-American children after Scottie. The whole crew ate dinner together every night and piled into the family van to attend church on Sunday and Bible study on Wednesday. But even his parents say that upbringing alone can't explain their son's moral compass. "That's the way Scottie is wired," says Rick.
When college recruiters came calling, Reynolds sensed a comfortable fit with Sampson. It felt even better once he got to know James, a rebounding machine whose sunny personality brought out the goofball in Reynolds. "I could always tell when Scottie was talking to Damion on the phone," says Pam, "because he'd hang up laughing."
If Scottie's family was the picture of stability, Damion's was something else entirely. His mom, Katrina Williams, had him when she was 16, "just a baby herself," he says. She got help raising him from female relatives, including her mom, Katherine Williams, who lived next door at the Eastwood Terrace apartments in Nacogdoches. Katrina had five more kids, but Damion still lived primarily with his grandma. "I saw my brothers and sisters every day," he says. "When Mama got mad at me, I'd run to Granny's till she calmed down."
James didn't learn the identity of his father until he was 17, when Katrina pointed out a man named Jerry Bell, whose five other sons Damion had known growing up without realizing they were his half-brothers. (Katrina had told Damion that a man named James was his father.) "My father was never there for me, and I had promised myself I would be there for my kids," says Bell, who co-owns a recording label in Houston and a mobile T-shirt business in Nacogdoches. "I just didn't know Damion was mine."