LAWRENCE — When Tyrel Reed left his home in Burlington for the University of Kansas, his parents went out and bought a car.
For Stacy and Debbie Reed, this was not a sign of an oncoming midlife crisis. They did not buy a BMW or a Mercedes or a convertible. The Reeds went with a black 2007 Pontiac Torrent, a sport-utility vehicle that fit just perfectly with the plan Stacy had formulated as soon as it became clear his boy was going to be a Division I basketball player.
Stacy had coached Tyrel his whole life, and he also coached the varsity boys at Burlington High. But he decided that — as long as Tyrel chose to play within a few hours of home — he would quit coaching basketball so that his schedule would allow him to attend all of Tyrel's games, home and away.
Tyrel, a 6-foot-3 shooting guard, received offers from Oklahoma, Missouri and Kansas State, but he had his heart set on Kansas. Certainly, Stacy, a diehard Jayhawk fan, was right there with him. So when KU coach Bill Self called Tyrel during his senior year and said he wanted Tyrel to sign with the Jayhawks during the November signing period, the wheels of Stacy's plan were officially set in motion.
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They literally haven't stopped since. As Tyrel emerged into a rotation player and now a starter during his senior season, that black SUV has racked up more than 100,000 miles. The Reeds have driven to all of the Big 12 cities to save money, and Stacy has stayed in enough Motel 6s during the last four years to last a lifetime. He only flies when the Jayhawks are playing across the country, and don't get him started on his three trips to Detroit.
All told, despite the myriad challenges that travel can bring, Stacy has made it to every KU game. A journey that began with a 75-mile hike to Lawrence on Nov. 9, 2007 for a 107-78 KU victory over Louisiana-Monroe will come to an end sometime in the next six weeks.
Tonight, when the Jayhawks play host to Texas A&M on senior night, Stacy and Debbie will watch Tyrel play for the last time in Allen Fieldhouse — a mile-marker that has snuck up on Stacy during another season of proactively delaying Empty Nest syndrome.
"It really hasn't hit me yet that this is ready to happen," Stacy said. "I keep thinking there's plenty of games. Hopefully, there are still plenty of games. But it is kind of all-consuming knowing this is his last time running out of the old tunnel. He's told me many times, 'Just running out of that tunnel, you'll never be able to get another rush like that.' "
It's been a rush for Stacy, too, seeing his boy run out of the same tunnel as many KU legends. Stacy and Tyrel believed that he could make an impact at Kansas all along, and maybe some thought they were overestimating Tyrel's talent. Of course, those people wouldn't have been there for the 5:45 a.m. shooting sessions every morning before school started.
"I wasn't going to go to a program where I didn't think I was going to be able to play," Tyrel said.
Self didn't know what Reed's ceiling was as a player, but he saw something in Reed that was hard to resist.
"We kind of hesitate and hesitate," Self said, "and finally, we say, 'Hey, that kid is such a good kid. He'd be great for our program.' "
From day one, Reed was a perfectionist, a coach's son to the extreme. He wanted nothing but to please his coaches in the same way he'd pleased his father all those years, and when Self would get on him about something, he'd carry around the disappointment for days or weeks at a time.
"Tyrel came in as a nervous kid," Self said. "He was really nervous around me. He didn't get me at all for a while."
Reed didn't understand that Self's criticism at practice or during games wasn't personal.
"Growing up as a coach's son, I'd always faced a little yelling in my life," Reed said. "It never really affected me. But I didn't know how to respond to it as much (with Self) not being my dad. I couldn't take it with a grain of salt. I held onto things. Coach Self doesn't hang onto things. He'll say what he'll say, and it's over with. He could joke with you the next play."
Reed played some his freshman year but mostly watched as the Jayhawks won the 2008 national championship. In 2009, he played 21 minutes a game on a young KU team, proving himself to be a clutch and dependable three-point shooter. In 2010, Reed played less with the arrival of the talented Xavier Henry, but he began to make his move late in the season, playing 26 minutes in the season-ending loss to Northern Iowa.
Reed has started every game for the Jayhawks this season. He averages 9.8 points, makes 39 percent of his threes and, through improved defensive play, has become an integral part of KU's game plan.
Off the court, Reed has followed through on Self's gut feeling. He's a first-team academic All-American and is a finalist for the Lowe's Senior CLASS Award.
"He's almost too good," Self said. "The only kid we've had here like that would probably be Wayne (Simien). He's a remarkable young man.... He's been the rock behind everything we do."
And when the game is tight and Reed rises for a three, it's gotten to the point that you just assume the ball is going through the net.
"When he shoots the ball, he doesn't think about anything other than making the shot," Stacy said. "I don't think he ever thinks about missing the shot. That's not in his nature. I think that comes with just being in that gym at 5:45 in the morning every day from his seventh grade year on. That comes with the belief that you've done it 100,000 times basically."
Reed still agonizes over the ones he misses, but he's a little easier on himself these days. Stacy has seen the change in his son but doesn't want him to change too much.
"If you've ever seen his handwriting, you would know he's an absolute perfectionist," Stacy said. "I don't know if I even want to pull that out of him. That makes him the person that he is and the player that he is."
Stacy says that his son has grown into a man at Kansas, and he's made sure to see it first-hand. Stacy doesn't regret quitting his job as Burlington's basketball coach, and he says he'd be open to coaching again in the future.
But right now, he's living in the present. One more home game. One more road game. One more Big 12 tournament. One more month of madness.
Stacy says he didn't know that his and Debbie's commitment to see all of KU's games was a "big deal" to Tyrel until this season. Stacy began to see how much it meant when Tyrel told the person in charge of player tickets to make sure his father was informed about the location of his seats well before each game.
On Monday, Tyrel was asked about Stacy making it to every game, and he nearly got choked up.
"It's been awesome," Tyrel said. "I think he's kind of living his dream as well."