Whether it's age or injury or simply being overrun by the responsibilities that inevitably overtake all our lives, every athlete faces a day when the game they grew up loving simply doesn't need them anymore.
For Tyrel Reed, that day came after one of the most storied basketball careers of any schoolboy in the history of Kansas. A track and basketball star in high school, Reed went on to play basketball at the University of Kansas where he was part of the 2008 national championship team and wound up being the winningest player in Jayhawk history. That was followed by a brief career as a professional basketball player in Europe.
But eventually Reed, who played basketball for his father at Burlington High School and is arguably among the most successful players produced in the Sunflower State, faced a time when he had to turn the page and move on to the next chapter in his life.
"Playing basketball professionally overseas was a great experience that I wouldn't give up for the world," said Tyrel, who had a two-year window to decide whether to go to graduate school after being accepted into KU's Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program. "While playing in Belgium, I continued to have recurring foot and ankle problems that made me start thinking about moving away from basketball and coming back to school.
"It was an extremely hard decision to give up playing the game I loved so much, and basically, all I had known my whole life," he continued. "I'm happy with my choice but miss basketball dearly."
Back to the Books
Reed is a third-year student in the doctor of physical therapy (DPT) program in the Department of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Science, while his wife, Jessica, is a student in the Department of Occupational Therapy Education. Next semester, Tyrel will be completing his final long-term clinical assignments at St. Luke's Hospital South and at KU Medical Center. If things go according to plan, both Jessica and Tyrel will graduate this spring and then face the question, "what next?"
"I hope to find a job working with orthopedic/sports injuries and stay around athletics if I can," said Tyrel. "Someday, when I get a little more experience, I would love to get back to Lawrence and help out as a PT in the athletic department. I love college athletics, and there would be no better place to work than KU."
"I'm still open to the choices occupational therapy has to offer," said Jessica. "It's really a broad career that can be taken anywhere. I don't want to shut any doors, but I hope to start in a hospital after graduation."
This won't be the first time the Reeds have faced choices about their futures. Tyrel hurt his ankle during his senior year and had to have surgery right after the season. He pushed himself to be back in shape in time for NBA workout, but the league went on lockout that season, and Tyrel was left scrambling to find a job playing overseas.
So the Reeds went from dating at KU while Tyrel was a player, to adjusting to being married and living in Europe and then back to life as fulltime students in the classrooms at KU Medical Center. Both seem to have made the adjustment to fulltime academia fairly seamlessly.
"All of college I had the rigors of college classwork along with practice and playing at KU," said Tyrel, who completed his exercise science degree in 31/2 years and was named Academic All American his senior year. "I learned to prioritize and get the most important things done first. Now, I only have to go to school, which isn't too bad. I have a lovely wife and couldn't be happier where we are at together."
"We are so proud of Tyrel," said KU Men's Basketball Coach Bill Self. "Jessica is not only a sweet young lady but very bright as well. Those two have set up a solid foundation to absolutely have a fabulous life together."
OT or PT: A House Divided
While Tyrel is driven to be a great physical therapist, he has learned a lot about patient care from being married to an occupational therapist. He admits that physical therapists can often be tough on patients when they push them to make improvements, so hearing Jessica talk about the philosophies of OT make him think more about what is best for his patients.
"I feel OT's are just a little more patient," he said. "Jess is the best, and I am lucky to have her for my wife."
So in the Reed household, which is better, OT or PT?
"You know, I have to go with OT on this one," said Jessica. "I love that at the core of it all, occupational therapy helps people accomplish the daily activities that can often be taken for granted. I do love to see OT and PT working side by side to bring a better quality of life to patients. Both are valuable to a person's well-being and health."
Life as a Physical Therapist
Because of his time as a Jayhawk, Tyrel remains a recognizable character whether it's on the basketball court, in the hallways of KU Medical Center or when he shows up to provide physical therapy for a client during his clinical practicum. At this point of his career, he'd rather be known as a good therapist than a former big-time basketball player.
"I get a lot of different reactions," he said. "Some people are kind of shell shocked when they see that I am going to be their PT and am not wearing a KU basketball jersey, while others could care less. I'd rather be known as a good PT that got them better than some has-been basketball player."
"Tyrel is just another one of our exceptional students," said Lisa Stehno-Bittel, head of the Department of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Science. "In fact, amazing and inspiring stories could have been written about any one of them. The difference is that the KU fans recognize Tyrel everywhere he goes. Tyrel, on the other hand, appears to avoid attention and has worked to be evaluated by his faculty like any other student starting on the first day of classes. "
Tyrel said having been injured as an athlete gives him a certain empathy for his clients that others may not possess. He knows what it's like not to be able to do the activities that he loves. Countless hours spent in the training room help him relate to what his patients are going through during their recoveries.
"Being injured is no fun, but I want patients to be as positive as they can, and then I want to push them like I was being pushed to get back to being healthy and doing what they love," he said.
"Ty has been in the same position," Jessica added. "He knows what the other side looks like. He knows what motivates athletes and how they think."
While many college athletes struggle to complete their undergraduate degrees, Tyrel is within months of completing his doctorate in physical therapy. He credits his parents, coaches and advisers for reminding him along the way that it was important to have a college degree to fall back on when his playing days were over. He also credits his fellow DPT students with making him feel welcome and not like a celebrity.
"I have met so many great people along the way and have 35 stellar classmates in my PT program that I will call friends the rest of my life," he said. "All of my classmates have treated me like any other student in the class, and I couldn't ask for anything more.
"We're proud of Tyrel, but we're proud of all of our guys," Self said. "Not everyone is going to go on to some form of graduate or medical school, but I believe we've graduated about 95 percent of our guys that have been in our program four years. In today's time, when the national average for general students to get their degree is 4.6 years, it's hard for athletes to get their degree in four years."
Competition in His Blood
While Tyrel is no longer a Division I basketball player, he remains a part of the sport and the school that made him famous. He stays in touch with former teammates who are playing in the NBA, including his former roommate Cole Aldrich, now with the New York Knicks.
"The NBA is fun for me to watch because I have either played with or against 90 percent of the players at some point either in AAU, college or professional basketball," Tyrel said. "I love talking to all my former teammates who are still playing. It is so much fun to see them playing at such a high level."
Since hanging up his basketball shoes, Tyrel has found other avenues to spend his competitive energy, including golf. He says golf is difficult and humbling, but he enjoys playing the game, although Jessica points out that she beat him in a putting contest - once.
"He bought me ice cream, so I'd say he handles (losing) pretty well," she said. "He probably practiced after I went to sleep to make sure it never happened again, but that's his competitive side."
Tyrel admits there are times when hitting the links isn't enough to satisfy his competitive juices; when he still joneses to lace up his basketball shoes, and that's when he can be seen spotting up for three-pointers against the latest crop of Jayhawks in pickup games in Lawrence.
Crimson and Blue, Through and Through
While you can take the boy out of basketball, you can't take basketball out of the boy. Tyrel still bleeds crimson and blue and probably always will.
A few weeks ago, he got a phone call from his former mentor and coach. Self wanted to know if Tyrel would introduce him during the 60 years of Jayhawk Basketball in Allen Fieldhouse - a gathering of the KU faithful that featured the four living KU basketball coaches for an evening of hardcore hoops lore hosted by ESPN basketball guru Jay Bilas.
It was an honor to be asked. Physical therapy might be Tyrel's life now, but when Bill Self and the Jayhawks call, it's hard to turn your back on tradition, even when the game you love doesn't always need you anymore.