GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Perhaps the only person in the O'Connell Center wearing a smile as big as the victorious Tennessee men's basketball team was Vols signee Derek Reese.
Reese, one of three members in UT's signing class of 2012, made the drive up from his home in Orlando with his mother to watch Tennessee score a 75-70 victory against No. 8 Florida on Saturday afternoon.
"I was expecting the game to be closer; that was a real good win, real important,'' said the 6-foot-8, 200-pound Reese, whose Olympia High School team is preparing to start the state playoffs. "The players fought and played hard. I enjoyed this game.''
Reese, a wing who can play on the perimeter or post up, is averaging approximately 13 points and nine rebounds playing in Florida's largest high school classification level (Class 8A).
Reese is rated as a three-star prospect by 247Sports.com and Rivals.com, but he is confident he has more to offer the UT program than what those ratings might suggest.
"I think the key for me is my versatility,'' said Reese, who signed with the Vols in November, has academically qualified and plans to enroll the first term of summer school. "I can guard a lot of positions, and I'm 6-8 but I can shoot the three. Coach (Cuonzo) Martin said he sees something in me.''
Reese said he's not surprised by Tennessee's recent run of success.
"I think it's a result of Coach Martin's mentality,'' Reese said. "He's tough-minded and he's going to make you play hard and get the most out of you, and that's how the successful teams do it in sports.
"That's what I was looking for in a college coach.''
Reese said he can't help but be impressed with UT mid-term enrollee Jarnell Stokes, a 6-foot-8, 270-pounder.
"Stokes, man, he's a beast,'' Reese said. "It's hard to believe I actually could be playing against him because he could still be in high school. I'm glad he's going to be on my team.''
Reese has attended one UT home game, the Vols' 64-49 win over Auburn on Jan. 28.
"I loved the atmosphere,'' Reese said. "When they were calling out the starting lineup, I was getting goosebumps. I wanted to play.
"I can tell the fans care about the team.''