Beyond The Score


Many people called him coach. For Perry Reese, Jr, he always thought of himself as teacher. Whether it was on the basketball floor, where he roamed the sidelines at Hiland High School for 16 years as the boys basketball head coach from 1984-2000, or in the classroom, where he felt just as much at home, Reese was always teaching, usually serving, always caring.

When Reese passed away from an inoperable brain tumor on Nov. 22, 2000, he left behind a legacy of being a winner, having fashioned a 304-85 record at Hiland, having led the Hawks to seven district titles and five state tournament appearances that included a most improbable state title in 1992.

However, ask those who knew him best, and basketball was only the surface, the tip of the iceberg, when it came to describing Reese and what he meant to his community and anyone who got to know him.

One of those people was Malvern Hornets head coach Dennis tucci, a man who, like Reese, has learned to care deeply for those around him, especially his players.

Tucci and Reese squared off for a decade from 1990-2000. In that span he not only coached against Reese, but he also coached alongside him at Charlie Huggins Camp. The two developed a tight bond over the years that led to a relationship Tucci still looks back on fondly to this day, 20 years after Reese's passing.

With the 20th anniversary of Reese's passing having just gone by, Tucci reminisced about what Reese meant to him, those who developed a friendship with him, and the players and students he connected with on a daily basis.

"We got to be really good friends over the years, and I think about Perry and what he meant to all of us often," Tucci said. "He was a true character. He had this sense of humor that came out of nowhere. But he was one of the most selfless people I have ever known. He especially had so much love for the kids, and he was so passionate about making them better people, whether it was on the floor or in the classroom or in life in general. That was who Perry was. He loved people and would do anything to help someone in need."

Tucci said playing pranks and trying to one-up each other was a bond of brotherhood rite of passage in their relationship. Any time the two got togther, it was anyone's guess as to what might happen.

We played a lot of jokes on each other," Tucci said.

The longtime Malvern coach who has amassed more than 400 wins himself in the coaching ranks said one of his favorite memories was during a game at the old Hawks' Nest gymnasium at Hiland High School. Tucci is well known for sporting a short-sleeve shirt, dress shoes and a tie whil Reese would often wear khaki pants, loafer shoes and a Hawks' vest.

During the junior varsity game, Tucci donned his regular gear, but after retreating to the locker room before the varsity game, he emerged wearing an identical outfit as Reese.

"In order for me to get to our bench, we had to walk right past Perry on the sideline," Tucci said. "He grabs me and says, 'What are you doing?' I said I was going to coach my team, and he responded, 'No, what are you doing dressed like this?' I laughed, and I told him, 'The best thing about this sweater is that one of your assistants gave it to me.'"

That must have sent Reese over the top because after tip-off Reese calmly walked over to Tucci's side of the bench and dumped a whole water bottle full of water on Tucci. That was when Tucci knew he had hit the mark with the prank.

Another time Tucci donned a Perry Reese picture button through the entire junior varsity game, making sure he walked past and talkeed to his friend numerous times. He said he could not get any reaction out of Reese and couldn't figure out why.

"Here I am with this picutre of Reese on my lapel and he isn't reacting. I'm getting mad becasue I can't get a rise out of him," Tucci said. "Why is he not reacting to this?"

He soon found out.

Following the warm-up for the varsity game, Reese took the microphone, making an announcement that caught his friend completely off guard.

He gets on the loudspeaker and says, "We are so blessed to have a coach like Dennis Tucci come in here," Tucci said. "He went on and on for several minutes, talking abou all of my accolades and how fortunate they were to have a guy like me coming here to coach in their home gym. I'm telling you, it felt like 20 minutes. He would not shut up."

Tucci had been one-upped.

He knew he had that in his back pocket, and that was why I couldn't get a rise out of him," Tucci said.

That's the kind of relationship we had developed over the years.

On a more serious note, Tucci said Reese's success on the floor came because he loved the game of basketball and he loved his kids above all.

Tucci said when his team wasn't butting heads with an opponent, Reese was a fan of Malvern. He said he was a fan of Garaway and of all the other teams they faced.

"I think Perry was such a fan of the game and a supporter of all of the kids around the area that he gained a lot of respect because of that," Tucci said. "He just wanted kids to succeed and was a great role model for that kind of love and respect. He was so sincere and so honest about his care and compassion for everyone that truly shone through. He was just a great person."

Tucci said he tried to entice Reese into taking on more of a leadership role in the coaching fraternity but said that didn't come easily for Reese becasue the coach was so humble he felt like he would come across as being arrogant.

"His last couple of years he really started to take that to heart more, and he became such an incredible role model for a lot of these younger coaches comiing into the league," Tucci said of Reese. "When he talked, everyone leaned in because they wanted to hear what he had to say, because it was usually worthwhile."

Tucci said that for Reese, wins, titles and the game itself always came second to the relationships he forged and the people his life touched in such a meaningful way.

"What a legacy he left us," Tucci said of Reese. "His life was just too short, and the end came on too soon and too quick, but what he did accomplish in his time here will never be forgotten. I think anyone who knew Perry has their own special stories, their own special memories, and that is something we will cherish forever."