Tony Reed is used to change.
After all, he made the trek from Anchorage, Alaska nearly 30 years to play college basketball for the Montana Grizzlies.
And then, about six years ago, he left a long-running job with Northwest Airlines to become a driver for United Parcel Service.
In each case Reed was able to adjust quite easily to his new surroundings, partly because he didn’t have to uproot his family. The Reeds still live in the Minneapolis, Minn., area, where they’ve been since 1992.
During his career with Northwest Airlines Reed worked in sales and customer service. Toward the end he was in customer relations and spent most of his time dealing with customers who were upset about something.
He was the last resort for people who hadn’t gotten answers from other airlines personnel. The conversation often included getting yelled at.
“You would pretty much expect it,” Reed said. “When you picked up the phone you knew you were getting someone who didn’t have a good experience and they weren’t necessarily happy about having to call you.”
With UPS, Reed deals with people who generally are glad to see him. The fact that Reed has always been pretty laid back probably has come in handy I both situations.
Things got tough for airlines in general after 9/11, and the latest economic downturn has made things worse, although Reed already had made his move before the latter happened.
“I kind of got out before I got pushed out, basically,” Reed laughed. “Ironically I got on with UPS through another former Grizzly, Steve Vanek. At the time he was a human resource manager for them.”
Reed and Vanek had crossed paths because their basketball-playing sons played AAU games against each other.
Reed’s long-term goal is to move into management at some point, but for now, he’s enjoying covering a route in Brooklyn Park, where he lives.
“It keeps me busy (and) keeps me in fairly decent shape,” he explained. “You get to meet a lot of people in the community (and) develop a lot of relationships, and that’s very enjoyable for me.”
Reed got his UM degree in business management in 1989. He and his wife, Janice, and their first child, Xavier, headed for Seattle, Wash., to look for work. Within three months Reed was hired by Northwest Airlines.
In October 1992 the airlines transferred Reed to Minneapolis, even farther away from Anchorage than either Seattle or Missoula.
While Reed’s parents eventually moved to Louisiana, all of Reed’s brothers still live in Alaska along with some aunts, uncles and cousins. Reed saw his Alaska family for the first time in seven years in January.
“It was nice to get up there and reconnect,” Reed said. “I always enjoyed Alaska and I still consider that really my home. It’s a great place.”
Once he left UM Reed had the desire to continue playing basketball at a high level, so he got involved in local pro-am leagues with current and former pro and college players in both Seattle and Minneapolis.
Reed continued to do that until his daughter Azaria was born in 1999, but found himself with less free time, so his playing time dwindled.
Last summer he joined a team put together by his son, who currently is finishing his sophomore year at Minnesota State-Moorhead.
“I was more of a body to come in and play,” Reed said, noting that he hadn’t played at that level for a few years. “It was kind of fun. I held my own. I didn’t embarrass myself, I guess.”
When Reed started looking for a place to attend college back in the mid 80s basketball was his only option. He had played one year of football before high school which he said “didn’t go very well” and ran some track, but settled on hoops as a prep athlete.
His way to Montana was paved by center Larry McBride, who played at the same high school as Reed and formed the Twin Towers with Larry Krystkowiak from 1981 to 1985.
“I think that’s what got me on the radar,” Reed said. “There really weren’t a lot of athletes that got recruited for basketball from Alaska at the time.”
UM assistant coach Stew Morrill maintained his contact with McBride’s coach. Reed put together a nice career, making all-state first team three times and being named Mr. Basketball for Alaska twice. He also made himself better known by attending some summer camps in the lower 48 states.
Morrill made a couple trips to Anchorage to see him play and offered Reed a scholarship during his senior season. Once he made the visit to Missoula, like so many others he was hooked.
Reed went through a major transformation at UM. A prolific scorer in high school, head coach Mike Montgomery called on him to learn how to lead the Grizzlies from the point guard position. He had played the point in high school, but his charge there was to score, not distribute the ball.
“My game was more of a one-on-one type game, the between the legs, the behind the back, the spin move, things of that nature,” Reed said. “That really wasn’t his (Montgomery’s) style, so out of necessity - if I wanted to play in his system - I was gonna have to change my game and adjust to that.”
So you won’t find Tony Reed’s name among the 25 players that have scored 1,000 points or more in their careers. But you will find him ranked ninth all-time at UM for career assists with 339.
Ironically, even with coaches the caliber of Montgomery and Morrill heading the program, it was Blaine Taylor, himself a former Grizzly point guard and future UM head coach, that taught Reed most about the position.
Taylor came on board as an assistant when Morrill took over from Montgomery after the 1985-86 season and worked with Reed for three seasons.
Another irony not lost on Reed is that he played for three coaches that led teams to the NCAA Tournament this season - Montgomery with Cal, Morrill with Utah State and Taylor with Old Dominion - and came to UM in the same recruiting class as Wayne Tinkle, who took the Grizzlies to the Big Dance this season.
“It’s something that I kind of brag on here with the different coaches and players that I was involved with,” Reed noted. “It was a great environment. I was exposed to some great coaches. You don’t always think that necessarily when you’re there, but looking back I was very fortunate to get development under a lot of great teachers.”
Reed said he has used much of what he learned at UM with his own children and other kids he has coached in Minnesota.
Reed has difficulty pointing out specific memories from his UM days beyond the overall experience, although hanging a 13-point loss on the University of Washington during his freshman season does stand out because he had a pretty significant role in the win, including a special pass.
“I got trapped just about mid court, and it was just instinct,” Reed recalled. “I saw Scott Zanon streaking down the other side, and I whipped a pass with my left hand behind my back, and he went in and scored and I think he got fouled.”
Reed also recalls some good outings against Montana State. He would set his VCR to record those games for his dad, who wasn’t able to see him play very often, and he always seemed to elevate his game a bit against the Bobcats because of that.
Of all his teammates, Reed stays in touch best with fellow guard Eric Jordan, his roommate for two seasons after EJ arrived two years into Reed’s career. The two spoke a couple of weeks ago while Jordan’s wife was in labor with their second child.
Reed still has some contact with Vanek, usually at summer basketball tournaments, and talks with Tom Lytle occasionally. Reed said Facebook has put him back in touch with people like Bruce Burns, who played before Reed, and Mike Ahlers, who teamed with Reed for two seasons.
Tony and Janice actually were childhood sweethearts in Alaska. Reed’s aunt used to baby sit for her. At the age of 10 she was the first girl Reed ever kissed, on a dare.
Janice joined Tony at UM two years after he arrived. They were married in the summer of 1988. Xavier was born April 26, 1989 in Missoula, and shares the same birth date with sister Azaria.
Janice is a human resource manager for Regency Beauty Institutes, a company with cosmetology schools across the nation. She got started in cosmetology after the Reeds moved to Minnesota, earning her license and opening her own salon.
After a few years she started teaching cosmetology, eventually going to work for Regency in administration.
Xavier started his basketball career at Cal State-Northridge. A little bigger than his dad, he’s an inside player. After a year in California he transferred to Division Two Minnesota State-Moorhead across the border from Fargo, N.D. He just finished his second season there.
“He was a little undersized for the Division One level,” Reed said, “but I think the Division Two level is a really good fit for him. The conference he plays in is one of the top Division Two conferences in the country.”
Reed thinks his daughter might end up being the best basketball player in the family.
“She’s about 5-6 and she’s really picking it up now,” Reed said. “I’m trying to teach her to play the way I used to with the ball handling. At 10 it’s certainly a work in progress, but I think she has a chance to be really good.”
Reed said Azaria has Janice’s mentality.
“I was known more as laid back, not really mean or physical,” Reed said. “Coaches always said I needed to get tougher. She doesn’t have that problem. She’s tough and really competitive. She enjoys playing the game.”
Looking back at his time in Missoula and at UM, Reed emphasized how much he enjoyed the whole experience. He said most of his top memories were really away from the basketball court, including the road trips themselves.
Reed, K.C. McGowan and Tinkle always rode in the same rental car, and Reed took it upon himself to ride shotgun and find a rhythm-and-blues or hip-hop station on the radio.
Players enjoyed having wrestling matches in the hotel rooms, although Reed didn’t much enjoy being locked in a room with Krystkowiak and McBride on one trip.
“That wasn’t much of a match,” Reed laughed.
During his senior season Reed and three teammates trapped junior college transfer Ossie Young on a motel second-story balcony in Flagstaff, Ariz. To get away, Young jumped off the balcony, landing on the ground in front of coaches Morrill, Taylor and Bob Niehl.
“Obviously they weren’t too happy about that,” Reed said. “That sort of cut short our wrestling after that.”
For Reed, just getting away from home, enjoying the college experience and growing as a person remain special memories for him.
“There were tons of nice people I got to meet and interact with and develop relationships,” Reed recalled. “It seemed like it went really quickly.”
Reed hasn’t been back to Missoula since 2004 when he passed through while driving a car he purchased in Seattle back to Minnesota. It was summer, so he didn’t run into Tinkle and others he hoped to see, but he and Xavier were able to see the facilities on campus.
“It (was) a huge change from what I can remember from 1989,” Reed noted. “I want to get back to Missoula to catch a game or two and maybe reconnect with some old friends.
“Me and my wife talked about taking the kids to let them see the atmosphere,” he said.