March 23, 2011
By Matt Magill
After a very impressive showing at the USTA 18s National Spring Championship, Hunter Reese sat down for his first interview as a Tennessee Volunteer.
The freshman came to the Volunteers from Kennesaw, Ga., and is redshirting this spring after graduating in December from North Cobb High School. While he has been busy between schoolwork and practices with his new team, he has found time to succeed in two events on the USTA junior circuit.
He won a USTA 18s National Open in Waco, Texas, without dropping a set in February. Last week at the Spring Nationals, he took third-place honors after only reaching the third round the year before.
While Reese has to wait until September before he wears the Orange and White for collegiate matches, he already sports the school colors proudly wherever he goes. Reese talks having a Vol connection, being a walking billboard and tries to comprehend how sophomore Edward Jones has not read the Harry Potter series in this week's Q&A.
Q: So you finished third in the USTA 18s National Spring Championship. What was that like for you?
A: Well it's the best I've ever done. Before that I had only got to the third round, so that was definitely a big improvement. Last year when I played in this tournament I was ranked 510th in the nation. This year I was top-20 going in, so it was a big jump. A lot of that is from being here (at UT). All of the good coaching and hitting I've been getting up here has made me so much better on the junior circuit.
Q: What are some of the lessons you've taken away from this tournament and the junior circuit in general?
A: I've played two junior tournaments since I've gotten here. I think the biggest difference I think is when I'm playing at my tournaments I feel like I'm stronger mentally. That's definitely something important in tennis especially. You've got to believe you're the stronger mental player and always keep your head on the court and try to figure out a way to win. That's one of the biggest differences I've noticed since I've come here.
Q: Do you think your junior circuit success will carry over to UT?
A: Hopefully. I guess we'll have to wait until next fall to find out, but I feel good hitting with all the guys. I feel that I can hang with them and I have no trouble keeping up. I think I'll definitely get a chance to start showing some my improvement since I've come up here.
Q: How did you decide to come to Tennessee?
A: Well, it was one of the toughest decisions I've ever made. My dad went to Georgia and Georgia was coming after me pretty hard. I grew up a Georgia fan. Everything I had was University of Georgia. But I got to know (coach Sam Winterbotham) and (coach Chris Woodruff) and throughout the whole recruiting process they were the most consistent with getting in touch with me. It really made me feel like they wanted me here. With other schools, I didn't necessarily feel that way. Then when I came on my visit, I just loved the campus and loved all the opportunities you get as a student-athlete here. I felt like this was the best place for me to get better.
Q: I was going to ask about being from the state of Georgia, but I didn't realize you were a University of Georgia fan. You're the first Vol tennis player from the state since 1993. So there was definitely some home state pressure?
A: (laughs) Yeah, especially a few weeks before signing day, (Univ. of Georgia) started coming after me pretty hard. I didn't know about the 1993 stat until I got here. It's pretty cool to be the first player from there in almost 20 years.
Q: The coaches are asking you to put on weight. What's the weight gain for?
A: I'm pretty skinny; I always have been. It's not that I'm not strong, I'm just a skinny boy. I need to put on the weight to hit the ball harder. I'm on a different workout than everyone else. I only get one or two days a week off and the other guys only lift around three days a week. It's tougher. It's pretty much hard everyday. Sometimes I get a couple of light days. It's working though--I've gained about ten pounds since I got here.
Q: Have you had to change your diet? Are you wolfing down pancakes?
A: Breakfast is tough because I don't like to get up in the mornings. I've had to start doing that since I've gotten up here. Just whenever I eat I'm supposed to eat as much as I can, as often as I can.
Q: Other than the weight gain, what are some of the things you've had to adjust to?
A: I've had to adjust to living with Jarryd (Chaplin). It's not necessarily just living with Jarryd but just living with a roommate. You always have someone there. At my house, I had my own room. If I needed to get away, I could just go be alone in my room. I've had to adjust to that, but it's been great. Jarryd is a great guy, and it's awesome living with him. And just the freedom of college. No one is there saying `go eat now' or `go do this now.' You just have to figure things out for yourself.
Q: Have you had any trouble adjusting to practice?
A: I've been pretty good. I practiced a lot at home, but practices here a pretty intense. I feel like I've adjusted pretty well though.
Q: How quickly did it take you to get up to speed?
A: At Hawaii, there wasn't any pressure of a "real" team practice, so I got to hit with everybody and see how they prepare for matches and what the atmosphere was like. That was really good. When we got back to Knoxville, it took a few days to get into the routine but I feel like I was pretty much caught up on how we do practice.
Q: With three seniors graduating this year, what do you foresee your role being on the team?
A: Hopefully I can step up next year and be in one of the top four or five spots. Top six definitely but hopefully four or five. As the years go, hopefully I'll move up to one of those top two or three spots and hopefully lead this team towards the end of my career.
Q: On one of your questionnaires, a question was: If you could have dinner with any three people, who would they be? One of your answers was J.K. Rowling.
A: Oh, I love the Harry Potter books. Who doesn't? They're great.
Q: Last week, I talked to Ed Jones. He loves the movies, but he's never read the books.
A: No way. He can't--no. It just doesn't work that way.
Q: He says he's not much of a reader.
A: That's no excuse. I don't want to hear that. I'm going to get on him about that. The movies are great, but the books are 10 times better. He's being stubborn. I'll have to give him the books or something. I brought a couple of them with me. I've got to get him started on them.
Q: Other than Harry Potter books, what are some of your hobbies?
A: Just hanging out with all of the guys. There's not a ton of free time, but when we have it, we all hang out together. I'm not a big video game guy, but all of them are. I like just watching them play. They get pretty intense playing Call of Duty or FIFA and everything. It's just a ton of fun to be around them and just hang out with the team.
Q: At the tournament this weekend, you wore UT stuff?
A: Everyday. At the one a couple of weeks ago, I told my aunt that if I made the finals, I would wear all orange. So I did--orange shirt, orange shorts, orange hat, everything.
Q: Did anyone give you a hard time?
A: Apparently, no one likes the Tennessee orange. They know where I'm from though.
Q: You're like a walking billboard.
A: It's great. Everyone notices it and comments about it. It's weird because everywhere you go, someone will come up to you and say they have a connection to Tennessee somehow. It's neat. Last week, I was at my brother's match and there was a dad on the other team who was a defensive tackle for Tennessee. I ran into him and we started talking about UT. It's pretty cool.