“Big Reggie Energy” comes in the form of thunderous alley-oop dunks, blocked shots and deep 3-pointers. You might say it’s the source behind Reggie Kissoonlal’s overwhelmingly joyous interactions with his teammates and Maine Celtics fans, and his enthusiastic post-game autograph sessions.
While the 26-year-old Kissoonlal radiates “Big Reggie Energy,” the description isn’t entirely his own. A couple who typically sit two rows above the Maine Celtics bench at the Portland Expo had told him how much they appreciated his positive attitude, but the close-up picture of his face surrounded by lightning bolts on their homemade T-shirts with the phrase “Big Reggie Energy” took him by surprise.
“So unexpected,” said Kissoonlal, the 7-foot, 204-pound center and fan favorite before a game in early February.
“I’m big with the fans because they take time out of their day to watch us play ball,” said Kissoonlal, who is averaging 4.5 points, 3 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in 10.6 minutes per game in his first season with the team. People who take the time out to come sit and watch us, and cheer for us, that feels pretty good.”
The spark plug off the bench sharing nightly front court duties with multiple former NBA first-round picks, Kissoonlal is the product of the professional basketball path less traveled. The majority of G League rosters are composed of former Division I college stars you might remember from March Madness and players with significant NBA experience. Kissoonlal isn’t one of them. From an undersized high school freshman to the world’s second-best professional basketball league, the seven-footer has juggled a massive growth spurt, debilitating knee injury, bumpy college career, a stint working at UPS and a low-paying overseas opportunity all before coming to the Maine Celtics.
“It’s been a long road, the steps to this,” Kissoonlal said. “I feel like I’m a diamond-in-the-rough type of thing. I wasn’t highly recruited out of high school, wasn’t sought after out of college, but now that I have the opportunity with this platform to show my skill set and play ball with a great organization, there’s no telling what the future holds.”
The youngest of five siblings – hence his jersey number 5 – Kissoonlal grew up in Jacksonville, Florida, to Jamaican-born parents and holds a dual-passport with hopes of representing the country in international play some day. He started his high school career on the bench, but blossomed when he grew from 6-foot-3 to 6-foot-9 the summer between his freshman and sophomore years. Kissoonlal played NCAA Division I basketball at Northwestern State University in Louisiana for three years, but missed most of his freshman season due to a patellar tendon injury, before transferring to NAIA school Marian University in Indiana. He developed into a NAIA All-American Third Team member during his final season of college hoops in 2018-19 and realized he had the potential to play professional basketball.
“When he finished at Marian, I felt like he had a chance to go overseas, play and do well,” said Scott Heady, Kissoonlal’s coach at Marian University. “I felt like the sky was the limit. I’m not surprised where he is, but I do know that it’s taken a lot of work on his part.”
The starting point for Kissoonlal’s professional basketball career came by coincidence. The father of one of his Marian classmates, a softball player, attended a handful of the school’s men’s basketball games. He struck up a kinship with Kissoonlal and rebounded for him during weekly Sunday workouts. Kissoonlal’s classmate’s father knew an NBA skills trainer in Houston and arranged a workout.
“This man bought me a plane ticket, hotel room, and everything,” Kissoonlal said.
The workout went well enough for the trainer to connect Kissoonlal with a professional agent, who brokered a low-paying contract for Kissoonlal with a team in Cyprus.
“It wasn’t much at all,” Kissoonlal said. “I could’ve stayed home and made more money a month being a substitute teacher.”
A risk? Sure, but Kissoonlal deemed it a worthwhile endeavor to add a season of professional basketball to his resume no matter what.
“If I didn’t play, I would’ve gotten complacent with regular life and probably just quit,” he said.
Kissoonlal played in Cyprus until the COVID-19 pandemic sent him back home to northern Florida, where he started working at UPS for a couple of months while staying in professional basketball shape.
Kissoonlal also switched agents, signing with Drew Kelso of One Motive Sports. Kelso helped him find a new home with a team in Denmark, where Kissoonlal played two seasons. Kelso then pushed his name to NBA teams. Kelso first received a call from the Golden State Warriors about Kissoonlal, who then worked out for them and two other teams, including the Celtics.
Kissoonlal’s workout with the Warriors last June overlapped with the NBA finals (in which the Warriors beat the Celtics) and saw Warriors coach Steve Kerr and players like Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson at the facility. A similar experience occurred in a camp in Boston with the Celtics, who then signed-and-waived Kissoonlal on October 12, 2022, a roster move made to ensure he’d end up as an affiliate player with Maine. Kissoonlal is on an Exhibit-10 contract, meaning he receives a bonus up to $50,000 in addition to the regular G League salary of approximately $40,000. Should he go back overseas, Kissoonlal could command a guaranteed six-figure salary. But his dream is to play in the NBA.
“We always knew he was a unicorn-type talent, and that word gets thrown around a lot, but when you see him … he might be the most interesting man in the G League,” Kelso said. “We’re hoping he’ll stay in the states, but there’s massive interest for him to go back to Europe.”
An early-season chat with Maine’s Denzel Valentine, a six-year NBA veteran, helped Kissoonlal find his footing early on. After a game in which Kissoonlal did not play a single second, Valentine imbued a confidence into Kissoonlal that translated into a breakout performance – highlighted by an alley-oop dunk, put-back dunk, and a 3-pointer during his first meaningful minutes – that put him on the map.
“I’m confident that there’s a reason I’m here,” Kissoonlal said.
Greg Levinsky is a Portland native and follower of local sports. He is an alumnus of Deering High School and Boston University whose work has appeared in The Boston Globe, Detroit Free Press, and several Maine newspapers. He can be reached at [email protected].