Ten years ago this month, Jesse Reed got to experience March Madness.

Reed, then a sophomore at American University and the team’s leading scorer, helped the Eagles win the Patriot League tournament title before losing an NCAA tournament first-round game in Milwaukee to Frank Kaminsky and Wisconsin, which went on to reach the Final Four.

“We got the chartered flight and police escort, and we ate at the best steakhouse in Milwaukee. It was as good as you can imagine,” Reed said.

Reed has since swapped his jersey and playing shoes for a clipboard and whistle, and the turnaround he helped orchestrate in his third season as Franklin Regional’s coach was, well, about as good as you can imagine.

After ending the 2022-23 season with 10 consecutive losses, Franklin Regional bounced back by producing one of the finest seasons in school history. The Panthers went 27-4, won the Class 5A Section 3 title, advanced to the WPIAL final for the first time since 2018, and to the PIAA final for the first time since 1997 before seeing their season end in a loss to nationally ranked Imhotep Charter.

For his efforts, Reed has been named Pittsburgh Union Progress boys basketball Coach of the Year. All WPIAL and City League coaches were considered for the award that was picked by the PUP sports staff.

In his third season as coach, Jesse Reed guided Franklin Regional to the WPIAL and PIAA Class 5A championship games. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Reed, 31, grew up in Saltsburg and is a 2011 graduate of Greensburg Central Catholic. Coincidentally, Greensburg C.C. went 27-4 and was a WPIAL and PIAA runner-up in Reed’s senior season, feats equaled by Franklin Regional this season. A three-time all-Patriot League choice, Reed played professionally in Luxembourg for a season prior to moving back to the United States and beginning his coaching career. He spent two seasons as a graduate assistant at Saint Vincent and two as an assistant at Carnegie Mellon prior to taking the Franklin Regional job in 2021.

“I think [coaching] was something I always knew as a player one day I’d get into,” said Reed, who now resides in Lawrenceville and works as an insurance adviser in Murrysville. “I didn’t know it would be at the high school level. I thought it would be college. I enjoyed doing it there, but I wanted more stability. Seeing the nature of the beast in college hoops, I decided high school would be best. And I kind of lucked out when Franklin Regional came into play.”

Cam Rowell was a sophomore on Reed’s first Franklin Regional team. And considering Reed was a first-time head coach, both coach and players learned together.

“We had to bounce ideas off of each other. And as time went on, things really clicked,” Rowell said. “He’s a very good coach because he talks to the players and hears you out.”

After going 7-14 in Reed’s first season, the Panthers roared to a 9-3 start in his second. But one by one, the losses began piling up, and before the Panthers knew it, they had finished the season with a 9-13 record after dropping their final 10 games.

“Part of it was just getting healthy again,” Reed said. “We had some guys who were injured. I think that down the stretch we were starting to play good basketball. And with us returning so many guys with a full offseason to work on their skill, it showed.”

Franklin Regional dropped just one section game and two regular-season games overall on its way to the No. 2 seed in the WPIAL playoffs. The Panthers thumped No. 3 Shaler, 69-40, in the semifinals to reach the final for only the fourth time in school history.

“Beating Shaler to go to the WPIAL final was a memorable night,” Reed said. “That was maybe the most complete game, offensively and defensively, that we played all season. Right from the jump, we set the tone and never looked back.”

The Panthers came up just short in their quest for a first WPIAL title after being edged by No. 1 Moon, 53-48, in the championship at Petersen Events Center.

Franklin Regional then ripped off four consecutive wins to reach the PIAA title game for only the second time, the final of those triumphs coming against Moon, 60-43, in the semifinals. And despite being a heavy underdog to Philadelphia power Imhotep Charter in the final, Franklin Regional found itself within just three points of the 10-time state champions in the fourth quarter before suffering a 59-48 defeat.

Franklin Regional coach Jesse Reed embraces senior Cooper Rankin after Rankin fouled out during the team’s loss to Imhotep Charter in the PIAA Class 5A championship. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

It was an emotional scene in and around the Franklin Regional locker room following the season-ending loss, with Reed stressing to his players how much they meant to him.

“I just wanted to thank them,” he said. “I told them I was so thankful for what they have done for the program and what they have done this season. I’m just so thankful for everything they did and were able to accomplish.”

This Franklin Regional team was fueled by a seven-player senior class that were sophomores when Reed first took the job. Rowell, Cooper Rankin, Colin Masten and Fin Hutchison were all starters this season, with Josh Hudak, Nathan Collier and Zach Bluemling coming off the bench.

“It’s very bittersweet,” Reed said. “I told those guys, ‘I haven’t experienced life at Franklin Regional without you, so it’s going to be really strange next year.’ It’s a special group of guys. The relationships we built, I’ll have relationships with those guys for the rest of my life. They are such good dudes and we have so many great memories.”

Rowell, one of several Franklin Regional seniors planning on playing in college, said he will carry those memories with him as he continues his career.

“We made history at Franklin Regional,” Rowell said. “[Losing in the PIAA final] was a terrible feeling, but at the same time, we had such a good run.”

Brad is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at beverett@unionprogress.com.

Brad Everett

Brad is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at beverett@unionprogress.com.