Cheatham's Quandary: Hoops or Baseball?

With some hesitation, Reece Cheatham turned away from basketball while still a teenager. He was gifted in two sports, and decided that a career in professional baseball was what he desired after playing both sports at Wabash Valley College in Illinois.

Cheatham, an alum of iHoops' First Team program, accepted a contract with the Chicago White Sox, who selected him in the 43rd round of the 2006 draft. As part of his signing bonus, he made sure to demand that his education was paid for by the White Sox if he ever decided to return to college.

"First Team was one of the main reasons I did that," Cheatham said. "It made me realize that school is a definite. You have to make sure you have that on your resume.

"When (the White Sox) asked me how much I wanted, I said a number and school. That was all part of my backup plan."

Cheatham had a .330 batting average as an outfielder for the White Sox's rookie league affiliate in 2009, a sign that his baseball career could be bright. But basketball remains in Cheatham's blood, and if it comes down to it, he could go back to play college hoops, get an education and forward the tuition bill to the White Sox.

"If something does happen, I have that to fall back on," Cheatham said, "and it's paid for."

During the offseason, Cheatham talked to about his unusual athletic career--how it got to this point, where it could be going and what steps he's taken to make sure all of his bases are covered as his life moves forward.

Why did you choose baseball over basketball?
Most of the time, my preference was basketball. Once I got to my sophomore year and junior year, I realized I'm not going to grow anymore. Everybody else is 7-foot, 6-8, 6-6, whatever. I'm 5-10.

How did you come to that decision?
Out of high school, I was drafted in the 43rd round. Baseball is a different process. If you get drafted, you get to decide whether you want to go or not. If you go to Division I, you have to stay three years. If you go to a junior college, you can leave after your first or second year. I decided to go to a junior college.

When I got drafted, I knew I wasn't going to sign with them in the 43rd round. They were pretty much telling me they were following me. They had rights to me for a year before the next draft. I went to school. I played basketball and baseball. It was between (Indiana University) and (Wabash Valley).

I kept focused and I had a real good season. I was tops in the league in hitting and everything. I decided to sign out of junior college after the first year.

Did you go to junior college expecting to stick to baseball, even though you played two sports there?
I went there because at that point, it was still up in the air as far as what I was going to do, which one I was going to choose, whether to go play college basketball or college baseball. It wasn't for sure that I was going to sign out of a juco to play professional ball.

Was the process of picking a sport stressful to you?
It was very stressful, but it was also fun at the same time. I had everyone wanting me, telling me where to go and what to do. I had coaches recruiting me. Even at the school that I went to, the coaches were trying to decide on when they could have me. They didn't know what to do. I found ways on my own to divide up my time. After basketball practice I'd go off on my own or with one of my buddies. It'd be 11 at night and we'd go work out and do baseball things.

Your AAU basketball team in Indiana was star-studded, featuring current NBA players Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr., Daequan Cook, Josh McRoberts and Eric Gordon. What was that like?
It was a fun experience. I still talk to all of them, and just knowing we almost had a whole team either playing college basketball or in the NBA...and I'm the only one playing baseball. It was a fun experience. I do get to say that I was the first one drafted out of all of them (laughing). I got bragging rights.

Where did you first hear about the First Team program?
I heard about it through my dad. Greg (Turner, one of the iHoops leaders) came to one of our AAU practices and he introduced himself to everybody. We didn't know exactly what it was before we went to the conference.

What did you enjoy most about the First Team experience?
A lot of the guys you knew through got to play against those guys, but you never got to meet them or really hang around with them. Just hanging around, meeting all the people and seeing what their personalities were like.

What are your plans if sports don't work out?
One of my first things I thought of was being a coach somewhere. I would want to follow that career. I like teaching sports. I just recently got a part-time job offer to help coach the Monument Lighthouse Charter Schools baseball team.

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