There is another side to the seemingly always serious, and slightly shy, Malcolm Reed.
It's the silly, softer side that likes cartoons and playgrounds.
It's the more relaxed and reserved side that laughs and goofs around.
"When I'm on the court or on the field or on the track, it's all business. I want to win so much, so I'm pretty focused, and I kind of keep to myself," said Reed, a three-sport standout in football, basketball and track at Grayslake Central, which completed a worst-to-first transformation this season on the hardwood.
"Everybody is surprised to know that I can be different, that I have this soft spot."
The soft spot's name is Kaley, and she's Reed's 3-year-old niece.
She's done her best to bring Reed out of his shell, which has actually made him a better athlete during his senior seasons.
Reed, a point guard who is now more of the communicator and leader he was trying to be earlier in his career, has been one of the key components of Grayslake Central's rise from a 5-win team last season to Fox Valley Conference Fox Division champions this season. The 15-10 Rams, who went 11-1 in the Fox Division, clinched the outright title last week in a showdown against crosstown rival Grayslake North. Reed scored a team-high 15 points in that game.
"Malcolm has really stepped up this year and played with a sense of urgency. I think he realizes this is his last go-around as a basketball player," Grayslake Central coach Brian Moe said. "He's still not super out-going, but he's not shy now either. He's comfortable in his role as a leader and he'll talk more on the floor now. I think he's liking that responsibility as a senior.
"He's got a really close family and it's so interesting to see him with his niece when she comes to our games. He's so sweet and gentle with her and he kind of opens up. He's always been so put together as an athlete, but I think (Reed's relationship with his niece) has made him even better."
When Kaley was a newborn, she lived in the same house as Reed for a short time. And the two bonded immediately.
"I got to hold her and watch her grow up every day," Reed said. "Now, she's playing Xbox with me and we go to the park and watch cartoons. It's fun, and now I've got a little nephew, too. He was born in September. Those kids have a special place in my heart."
Ditto for sports in his senior year. The serious side of him has been determined to make lasting memories before his time expires.
Reed, who is averaging about 7 points and a couple of assists and steals per game, isn't sure he'll be playing sports in college next year. He's applying to some bigger schools, such as Missouri, Clemson and North Carolina, which likely won't be in the market for a 5-foot-7, 160-pounder.
"I think all the seniors realized that last year wasn't acceptable, in basketball, or football," said Reed, also referring to the Rams' 2-7 football campaign in 2012. A top running back in the area in 2013, he had Central (4-5) in the playoff hunt for most of last fall. "We knew we'd have to put a lot more work in during the off-season to be better, and I think we all did that.
"For me, I changed my approach. I worked a lot harder at getting better. I worked more on my game, and I think that helped me be more vocal because before that, I didn't always think I was good enough to be vocal. But I got better, especially at basketball, and I just decided that I was going to be more vocal and communicate more with my teammates. I knew there was a need for a leader on the team, someone to run the offense and I decided to embrace that."
Reed has gone from a part-time starter last season, to an every-day starter who has the ball in his hands often. He's also the point-person for the Rams' pressure defense.
"Malcolm has an interesting mixture of strength and quickness. You don't see a lot of point guards built like him," Moe said. "And he's got super long arms that help him get a lot of steals. We were down against Woodstock the other day and he got three or four steals in a row to help us get back in the game.
"He plays with this tenacity. It's a will to win games."
Malcolm is hoping he can lead Grayslake Central to a few more wins this winter. The Rams, seeded seventh in the Class 3A Antioch sectional, open postseason play against No. 9 Lakes on Tuesday (8 p.m.) in a regional semifinal on their own floor.
"I feel good about our chances," Reed said. "We can be competitive with anyone. I'm excited to see how we do. We're playing with a lot of confidence."
Reed is also confident that no matter how the Rams fare in the postseason, he'll have a postgame hug waiting for him, from the cutest fan in the stands.
Follow Patricia on Twitter: @babcockmcgraw