It has been more than three decades, but there’s not a week that goes by that someone doesn’t mention The Shot to former University of Arkansas basketball star U.S. Reed.
If not The Shot, it’s The Call they remember.
His was a four-year college career filled with highlights, but longtime Razorback fans still best remember the Pine Bluff native for two unforgettable moments — one is remembered fondly, one not so fondly.
The first occurred in March 1979 during the NCAA Tournament.
During Reed’s freshman season the previous year, the famed Triplets — Sidney Moncrief, Ron Brewer and Marvin Delph — had led Arkansas to the 1978 Final Four. Arkansas finished third, losing to Kentucky in the semifinals and defeating Notre Dame in the consolation game.
Brewer and Delph graduated. As a sophomore, Reed joined forces with Moncrief as Arkansas made it all the way to the NCAA Midwest Regional finals in Cincinnati before losing to an Indiana State team led by Larry Bird.
With the score tied 71-71 — and no shot clock in those days — Arkansas was holding the ball for a final shot. Reed was tripped at the 1:02 mark but was called for traveling, a call that still angers the Razorback faithful.
Bob Heaton scored at the horn for a 73-71 Sycamore win. Indiana State lost in the finals that year to a Michigan State team led by Magic Johnson.
“It was not a walk,” Reed now says. “I was tripped by Carl Nicks. That might have been the worst call in the history of the NCAA Tournament. People still bring me T-shirts to sign that say, ’He was tripped.’”
Two years after The Call, however, there was The Shot.
It was March 14, 1981, in Austin in the second round of the NCAA Tournament when Reed launched a shot from 49 feet with one second left on the clock. His basket gave the No. 20 Razorbacks a 74-73 victory over No. 12 Louisville. The Cardinals were the defending national champions.
In 2009, Sports Illustrated listed Reed’s shot as the second-most historic event in the history of the NCAA Tournament.
I was sitting on press row that day in Austin. I can remember it as if it were yesterday.
In recognition of his accomplishments, Reed will be inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame on Friday, Feb. 3. Tickets for the annual induction banquet at Verizon Arena in North Little Rock are $100 each and may be obtained by calling Jennifer Smith at (501) 663-4328 or Catherine Johnson at (501) 821-1021.
Reed is among 11 individual inductees — six from the regular category, three from the senior category and two from the posthumous category — in the Class of 2012. The Hall of Fame also will induct the 1994 University of Arkansas national championship basketball team.
Reed played on a state championship high school team at Pine Bluff and hoped to be offered a scholarship to Arkansas.
“I idolized the Triplets,” he says. “I wanted to play with them. But it was not as easy as I thought it would be.”
A scholarship offer from Arkansas was not immediately forthcoming. There were offers from other schools such as Louisiana Tech, the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and Ouachita Baptist University. Finally in early August — just a few weeks before school began — Arkansas assistant coach Pat Foster visited practices for the annual high school all-star game and offered Reed a scholarship.
“I had visited Fayetteville earlier in the year and played in pickup games with the players there,” Reed said. “I had laryngitis that weekend and couldn’t even talk to anyone. I was probably headed to Louisiana Tech if I had not gotten the late offer from Arkansas.”
Reed was determined to prove himself.
“I had played against older guys all my life,” he says. “When I was in high school, I would take part in pickup games with UAPB players from places like Chicago. I knew I could play at that level.”
Reed came off the bench as a sixth man for that 1977-78 team that went 32-4 and advanced to the Final Four.
By his sophomore season, Reed was starting. Arkansas wasn’t expected to return to the Final Four with the loss of Brewer and Delph, but Moncrief, Reed, Scott Hastings and other members of the team overachieved as Arkansas put together a 14-game winning streak late in the season.
Indiana State was unbeaten and No. 1 at the time of its game against Arkansas, yet the Hogs might have advanced to the Final Four if not for The Call. As it was, the Razorbacks finished 25-5.
During Reed’s junior season in 1979-80, Arkansas went 13-3 in the Southwest Conference and 21-8 overall, losing in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
In Reed’s senior season, Arkansas won the Southwest Conference title at 13-3 and finished 24-8 overall. That afternoon in Austin in the second round of the NCAA Tournament is the day people still talk about. Each year at tournament time, The Shot can be seen again on ESPN.
As Arkansas was warming up for its game against Louisville, Reed began taking long shots. His teammates wondered what was going on.
“They all wanted to know what I was doing,” he told Dana O’Neil of ESPN.com. “I had never done that before. Never. It was like I was preparing or being prepared for something big — almost as if I had a premonition.”
“I’m not sure if you asked him to take that shot five times, he’d hit one,” Arkansas head coach Eddie Sutton would later say. “But he hit it when it counted.”
O’Neil wrote: “Some sort of divine intervention might offer the best explanation. There is no logical way a 49-foot, buzzer-beating, game-winning heave goes in. Yet that is exactly what happened for the Razorbacks and Reed on March 14, 1981.
“It is a shot that remains a classic, right alongside Bryce Drew’s miracle for sheer impossibility. … People don’t forget. In fact, they stop to tell you where they were that day you made history. ‘I think it’s amazing that people still remember something that happened so many years ago,’ Reed said. Honestly, though, if you saw it, you couldn’t forget it.”
Arkansas, which had led for most of the game, was down by a point with six seconds remaining when Sutton called for time. Louisville’s press had stymied Arkansas down the stretch. Reed was unable to get the ball down low to Hastings.
“Given how little time was on the clock, I knew that I would have to be the one to take the shot,” Reed says.
“So from two strides behind half court, Reed took his shot,” O’Neil wrote. “Whether it was muscle memory from those crazy pregame shots or sheer happenstance, Reed remembers actually taking the shot like a legit shot. This wasn’t just a heave-ho. He elevated, squared, shot and prayed. Who knows? Maybe at that point the basketball gods decided to do him a favor. Two years earlier, Reed had the ball in a tie game when he fell over Indiana State’s Carl Nicks. He fell to the ground — Sutton and Reed both insist he was fouled — and when he got back up, he was whistled for traveling. … So maybe a little pixie dust came into play.”
Sutton said this of The Shot: “It looked like it was going to at least hit iron. And then when it went in, I thought the Louisville coaches were going to have a heart attack.”
Rather than celebrating with his teammates, Reed came over to press row and began shaking hands with those of us sitting there.
“It was a miracle,” he says. “That was just a reaction on my part to shake hands. I was so happy that I wanted to shake every hand in the arena. It was a moment of gratitude.”
Reed finished the game with 19 points, six assists, three steals and six rebounds. Arkansas lost the next week to LSU but was ranked No. 20 in the final Associated Press poll.
During his senior season, Reed had 416 points and 131 rebounds, becoming the 11th Razorback to score more than 1,000 points in a career. In his college career, Arkansas made the NCAA Tournament four times and posted a record of 102-25.
Reed was selected in the fifth round of the NBA draft by the Kansas City (now Sacramento) Kings. He played for one season in the Continental Basketball Association before an injury ended his playing career.
“I was glad I had my degree,” he says. “I was able to move on with my life after basketball.”
Reed, an ordained minister, lives in Pine Bluff and is involved in the real estate business. He never tires of talking about The Shot.
Each spring, he watches the NCAA Tournament on television, enjoying games that end with last-second shots.
“I know exactly how they feel — how everything slows down in that moment and then when it goes in, everything speeds up again,” he told O’Neil. “It’s one of those moments where you feel like the whole world is watching you. Those are moments that come around very few times for very few people. I wish I could tell those kids, ‘Cherish it. Just cherish it.’”