Neil began attending Indiana's summer basketball camps, and Felling took a special interest in him, pointing out his talents to Knight. The kid never had to be sold, that's for sure. From the first moment he saw Assembly Hall he told his father that's where he wanted to play; the family still has a photo of nine-year-old Neil and his 11-year-old sister, Michelle, standing at midcourt on their first visit there. "He already knows where he wants to be buried," says Felling. "Somewhere between the McDonald's on campus and Assembly Hall." Neil even played at Bloomington High South his sophomore year, when his father was briefly out of coaching and working at a Budweiser distributing plant in Bloomington.
The following year, Terry took an assistant's job at East Jefferson High in Metairie, La., and it was there that Neil was named the state's top Class-5A player in both his junior and senior years. Through all the Reeds' meanderings, Felling kept track of Neil's progress, and when the time came, Indiana offered him a scholarship, which Neil eagerly accepted. "It would've been my ass if the kid couldn't play," says Felling, and he wasn't kidding.
It's a wonder Reed doesn't get called for traveling with a history like that. But he has got the whole point guard package, the kind some coach could put on video and sell at clinics—the stop-and-go dribble, the knack for splitting defenders at precisely the right moment, the jab step, the pivot under pressure, the ball fake, the retreat dribble that forces a half-court trap to commit too early, the skip pass. (Say, didn't Bobby Hurley have kind of a bad haircut too?) The argument could be made that as Reed continually broke Kentucky's swarming full-court press in that game on Dec. 7, Indiana's season officially started to turn around.
The only concern about Reed is a history of myocarditis (inflammation of the heart), the same malady that plagued Reggie Lewis and Hank Gathers and one that once caused him to collapse during an AAU game in St. Louis in 1992. Dr. Larry Rink, a Bloomington doctor who has treated Reed since the incident, says that the player's abnormal heart rhythm was probably caused by a virus and was not life-threatening.
Installed as a starter in the season's fourth game, Reed seemed to get the big men going, particularly forward Alan Henderson, who, after a slow start, once again looks like a first-round draft pick. The versatile 6'9" senior had 22 points against Kansas, including a phenomenal baseline dunk that all but spelled the end for the Jayhawks. That it happened just three minutes into the second half is an indication of just how completely Indiana dominated the game.
The emergence of Reed and the resurgence of Henderson and Evans (who had a game-high 29 points with his smooth, southpaw stroke) have all but buried the strange saga of Hermon, which is perfectly fine with Knight. The college basketball world was shocked when Hermon became a Hoosier. A talented guard out of Chicago, he caused a mild uproar in the Windy City when he changed high schools twice before his senior year, going from Hales Franciscan to Westinghouse and then to Martin Luther King. When he showed up at King to play for Landon (Sonny) Cox, who has long been accused of abusing Chicago's transfer rules, it rankled a number of that city's public league coaches. Soon after, they decided to forfeit their games against King to protest what they considered Cox's cheating. The boycott ended after just one game, however, when the school board promised to look into the matter. (Its investigation turned up no proof of wrongdoing, but it did result in tighter transfer rules.)
Hermon was rumored to be headed for either USC or Illinois, but both schools backed off from offering him a scholarship, reportedly because of his poor academic background. In any event, Hermon didn't seem like a Knight kind of a guy.
But there he was at Bloomington in September, having attained his ACT qualifying score in June, pledging fealty to the Knight program. Knight never spoke of Hermon's background but only of what he liked about him as a player (his inquisitiveness and competitiveness) and what he didn't (his lack of endurance and shortcomings on defense), and it seemed as though Hermon would slide easily into the Indiana rotation.
Then came the Hoosiers' loss to Notre Dame in South Bend on Nov. 29. Hermon played only six minutes and hit one of two free throws to tie the game at 69 with 54 seconds left in regulation. Indiana got the ball back and, after a timeout, tried to set up a final shot. But the play broke down, and Hermon was left to improvise with a shot that didn't even hit the rim. The Irish went on to win 80-79 in OT. Knight took full blame for the blown opportunity, regretting his uncharacteristic decision to call a timeout rather than just let the play flow, but Hermon may have gotten a different message. When the Hoosiers returned from the trip, he promptly disappeared and surfaced in Chicago a couple of days later. "Michael thought they blamed him for the loss," Cox told the Champaign (Ill.) News-Gazette. "That wasn't true. He had it all wrong. Michael was a big man in Chicago, but he's just a freshman at Indiana now. He has to accept discipline and be more patient."
Hermon came back to practice on Dec. 5, six days after the Notre Dame game, and was accepted back on the team. Neither Knight nor Hermon has spoken publicly about the incident, but there are obvious questions: Was his benching for the Kentucky game his only penalty for bolting school and the team? Would Knight have handled a lesser player so delicately? And would he have handled anyone that way, say, five years ago?