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Herman Reid Jr. will turn 19 on March 31, the day after the NCAA championship game in New Orleans. After considering names like Kenneth and Wayne, Reid's parents made him a namesake baby, but by the third grade the boy became J.R. (for Junior) to differentiate him from his father.
The Reids live in a spacious ranch house in upper-middle-class Virginia Beach, Va., where both are teachers. Herman Sr., 6'5", played football at St. Augustine's College in Raleigh and was drafted by the Baltimore Colts. Initially he wanted J.R. to follow him on the gridiron, but the father also coached basketball at Princess Anne Junior High School where he once had a skinny, no-talent ninth-grader named David Robinson. As J.R. grew, looking eight years old when he was five, Herman realized where his son's future lay.
At 18 months J.R. got his hands on the sink and nearly pulled himself all the way up. Before he was eight he was making free throws from regulation distance. He could hook with both hands by the ninth grade. "When you get your 14-year-old grabbing a rebound and sticking it in your face, you know it's the time to quit playing," Herman Sr. says.
"My father showed me just about everything there was to know about basketball," Reid says. Then he sent him on his way. J.R. played for Kempsville Junior High, near the family's home, and against his father's school in the Green Run district. "It's hard to get beat by your own son, then have to come home and feed him," says Herman Sr.
In high school Reid's idols were BoEllis of Marquette and David Greenwood of UCLA. He still wears Greenwood's number 34. His relationship with Kempsville's 6'6", 230-pound coach, Dick Ponti, was close enough for J.R. to call the mentor "a fat old man" until he lost 45 pounds and the player began referring to him as "the white Ethiopian." A thorough investigation has failed to turn up J.R.'s names for Carolina's Smith.
By the time Reid played his last high school game—a state playoff loss in which J.R. scored 44 points, including nine dunks, before fouling out with five minutes to go—he had chosen his future school over Virginia, Maryland, Iowa and UCLA. His parents and sister, Crystal, 12, make the 3�-hour drive to Chapel Hill for weekend home games.
"Hey, J.R., how much do you weigh?" Smith enlivened the season's first press conference by yelling across the court at the Dean Dome. About 245, Reid replied, or 10 pounds lighter than on enrollment day. "Maybe he can play with the weight, but it's all in his tail," says the coach.
At first Reid's confidence, bordering on cockiness, was somewhat off-putting to the veteran Tar Heels, who are so used to the team concept and might have been a tad envious of the new guy's advance notices; not even the likes of Billy Cunningham, James Worthy and Michael Jordan arrived in Chapel Hill with such acclaim. "Everyone had to get to understand J.R.'s personality," says Kenny Smith. "Initially he acted like he was blending in before he had a chance to blend in, before school even started. But he's so outgoing, we just had to find where his head was at."
There was the traditional Carolina class stucture for J.R. to get through, besides. Sure enough, the seniors voted him the freshman most likely to have to carry the film projector on road trips—tough, semi-hazing duty that Jordan and K. Smith himself went through as rookies on the team. Reid also is still in the process of accumulating knowledge of all the little Tar Heel things. When D. Smith pulled him from a game following another outlandishly precocious move, the coach ordered J.R. to go back and pick up the warmup jacket his sub had dropped. Constantly the coach has to motion to Reid to tuck in his uniform shirttail.
"The whole team has a love affair with the guy now," says Smith, K. "He's never been a stranger, he's into fun and games, and we know he respects all of us. With all the press he gets, he always throws in words like 'we' and 'they,' talking about the team. That makes everybody feel good."