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Herrrrrrrr-Man," they chant in enemy arenas, prolonging the first syllable. Or they hold up signs: GO HOME, HERMAN ( N.C. State), or J.R. CAN'T REID ( Duke). If the ultimate measurement of a prodigy is the level of abuse he suffers from the opposition, college basketball's next Mozart has arrived, wearing baby blue sneakers and a baby brown flattop. "I just like to go out early in the warm-ups and see if the fans have anything new for me," the kid says. "That stuff just gets me pumped."
After two-thirds of a debut-taunt season, it may be folly if not downright dangerous to even think of North Carolina freshman Herman Reid Jr. as a kid. Or even as Herman. J.R. (obviously Just Right to freethinking Tobacco Roadies everywhere), the 6'9", 240-pound monster tot Dean Smith has let loose on college basketball, already plays the game as if the other teams are all children and he is some kind of lesser god. If any individual can put the lie to the notion that the quality of college basketball has been leveled this season by parity (see following story), Reid is the one.
Who has shot J.R.? Certainly not the Wahoos of Virginia. In two games against his home-state school, Reid pounded out 38 points and 20 rebounds. In the second of those games, a 74-73 overtime win over Virginia in Chapel Hill, the Tar Heels' closest call in their 12-0 romp through the ACC (Carolina is 25-2 overall), Reid buried the last two free throws in regulation and then a crucial three-point play. Did Purdue out-do J.R. in, wouldn't you know it, Dallas? Was he shut down by La Salle, N.C. State, Duke, Clemson? Forget it. Reid has hung up double-figure points and rebounds against each, seven double-double games in all.
"Just learning," J.R. keeps saying. "The coaches have been patient with me, but I can't expect to pick up Coach Smith's system right away. I'm still thinking too much instead of just going ahead and doing it."
Nonetheless the rookie has been doing plenty. There was last Saturday's rematch against pretender Clemson, which decided again to run with home-standing Carolina. Bad move. Reid's field goal percentage was merely human (3 for 13), but the threat of his immovable-force body amid the vicious tangling down low caused severe foul problems for the Tiger big men, Horace Grant and Jerry Pryor; he opened up the outside for the Tar Heels' three-point men (the team was 12 of 18 in treys), and the Tar Heels rolled to their ACC regular season-clinching 96-80 victory.
Even with senior forward Joe Wolf and sophomore guard Jeff Lebo having bountiful seasons, when Carolina's star backcourtman, Kenny Smith, had to miss the Heels' game at Notre Dame with a knee injury, Reid was the man the Heels turned to. In that 60-58 Irish upset, J.R. scored six straight points for a 53-44 Carolina lead before finally looking like a novice on a potential game-winning baseline drive. He turned that into a 360-degree, off-balance reverse moonball, taking the puzzling initiative probably because his more learned teammates seemed afraid to shoot. "When any good player gets to crunch time, they want the ball," he says.
Reid's post-up, one-hand elevator jumper, either facing the basket or turning around, is already one of the more dangerous weapons in the sport, especially as an option to his line-drive, baby jump hook, which he releases as opponents' bodies bounce off him. Then there's his precise drop-step move, and his change-of-direction dribble—he has gone coast-to-coast as middle man in the Tar Heels' break on several occasions. His hands are massive prime cuts, something out of a meat locker. The touch. That body. In the lane J.R. is virtually unstoppable.
Pro scouts say that if Reid were to come out this year, he would be drafted No. 2 behind Navy's David Robinson, who has only served on an aircraft carrier; J.R. looks like one. It was in tribute to Reid's flattop that N.C. State fans showered the court at Raleigh with paper airplanes. "A ski-slope box with fade on the side," is how J.R. describes the do, which J.R. Jrs. are copying on school yard courts throughout the land.
North Carolina's rivals will be dismayed to learn that Reid is still several years away from full maturity. Dean Smith, who likes to downplay the role of freshmen on his teams, continually stresses Reid's youth and his defensive lapses, and he says the media have made J.R. out to be better than he is. "If I were J.R., I'd try to carry Kenny Smith's and Jeff Lebo's bags for all the passes they give him," says Smith. Uh-huh. Kenny and Jeff someday will be asking J.R. for an autograph on his Hall of Fame photo.
"J.R. is not a freshman," Wolfpack coach Jim Valvano insists, perhaps trying to wish J.R. out of the conference. "I swear I saw him play in the Marines somewhere, I think it was 1967 or '68. He's so good already, he should go hardship right now."