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Q&A: U.S. Reed, Part 1

Back cover of 1981-82 Razorback basketball media guide

In 1981, U.S. Reed hit one of the most memorable shots in the history of the NCAA Tournament: a halfcourt bomb that eliminated defending national champion Louisville and propelled the Hogs into the Sweet 16. (Sports Illustrated's college hoops guru Alexander Wolff once said Reed's heave is part of the third-best moment in tournament history.)

And while it's inevitable that Reed is remembered primarily for that shot, fans shouldn't forget what a fantastic career the 6'2" guard had at Arkansas. He scored 1,260 points during his time in Fayetteville, placing him at No. 21 on the school's all-time scoring list. As a freshman, Reed was a valuable reserve on the 1978 Final Four team. The next year, he was a starter on a squad that, heartbreakingly, fell one win short of making it back to the Final Four (more on that tomorrow). The Razorbacks made it to the NCAA Tournament in each of Reed's four seasons and posted an overall record of 102-25 during his career. In 1981, he was a fifth-round draft pick of the then-Kansas City Kings. Furthermore, he surely has one of the coolest names in Hog history and was one of the best dunkers that we can recall.

Now living in his native Pine Bluff, Reed is a commodity trading consultant. He was kind enough to speak to us recently about his Razorback playing days. We'll be publishing the interview this week in three parts. In today's installment, U.S. discusses that mad March afternoon in 1981 when he hit a shot so incredible that Texas basketball coach Abe Lemons, who was in attendance, was compelled to call the Hogs.  

Our first question – surprise, surprise – is about the halfcourt shot against Louisville. We read somewhere that, during the warm-ups before that game, you were practicing unusually long shots. Is that correct?

Yeah. Before the game, I was shooting some very long jump shots. Not halfcourt shots, though (laughs) . Just long shots.

The guys kept asking me, "Why are you shooting so far out?" I said, "Well, you never know. I might have to shoot a long shot this game." And they just kind of laughed. And that’s what I ended up having to do (laughs)!

It was one of those things.

You guys had led most of that game, and then Louisville came back and scored with five seconds left to go up by one. We were wondering about the timeout preceding your shot. What did Coach Sutton say to rally you guys emotionally, and what kind of strategy did he draw up?

Usually when you’re in that position with Coach Sutton, he’s an optimist. Until the game is over, he would always keep your spirit up to where you think you can win the game.

He really didn’t draw up a play or anything like that. He gathered the troops together and said, "Someone is going to win this game." And you usually know who he’s going to turn to when he says that. When he said that, I thought, "Oh boy! He’s gonna want me to get the ball now."

Which was no big deal. And you kind of want the ball in your hands.

The first thing he says is, "Darrell [Walker], you take the ball out of bounds and get it to U.S. And U.S., if you don’t have a shot, look for Scott Hastings or someone that may be open underneath. But, you’ve got five seconds. It’s going to be hard to do that. So, you pretty much have to make it in your mind that you’re going to shoot the shot."

You look up, and they’ve got a press on. So you know you’re going to shoot a long shot because you’re not going to be able to get that close to the basket.

Were you guys expecting them to press?

Well, you expect them to pick you up, but you don’t know if it’s going to be a man-to-man press or some kind of zone press. They were in a zone press. It probably would have been better to go to a man-to-man press. Probably. But, that’s their call.

A zone press really gives you time to think, because you’re coming at them instead of them attacking you. It really helped me, because it gave me a little time to think, "OK, where can I go? Where should I go?"

When you got to the halfcourt line and let go of the shot, did it feel like it had a good chance of going in?

From Sports Illustrated article on U.S. Reed's halfcourt shot
When you shoot a shot, you always have a feeling – either "this feels pretty good" or "this doesn’t feel that good." When I let it go, it felt good. It almost seemed like – I don’t want to sound crazy – everything stopped, and everything was quiet. It was like a Twilight Zone kind of thing (laughs). You’re focused. It was like you were in another realm.

It’s been almost 30 years since then. How often do people come up to you and talk about it? Does that happen daily?

It’s not every day, but it’s amazing that it’s lasted this long, that people still remember where they were, what they were doing. I’ve heard all kinds of stories – someone almost died or someone had a heart attack.

What’s the craziest story someone has told you?

One guy said he jumped up and hit a lamp or the ceiling and cut his head open. They had to take him to the hospital. I’ve heard heart attack stories. I’ve heard stories that at Oaklawn, the crowd all cheered at once, and it spooked the horses.

You hear all kinds of stuff like that.

We also read that you avoided the oncourt celebration afterwards. Is that correct? Were you leery of getting bruised up?

Well, I immediately started shaking hands with the reporters on the sideline. You’re just so happy. My teammates were probably at the middle of the court by then.

And then I ran around the court and just ran to the dressing room while they were celebrating. They were so happy that they didn’t care.


You hit two other last-second shots in your career – one against Texas and the free throws with time expired against Texas A&M. Did you have a particular ability to stay calm in those kinds of situations, or was it just coincidence that you hit all those last-second shots?

When you’re doing that - a lot of people think it’s hard - but it’s really not because you’re more focused when you’re put in a position like that. You go on instinct. You’re not really thinking.

You’re really just focused. It’s really better. It’s not a regular shot. It’s more of a focused shot. So, your chances of hitting it are a lot better than a regular shot. When it’s a regular shot, you’re kind of relaxed, but this is more focused, and you’ve got adrenaline going, so that helps too.

You don’t hit all of them, but the good thing about last-second shots, people only remember the ones that you hit (laughs). It’s just like life. People don’t remember you when you’re losing, but they will always remember when you win.

Tomorrow: U.S. discusses the Hogs' reluctance to sign him, the infamous walking call against Indiana State in 1979, and the player he considers the best Razorback ever (spoiler alert: it's not Sidney Moncrief).


From Sports Illustrated article on U.S. Reed's halfcourt shot