TOP OF HIS CLASS : Virginia Beach High School Superstar J.R. Reid Is Nobody's Junior These Days

Times Staff Writer

It's funny how the folks closest to prep superstar J.R. Reid of Kempsville High School in Virginia Beach, Va. have seemed to lose their identity.

Charles Caldwell, Kempsville principal, is J.R.'s principal. Dick Ponti, Chiefs coach, is known as J.R.'s coach. And his parents, Herman and Jean Reid, are J.R.'s folks.

But it seems as if everybody at the King Cotton Classic knows Herman Reid, Jr., a 17-year-old who is the country's most heavily recruited senior.

Reid, a 6-foot 10-inch center, is the tournament's major attraction. He has been interviewed by every television station in town. Both of them.

He was the toast of a West Pine Bluff Rotary Club luncheon, and upstaged the tournament's honary chairman, Kevin McReynolds of the San Diego Padres, in the autograph department.

But who is J.R. Reid? Here's a glimpse:

Nobody calls him Herman. J.R. is short for junior, which his mother started using when he was in the third grade.

He wears a size 17 shoe and weighs 240 pounds, but he is as quick as some guards, and handles the ball better than most of his peers.

Terry Holland, Dean Smith, Lefty Driesell and Jim Valvano started attending his practices his sophomore season.

He has narrowed his choices to Iowa, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia and UCLA. He plans to visit Westwood sometime next month.

Actor Bill Cosby called on behalf of UCLA Coach Walt Hazzard. Ralph Sampson, now with the Houston Rockets, extolled the virtues of Virginia.

Last summer, he rented bicycles on the Atlantic City Boardwalk. He also attended camps in Pittsburgh and Princeton, N.J. where he was voted most valuable player.

His father played for the Baltimore Colts, but quit to become a junior high coach. J.R. attended another school and beat his father's team three times by 30 points in each game.

He is averaging a high C in college preparatory classes and plans to study public relations and advertising. He has promised his parents he will earn a college degree.

Foremost, he is a rare talent. Imagine a player with the skills and shooting touch of a guard, the quickness of a small forward and the strength of a center. That's J.R. Reid.

"I first saw J.R. play in the seventh grade, and he looked like a high-school senior," Ponti said. "He was 6-4 and the best player on the court. Even then, he wasn't an awkward kid. I don't think he ever went through growing pains."

Ponti said Reid plays a game not expected of someone his height.

"He can go coast to coast," Ponti said. "He'll grab a rebound, turn and dribble down the court, pass two defenders and dunk. I've never seen anyone else who could do that."

In the tournament's first round, Reid put a spectacular move on San Francisco's Chris Munk, considered one of California's best. He took a pass at the free-throw line, faked to his left, took two giant steps to the basket and then dunked.

"J.R. took the kid's heart away with that play," Ponti said. "I've seen him do that to some of the best players in the nation at the Five-Star Camp in Pittsburgh. He has great body balance and rarely gets a charging call."

The scouts often refer to Reid as an "impact player." They project him as a major contributor wherever he goes next season.

"I've watched J.R. for two years and he's the most impressive player in the nation," said Bob Gibbons of North Carolina, who rates the prep players. Gibbons was among the scouts in attendance at Pine Bluff.

"He has tremendous versatility and the unique combination of power and finesse. He's a combination James Worthy and Wayman Tisdale."

Reid has played center, but said he will move to power forward next season. He's hoping to lead the Chiefs to the Virginia state tournament this season after falling short in the regionals the past two seasons. He averaged 22.9 points, 14.1 rebounds and 4 blocked shots as a junior.

He's considered a celebrity in Virginia, but insists he's no different from any of the other Kempsville students.

"You can't take yourself too seriously," he said. "My parents have kept everything in perspective. They encouraged me to play sports. I started playing basketball in the third grade and played football (safety and tight end) in junior high.

"I didn't see much of a future for me in football, so I decided to concentrate on basketball in high school. Now, I play basketball all year long."

Whenever Reid plays, he usually draws a crowd. Opponents double and triple team him with an assortment of zone defenses that can sometimes frustrate him. Reid's supporting cast is average, at best, which reflects on the Chiefs' 6-2 record.

"Riordan played us straight man, which is the first man-to-man defense we've seen in two years," he said. "Sometimes, I try to do too much on the floor. I get frustrated. But I know that will change in college."

Behind all the accolades and press clippings is a warm, friendly kid who loves to play.

"Reporters tell me they love interviewing J.R. because he's such a great kid," Ponti said. "He can't say no to anyone, and he's very open and honest. He had a tough time narrowing his college choices to five, and I'm sure he'll have a more difficult time making a choice."

Said Reid: "I get so tired of being asked that. I'm taking things day by day. Everybody thinks they know where I'm going, but that's a decision I'll make when it comes time. Right now, I'm just trying to have fun and win some games."

Until Reid signs, the speculation will continue. Some suggest North Carolina has the inside track, and Reid will stay near home. But his eyes light up when he talks about the upcoming trip to UCLA.

"I've never been to the West Coast, but I've heard a lot of great things about LA," he said. "I'm very close to my family. My parents helped me set up a list of criteria for colleges, but the ultimate decision will be mine."

Reid's forte is a jump-hook that he shoots effectively with either hand. His father taught him the shot in the seventh grade and played one-on-one against J.R. through junior high.

"After that, I got too big for my dad to guard to handle," Reid said.

Herman Reid Sr. is 6-5 and 270 pounds. Just another example of someone losing their identity in the presence of J.R.

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