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Reid Back for North Carolina, but Did Tar Heels Miss Him?

Times Staff Writer

The news for the North Carolina basketball team is not that J.R. Reid is back. It’s that the Tar Heels have hardly missed him.

While Reid spent the first month of the season recovering from surgery to repair a stress fracture in his left foot, North Carolina went 8-1.

“We’ve got a lot of great players,” Reid said Wednesday. “That is what North Carolina basketball is about. Me being out of there doesn’t make that much of a difference.”

If that sounds a bit diplomatic, even for one well-exposed to the team-first ways of North Carolina Coach Dean Smith, it probably is.

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Few teams, including one as talented as No. 7 North Carolina, can lose an Olympian and All-American center such as Reid for any period of time and not be affected. But the Tar Heels certainly made a good case during Reid’s absence.

Not that they have stumbled since Reid returned to limited action 12 days ago in a 104-78 rout of UCLA. But they learned that life without Reid, all 6 feet 9 inches and 256 pounds, was more than possible, it could be productive.

The Tar Heels (10-1) take an 8-game winning streak into tonight’s 7:30 nonconference game against San Diego State (5-3) at the San Diego Sports Arena.

Included in that streak are victories over Indiana; Arizona, the team that last season eliminated the Tar Heels from the NCAA tournament; and a rematch victory over Missouri, the team that 10 days earlier had defeated them in the semifinals of the Big Apple NIT.

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“They have played exceptionally well without Reid,” SDSU Coach Jim Brandenburg said. “They are just trying to break him in slowly.”

Reid has played sparingly in his two games, recording 16 points and 7 rebounds. His playing time was limited to no more than 8 minutes per half to allow him to work his way gradually back into shape. The limit is to be increased to 12 minutes for tonight’s game, and that could be pushed to the maximum because of a recent injury to 6-10 junior Scott Williams.

Williams sprained his ankle in the Tar Heels’ last game, a 102-74 victory over Towson State. He has not practiced since the team arrived in San Diego Tuesday and is listed as doubtful.

But despite Williams’ injury, there are no immediate plans to return Reid to the starting lineup. His place likely will be taken by Pete Chilcutt, a 6-9 sophomore who is averaging 9.2 points and 6.8 rebounds.

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But Chilcutt alone did not made up for the early absence of Reid, who averaged 18 points and 8.9 rebounds as a sophomore.

Kevin Madden has stepped in and nearly doubled his scoring average from last season, to 17.1 points per game. Williams has taken over as the team’s leading rebounder at 7.8 per game. And Rick Fox, a 6-7 sophomore who averaged 4.0 points last season, has made a valuable contribution, averaging 10.6 points.

Reid said he enjoyed his teammates success while he was sidelined but said he is looking forward to the time when he once again can make a full contribution.

“I’m taking things slowly now,” Reid said. “The doctors and trainers want to be sure my conditioning comes along. There is no sense in rushing.”

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Too much, too long is what Reid figured caused the injury in the first place.

“I’ve been playing basketball for a long time, and the wear and tear finally got to me,” Reid said. “The best thing I could have had was a rest.”

That might have been especially so after a summer Reid spent with the U.S. Olympic team. There were tryouts, practice camps and a series of exhibitions against National Basketball Assn. players even before the team reached the Summer Games in Seoul, South Korea.

Then came the loss in the semifinals to the Soviet Union and the disappointment of having to settle for the bronze medal.

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“I still think if we played them (the Soviets) 10 times, we’d beat them nine times,” Reid said. “They shot great and played their best game against us.”

Reid said he was prepared for a lot of criticism when he returned to the United States but found the reaction mild.

“Everyone knew we gave it our best,” Reid said. “I think Coach (John) Thompson took it the hardest. But we all stuck together; no one criticized each other. We just lost; that’s it.”

It was soon after Reid returned, on Oct. 28, that the stress fracture was diagnosed. Surgery was ordered for the next day. The recovery has gone smoothly, Reid returning about on schedule. Now comes the process of blending back into what was a successful mix without him.

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“Reid is letting the game come to him,” Brandenburg said. “He is playing a role on the floor. He is making the best of his little cameo time on the floor.”

Aztec Notes

San Diego State officials are expecting one of the largest crowds in school history for the game, but it remains far from a sellout. About 7,000 tickets have been distributed, and officials said they expect a crowd of about 10,000 in the 13,741-seat arena. The Aztecs’ largest crowd was 11,044 to see an 85-69 loss to No. 1 DePaul in 1980. . . . Aztec junior guard Michael Best was bothered by a sore left knee in a 91-72 victory against St. Francis (N.Y.) Tuesday, but it is not expected to limit him tonight. The soreness is the result of pins left in Best’s knee during surgery while Best was in high school, trainer Brian Barry said. Barry said Best declined surgery to remove the pins over the summer but is expected to have them removed after the season. Best, a transfer from Clemson, had the first big game of his career the last time he played North Carolina, scoring 20 points and getting 8 rebounds as a Tiger freshman.


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