I recently had the pleasure of chatting with former Gatorade High School player of the year, Tar Heel legend and NBA lottery pick J.R. Reid.
Keeping it Heel: You were one of the most highly recruited high school players of all time. Walk us through the recruiting process coming out of Kempsville High School and how does it compare to the modern day recruiting process?
J.R. Reid: It was so much different then, no internet, you were judged by word of mouth and playing ability. You played with the best talent during the summers, I remember I went to the first Nike All American camp and Five Star camp and that is how you gained the reputation nationally. I was a small town guy from Virginia Beach, Virginia who just went out and worked hard in the summer and made a name for myself. Now they have camera crews and signing parties and I think that is a little bit too much, these guys have not earned the right for that type of notoriety and that type of coverage. It is a different era now and it is a much different scene from when I came in.
KIH: Dean Smith and the University of North Carolina ultimately won your services, what were the main factors in your decision to become a Tar Heel considering every school in the country was after you?
JR: I was blessed that both of my parents were school teachers, we had a game plan that we set up my Junior year and had it down to 15 schools, that cut down on the amount of phone calls we were getting. My Senior year we cut it down to 5 schools and we only took calls at certain times during the week. I took my visits and had my criteria, I was looking for a strong communications department and the last thing for me was playing time. If I can come in and pick up the system, I felt confident enough in my ability that I can play my Freshman year. I was very interested in the academic part of it and Carolina had everything for me. They have a great communications department and it was a great experience for me. The returning players that they had was very important for me as well, I got a chance to play with Kenny Smith and Joe Wolf and they had the best returning team in the country and I was only three hours from home, it was important for me to have my parents around and of course Coach Smith, how can you turn down Coach Smith? I had seen what he had done with all the talented guys that were better than me, James Worthy, Perkins and all of those guys. I just wanted to come in and work had with a team concept and I knew that things would work out for me as well.
KIH: How special was the 1986-87 Tar Heel team that went 14-0 in ACC play and finished with a 32-4 record? What did you learn the veterans during your Freshman season?
JR: Early in the season Coach Smith was really on me and wanted me to pick up my defense and the defensive scheme you know at Carolina if you don’t play defense, you don’t play. Coach Smith pushed me because coming out of High School everyone was watching me to see what was going to happen. Coach Smith gave me the chance to start my Freshman year, which was an honor, I had worked hard enough to earn that spot and I just tried to repay him and my teammates by playing as hard as I could once I hit that court.
KIH: You were selected #5 overall by the Charlotte Hornets. As a young man about to embark on an NBA career did you see being drafted by the Hornets as a positive or was it added pressure playing in the state of North Carolina?
JR: It was tough, same thing that happened to Sean May and other guys that have gone to Charlotte, it seems like lottery picks are always destine for us to stay in state. We were an expansion team and we lost a bunch of games and you can pick bad habits up playing on an expansion team, people have to realize your teammates are guys who were the last two men on other teams rosters or guys at the end of their career. Charlotte had to pick from those players and from the draft and when you are playing with older guys at that point in their career they are not really that interested in passing along a whole lot of stuff to young players, that was my first taste of the NBA and it was much different than the college lifestyle. I realized that this was a business and guys were out for themselves sometimes and you had to adjust your thinking. We went through a lot of coaches in Charlotte, lot of transition it wasn’t until I got to San Antonio and Tom Thibodeau was a coach that really worked with me, he helped me develop my game and become a better player. That’s when I played my best ball when I had the opportunity to really expand my game in San Antonio.
KIH: The NBA has instituted rules for player safety such as flagrant foul calls and rules to discourage players from flopping during games. What are your feelings on the direction the NBA is taking which is in stark contrast to the rough and tumble league you played in?
JR: First thing is first, we were not making the money that these guys are making. We made good money and just like the group before me didn’t make the money that I made. When you start talking about this type of money that players are making now and the safety issues, some of it brought over from football, I think it is just a conscious effort from all sports leagues to try and prevent injury. With that being said, when I played, it was a mans league. The old guys talk and we talk about the game now and we don’t know if it’s the NBA or the WNBA sometimes. We played in a different era, guys with more girth the league is now more stealth. I think the guys I came up with and the guys before me had a better skill set and better fundamentals. The players of today are much better athletes than we were, they can run and jump all day
KIH:You played professionally in both Spain and France. What are some of the biggest challenges for American born players looking to continue their careers overseas?
JR: I didn’t have any. I went to Paris the first time when I was 24 years old, I was not happy with my situation, I left money on the NBA table. I told my agent that I want to go where I can play and work on my game and get the opportunity to play all the minutes that I want and work on my shot. I came into the league as a back to the basket center at 6’9”, I could have made a good living playing like that but I realized that I had to expand my game. Coach Thibodeau and John Lucas told me that if I come in shape we can play you at the three some, I had a chance to play with Dennis Rodman, David Robinson with that big lineup I was able to expand my jump shot, I was taking 400-500 shots per day, by the end of my career I was shooting 18 and 20 foot jumpers from a guy that never shot outside the paint in college. Hard work does pay off! I had the chance to play with some great Spurs teams with Hall of Famer David Robinson, Vinny Del Negro and Avery Johnson…I had a great run.
KIH:After hanging up your uniform you have stayed close to the game working with the ACC Digital Network and as an assistant coach at Patrick Henry Community College. Are you interested in a career in coaching and what is it like to work with the young men today.
JR: Anyone that has coached on a Junior College level will tell you that we are not doing it for the money. It is an opportunity to work with a group of kids that are hungry for knowledge. I first got there and some of the guys didn’t know me and I don’t say much until I build a relationship and then I tell them- you guys can go google me now- and then they come back and say Coach, I didn’t know you did all that! I now have a lot of guys from my area, the 757 area, Virginia Beach, Newport News area and Head Coach Kenny Wade has allowed me a lot of freedom to recruit and bring some of these guys in because their parents know me, they know I played at Kempsville and went to Carolina. I can tell these guys that I have done everything that you guys are thinking about doing, I know when they are messing around in practice, I know when you are running hard and when you aren’t and these kids respect that, they know they cant pull the wool over my eyes. I am having a great time doing it and I can get to Charlotte in two hours and put two lines in the water by utilize my communications degree. I am building something with the ACC Digital Network. I am really enjoying myself right now.
Tar Heel Nation can keep up with J.R. on the ACC Digital Network and on Twitter @jrreid7