Commentary

Reed's divine shot still garners attention

Former Razorback doesn't play anymore, but his 1981 buzzer-beater carries on

Originally Published: September 25, 2009
By Dana O'Neil | ESPN.com

Even now, 28 years later, he can't explain it.

As Arkansas was warming up for its second-round NCAA tournament game against Louisville, U.S. Reed started moving farther and farther away from the basket and heaving shots.

Teammates stopped him. Eddie Sutton stopped him.

"They all wanted to know what I was doing," Reed said. "I had never done that before. Never. It was like I was preparing or being prepared for something big. Almost as if I had a premonition."

[+] EnlargeReed
Courtesy of the University of Arkansas Athletics It's as if U.S. Reed knew he'd be taking a buzzer-beating half-court shot in that 1981 game, considering he practiced it in warm-ups.

Some sort of divine intervention might offer the best explanation. There is no logical way a 49-foot, buzzer-beating, game-winning heave goes in.

Yet that is exactly what happened for the Razorbacks and Reed on March 14, 1981. It is a shot that remains a classic, right alongside Bryce Drew's miracle for sheer impossibility.

"I'm not sure if you asked him to take that shot five times, he'd hit one," then-coach Sutton said. "But he hit it when it counted."

Reed has long since retired from basketball, his game limited to rounds at the Chuck E. Cheese arcade machines with his 3-year-old granddaughter, McKenzie. But he is still in Arkansas, living in his hometown of Pine Bluff, so people still know his face and still pause when they hear that unique first name -- U.S., short for Ulysses.

That's the way it is when you're a Hog legend. People don't forget. In fact, they stop you to tell you where they were that night you made history.

"I think it's amazing, that people still remember something that happened so many years ago," Reed said.

Honestly, though, if you saw it, you couldn't forget it.

After leading for much of the second-round game, Arkansas found itself trailing the defending national champion Cardinals by one with 6 seconds left. Sutton called a timeout.

The legendary coach had been there before, had seen plenty of buzzer-beaters and even drawn up a few plays to make them happen.

This, though, was different. Louisville's 2-2-1 press was making it downright impossible for the Razorbacks to design much of anything, so Sutton basically told his players to get the ball as close to the hoop as they could.

Some sort of divine intervention might offer the best explanation. There is no logical way a 49-foot, buzzer-beating, game-winning heave goes in.

"I couldn't get the ball to Scott [Hastings]," Reed said. "I knew I was going to have to shoot it or we weren't going to get a shot off at all."

So from two strides behind half court, Reed took his shot. Whether it was muscle memory from those crazy pregame shots or sheer happenstance, Reed remembers actually taking the shot like a legit shot. This wasn't just a heave-ho. He elevated, squared, shot and prayed.

Who knows? Maybe at that point the basketball gods decided to do him a favor. Two years earlier as a freshman, Reed had the ball late in a tie game when he fell over Indiana State's Carl Nicks. He fell to the ground -- Sutton and Reed both insist he was fouled -- and when he got back up, he was whistled for traveling.

Bobby Heaton went on to hit a runner and Indiana State went on to the Final Four and fame with the epic title game between Larry Bird and Magic Johnson.

The Razorbacks were denied a second consecutive Final Four spot.

So maybe a little pixie dust came into play.

From his courtside vantage point, Sutton watched Reed's shot, glanced at the trajectory and thought, "Maybe."

"It looked like it was going to at least hit iron," Sutton said. "And then when it went in, I thought the Louisville coaches were going to have a heart attack."

While the Cardinals coaching staff grabbed its collective chest and Razorbacks fans celebrated, Reed dashed off the court and headed directly to the press table, shaking hands with stunned sports writers.

"I didn't want to get jumped on," Reed said. "Everyone was piling on one another and they didn't know where I was. I already went in the locker room."

After he left the court, Sutton spied legendary Texas coach Abe Lemons standing outside the locker room. Some buzzer-beating Razorbacks back in the days of the triplets -- Sidney Moncrief, Marvin Delph and Ron Brewer -- had victimized the Longhorns before and the droll coach couldn't help himself.

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Courtesy of U.S. Reed Reed, shown with his family, no longer plays basketball but has coached girls AAU and continues to watch the NCAA tournament.

"He said, 'I have seen that shot before. I've seen it before,'" Sutton said with a laugh.

The next weekend, the Arkansas magic wore off. Drawing the unlucky card of a Sweet 16 game against top-seeded LSU at the Superdome, the Hogs lost 72-56.

Reed's senior year ended in the second round at the hands of Kansas State. He was drafted in the fifth round but never played in the NBA, instead signing up with the CBA.

His team? The Louisville Catbirds.

"Every time I got in the game, they booed me," Reed said. "And I was playing for them. It didn't take them long to realize it wasn't going to work with me on the team, so I was released."

A year later, a knee injury ended Reed's playing career. In 1999, he moved home to Pine Bluff to care for his ailing mother. Married now, Reed owns and rents apartments to area college students, works as a consultant in the commodities industry and is an ordained minister who spent time studying the Torah and Hebrew scriptures.

Though he hasn't played basketball in a long time and limits his workouts to a treadmill, the game is still a part of his life. He coached a girls AAU program for a time. As for going back to the game, "Never say never," Reed said.

His granddaughter, who points to the pictures of the basketball player on the wall and says, 'Pop-Pop,' already seems to have an affinity for basketball.

Still a devoted Hogs fan, Reed watches the NCAA tournament every year. He knows his shot will be shown, and it's always fun -- and slightly shocking -- to see it again. But more than visiting memory lane, Reed loves to watch for the next hero to be born.

"I know exactly how they feel -- how everything slows down in that moment and then when it goes in, everything speeds up again," he said. "It's one of those moments where you feel like the whole world is watching you. Those are moments that come around very few times for very few people. I wish I could tell those kids, 'Cherish it. Just cherish it.'"

Dana O'Neil covers college basketball for ESPN.com and can be reached at espnoneil@live.com.

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