If you are like most Razorback basketball fans from the 1980’s you’ve probaby seen a replay of U.S. Reed’s half court shot against Louisville many times over the years. Have you ever noticed what happened to the ball after it went through the net, sending the Hogs into the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament?
It might surprise you to know that the ball in question dissappeared from view seconds after it hit the floor not to be seen again in public for 38 years. Scott Atkinson, a Razorback cheerleader from 1978-81, knows exactly what happened. He was behind the basket when Reed unleashed his mighty heave.
“After U.S. hit the shot I ran toward him,” Atkinson recalled, “and the ball dropped in my arms. Everybody started celebrating. The ball boys started looking for it. I knew it was a special ball and I needed to keep it. I threw it in my megaphone and ran out of the (Texas Super) drum.”
Atkinson quickly decided that he didn’t trust such a valuable keepsake to himself.
“I gave it to my father soon after the game. I knew if I held onto it, it would have been lost or used to play out in the street,” Atkinson explained. “My dad was a big Razorback fan and I knew it would be in safe keeping with him. It was up in his closet for 37 years before he passed away.”
“Cleaning out his closet I found it in the box I gave it to him in,” Atkinson continued. “My son’s a graduate of the university as well and we thought it would be proper to get the ball back on the hill.”
But why did no one associated with the team or the athletic department staff at the time ever ask about the ball or wonder what happened to it? Reed himself had the answer to that question. He was left scratching his head after being contacted by the university and asked if he would be a part of a ceremony to return the ball to the school.
“To be honest with you I had a ball at home that I thought was THE ball,” Reed revealed. “But you know how people give you stuff and go, ‘Oh this is it.’ But it really wasn’t.”
There is no doubt about Atkinson’s claim. Close examination of one of the video angles of the shot clearly shows him racing out onto the court, catching the ball on its second bounce after dropping through the net and running off the court with it while celebrating with everybody else that was associated with the Razorbacks.
And so at halftime of Saturday’s Arkansas-Texas A&M basketball game in Bud Walton Arena, Atkinson appeared alongside Director of Athletics Hunter Yurachek to officially return the ball to the Hill. Then Reed was announced on court to a thundrous applause as a replay of the shot was shown on the arena video boards. It was a touching moment for a fan base badly in need of something to cheer about.
“Timing is everything so it was just a great time to have that ball come back home. I know the fans enjoyed it,” Reed acknowledged.
Reed clearly enjoyed the moment too as he lifted a large framed photo of the shot over his head to a standing ovation.
“To be able to give it back and visit with him after all these years and see the appreciation he has, it’s been great,” Atkinson said with a smile.
For current and future Razorback basketball players and fans Reed said the legacy of his shot remains: “Don’t ever give up on the possibilities that can happen. That was a miracle shot. So miracles can happen if you work hard.”