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Charles II? : UNLV's High-Scoring J.R. Rider Has Been Described as 'a Mini-Barkley'


Rollie Massimino calls J.R. Rider "the Elephant."


"Because he's big," the Nevada Las Vegas basketball coach says.

Rider, a 6-foot-5 forward, is a thick, though fluid, 215 pounds.

But Massimino is not talking about that kind of big.

"You always make sure you take care of the big elephant," he adds. "Then the mice."

In his unique way, Massimino is saying that Rider, UNLV's headliner, is one of the best players in college basketball.

Statistics overwhelmingly support that claim. Rider, who was selected Big West player of the years, has played every position but point guard for the Rebels. "Believe me, he could do that, too," Massimino says.

He leads 16th-ranked Las Vegas in scoring (29.2 points) and rebounding (8.9) and is second in assists.

Georgetown Coach John Thompson says Rider might be the best offensive player he has coached against. That would include a long list of established NBA players, among them Michael Jordan.

Thompson's opinion was expressed after a Jan. 23 game in which Rider scored 40 points, sparking UNLV's 96-80 victory over the Hoyas.

Rider, whose scoring average is second in the nation, contends that Thompson must have been "caught up in the moment" when he made the remark.

"I appreciate it, and it makes me smile, but I don't really believe it," he says.

Massimino does.

"If that's what John Thompson said, I'm sure he meant it," says Massimino, who coached against Thompson regularly while at Villanova in the Big East. "J.R. is a big-game player, and he was terrific that day.

"Really," Massimino adds with a wide grin, "the Elephant is terrific almost every day."

And not only with his scoring.

"I'll tell you what was big, the Nevada game," Massimino continues.

Late in the game, with Nevada struggling to stay within striking distance, Raynold Samuel, a seldom-used reserve, checked into the Wolf Pack lineup. Almost immediately, he started bumping and shoving Rider in what Massimino says was an attempt to bait him.

"It wasn't like there was a play being set up," Rider recalls. "We were just running down court, and he was all over me. It was funny. I was laughing at first. But then I got fed up with it."

When he struck back, slapping Samuel's hand away, Rider was called for a foul. He and Samuel squared off, but Rider, larger and stronger, thought better of it and turned away.

"There have been times in my life where I wouldn't give an inch," Rider says. "Now I just let people shove and shove or do whatever they have to do, because I know it's all just to get at me or trying to take me out of my game."

Rider didn't back away from Samuel's challenge entirely. On the Rebels' next possession, Rider dribbled the length of the floor and threw down a ferocious dunk.

"That's how I took out my aggressions," Rider says. "It was kind of fun."

Massimino says the incident speaks volumes about Rider's maturity. For years, he has carried a reputation for being sullen and surly, but the coach says he hasn't seen it.

"In this world, there is perception and then there is reality," Massimino says. "Unfortunately, there is very little reality that comes about once the perception is established."

That Rider is an extra-large basketball talent has been apparent since he starred for Alameda Encinal High as a sophomore. His only rap has been his rap sheet.

Rider left Encinal after he was declared academically ineligible before his senior season in 1988-89. There were more academic problems--plus an arrest--in one year at Allen County College in Iola, Kan.

From there, he transferred to Antelope Valley College in Lancaster, where he averaged 33.6 points a game during the 1990-91 season and earned a scholarship to UNLV.

Rider led the Rebels last season with a 20.7-point average, but on Jan. 24, 1992, he was arrested again, this time for obstructing a police officer after an incident at a Las Vegas fast-food restaurant. He pleaded guilty and performed 40 hours of community service.

In Kansas, Rider's arrest was on misdemeanor theft and battery charges. The theft charges were dismissed, but he was given six months' probation and fined $201 after pleading no-contest to battery. Rider admits hitting a man, but, he said, only after the man used a racial slur. He said he believes the theft charge was concocted in retaliation for the fight.

"People start assuming things without knowing the whole story," Rider says. "They want to talk about things that happened a long time ago, little things that people turned into big things. Those things, they're not even really in my memory anymore."

Massimino, who took over the UNLV program last April, said his first impression of Rider was that of a soft-spoken, friendly young man who politely introduced himself and warmly welcomed both the coach and his wife, Mary Jane, to Las Vegas.

At that point, Massimino says, Rider started with a clean slate. He has kept it that way.

Last summer, Rider attended three sessions of summer school to retain his eligibility.

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