He arrived at Duke as a prep All-American from Virginia, a sharpshooter with tremendous confidence and a knack for playing the villain. He'll leave as a better man and player, a three-time college All-American, the leading scorer in ACC history, and the most prolific three-point shooter in NCAA history.
"He's better in every area that you can name in basketball than you think he is," Duke assistant coach Johnny Dawkins said. "You say he can really shoot it; he shoots it better than you think. You think he can handle the ball OK; no, he handles it better than you think. You think he's a decent athlete; no, he's a better athlete than you think. He's decently quick; no, he's quicker than you think. And that's when you really realize how good of a player he really is. I get to see that every day."
By Dan Wiederer
Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer
March 21, 2006
There are times in J.J. Redick's life when all he wants is a little space, just a little room to breathe.
He's not asking for much. But for a kid whose every move -- on the court, in the locker room, around town -- seems to be monitored more closely than Danny Ocean touring the Bellagio, Redick has come to savor those rare moments when for even a blip nobody is invading his personal space.
So imagine his relief in the closing moments of the ACC Tournament championship game, when Boston College teammates Louis Hinnant and Craig Smith inadvertently granted that wish. They left Redick alone.
With Duke trailing 73-71 and less than 90 seconds to play, Redick did as he always does for the Blue Devils. He took the ball on the perimeter and began maneuvering for a game-winning shot. Dribbling toward the right wing, he managed to addle Hinnant and Smith, if only for an instant.
You could almost see the cocksure smile wash over Redick's face.
"At first they both came with me," he said. "And then they both left."
Give Redick an inch, and he'll take a mile -- or, more exactly, a spirit-crushing three-pointer. In the words of legendary Duke play-by-play man Bob Harris:
"J.J. rises, shoots ... Bottom!"
It mattered not that Redick's freedom was finished for the day, lasting for all of two seconds. Even before his dagger three-pointer had splashed through the net to give the Blue Devils a 74-73 lead, Smith had closed out enough to bump him to the Greensboro Coliseum floor.
When the buzzer sounded minutes later, finalizing the Devils' 78-76 triumph and their third ACC Tournament championship in Redick's four years, a flock of orange-vested photographers burst from underneath each basket, converging on Redick like koi attacking a fresh crust of bread.
ADORATION, HATRED FILL FISHBOWL
None of this is new to the 21-year-old senior, the kid who over four years at Duke has grown up and become a college basketball megastar. With the Blue Devils safely through to the Sweet 16, now he is preparing himself for a run at a national title.
For four seasons, Redick has grown accustomed to being shadowed. By defenders. By reporters. By adoring and reviling fans.
That lingering scab atop his left fist? That's from Darius Washington at last year's USA Basketball Under-21 team tryouts. That obvious scar down his left arm? Credit that to Virginia's T.J. Bannister in the 2005 ACC Tournament. That blank gaze on Redick's face? That's from answering the same questions ad infinitum.
What's it like to be so hated? How has your game evolved? Why are you so demonstrative on the court?
But Redick's request for a little peace and quiet, no matter how simple, rarely is granted. That's just the reality of living in a crucible as the most popular player on the nation's most talked-about team.
Last month, after the Blue Devils returned from a win at Boston College in the wee hours of the morning, Redick trekked to the Durham Wal-Mart to get some much-needed grocery shopping done.
"It's 4 a.m.," he said, "and the whole staff is following me around."
A couple weeks later at Kroger, an adoring female fan went all Jackie Manuel on him, fastening herself to his hip and tailing him everywhere he went.
"She was telling people she was my bodyguard."
It's no wonder that all of this attention can prove exhausting. On the heels of a two-game losing streak to end the regular season, Redick admitted feeling a substantial psychological drain. After a month in which seemingly every newspaper, magazine, TV station and internet site chronicled his historic march past Curtis Staples to become the NCAA's all-time leading three-point shooter; past Johnny Dawkins to become Duke's all-time leading scorer; and past Dickie Hemric for the ACC scoring record, Redick felt oddly deflated.
The spotlight had illuminated his greatness. But it also had burnt his spirit.
"When you play here, when you play at a big-time program in college basketball, you're always in a fishbowl," he said. "And for a couple of weeks, I wasn't even able to watch ESPN. It just drives me crazy. They talk about us every day. It's like, give it a rest.
"As the season wears on, there are things that happen that can rejuvenate you, and there are things that can bring you down and kind of wear on you a little bit. After a while, you lose some of the fun."
A few weeks ago, the mental fatigue was evident in Redick's body language and obvious in his suddenly imprecise shooting stroke. After losses to Florida State and North Carolina completed a four-game slump in which Redick shot 23-for-80 from the floor, the pertinent yet redundant question surfaced again.
Was the nation's best player becoming too tired to carry his team?
Just the notion drew an exasperated sigh from the man in question. Redick might have been tired of the media exposure, tired of the heckling. He might be tired of the clutching and clawing he has to endure just to get open every possession. But please don't tell Redick that he's too tired to lead Duke to a national title.
"I'll challenge anyone in the country to a race," he said. "For distance, for endurance. I'm not worn down physically at all."
As evidence, Redick averaged 23.6 points in three ACC Tournament wins, earning MVP honors for the second straight year. That went together nicely with his second consecutive conference player of the year award, which he received the previous week.
The list of those who won back-to-back ACC player of the year awards (nine others have done it) is filled with some of the true giants of college basketball history. There's David Thompson (1973-75) of N.C. State, Ralph Sampson (1981-83) of Virginia, Len Bias (1985-86) of Maryland, Tim Duncan (1996-97) of Wake Forest. This has become a trend for Redick; he's on a lot of impressive lists, with a lot of legendary names.
Gradually, Redick has built his own legend. He hit seven three-pointers in the ACC title game win over Boston College, including three straight in a 90-second span that registered as pure J.J. After the third long-range shot, he launched both arms into the air and shook his head, running back down the court with the look of Maximus in the Coliseum.
"Are you not entertained?" he seemed to say. "Is this not why you are here?"
MATURITY MEANS HEALTHY CHANGES
The mention of a national championship always has brought a certain glimmer to Redick's eye. Only now it sparkles like the display window at Tiffany's.
After winning the ACC regular-season championship and the league tournament, Duke's biggest goal this season -- winning the national title -- is the only one left on the checklist. And the Devils' best player overflows with an eagerness to complete that chase.
"We've been building for this all year," Redick said. "Yeah, we've won a lot of games, steadily improved throughout the season, and we've had some ups and downs. But this is what we've been waiting for since preseason."
Win or lose, this is the denouement. And Redick is more ready for this defining moment than he's ever been.
"J.J. has developed great discipline, to where he is now a basketball player every day of the year," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "He used to be a young man. Now he's a man."
Men are not made overnight. They are built with confidence, hardened by disappointment and led to reflect on their values in order to learn exactly who they are.
Redick's evolution from young prima donna to mature All-American traversed a long and exhausting trail that involved blood, sweat and beer.
It's funny now to look back on those days, when the legacy of Redick's career wobbled on a flimsy tightrope. As a precocious freshman, he simply figured greatness was his birthright, that when he signed that national letter of intent to play at Duke he had signed a contract that promised immortality.
On his official visit to Duke in 2002, Redick sat with classmate Sean Dockery on the porch outside of Mike Dunleavy's apartment, expressing grand visions for their careers.
"We talked about going to four Final Fours," Redick said, "and winning four national championships."
Those unrealized ambitions paint the picture of what Redick once was: raw with talent, overflowing with exuberance and tainted by the immaturity of a teenager who dared to dream big but admittedly felt more dedicated to his social life.
At 18, Redick arrived on campus and saw the door to the world open right in front of him, failing to recognize the trap doors and barbed-wire fences that would block his path.
Like most college freshmen, he eagerly branched out, so intrigued by his new freedom that he found ways to abuse it. He'd go to a party on a Saturday night, have the time of his life, then wake up the next morning wondering where to find the next shindig.
Too often, his nights would end with a 3 a.m. trip to the Cosmic Cantina on 9th Street in Durham, where he'd inhale a large burrito.
"That probably wasn't the best thing for me," Redick said. "Neither was staying up until 2 or 3 a.m."
In many ways, Redick's decisions weren't prudent. But at 18, who ever knows?
"We've all been there," said Chris Duhon, Redick's teammate from 2002-04. "When you come from underneath your parent's roof and you finally get that taste of freedom, you want to try to do everything. You want to party, experience the life of a normal college student.
"But that's not possible, especially with the way that we practice at Duke and the commitment we try to make as a team. You can't do both. It took J.J. a little while to understand that."
Added Dockery: "As a freshman J.J. was wilder, out more often. But that was all of us. As freshmen, we were excited to be here, so we were having fun more than we were taking care of business."
Besides, it's not as if Redick was faceplanting on the hardwood. Over his first two seasons, he averaged 15.5 points per game, helping Duke to the Final Four in 2004.
Yet Krzyzewski knew he had so much more to offer. That's why he and Dawkins confronted Redick after the 2004 season with a picture of reality. They wanted him to know that his career was at a crossroads.
Continue down the same path and you can be an above-average player who has a solid little career at Duke. Make a right turn and you could be legendary.
Suddenly, Redick's wick of passion had been fired by a blowtorch.
Those late-night stops at Cosmic Cantina were replaced by midday stops at Jason's Deli for turkey sandwiches. Redick shed 25 pounds off his once cushiony 215-pound frame. He used Dawkins' conditioning program to work himself into peak physical shape. He absorbed his mother's nutrition advice to spike his energy levels.
"He created a lifestyle, especially with his conditioning, where he never gets out of shape," Krzyzewski said. "He made that commitment, and all of a sudden that's who he is now. J.J.'s a great, great player and a great kid. But he's also an amazing worker, and his hard work has paid off."
INSECURITIES SPEED VICIOUS CYCLE
Yet Redick still comes coated with that fascinating layer of pride-cum-narcissism, that half-innate, half-concocted WWE-style persona.
Down goes the three-pointer and up fly his arms, outspread in that unmistakable "you can't stop me" pose. Here comes the brash head bob and its accompanying skip.
Without question, Redick is cocky. But he feels he deserves that luxury. After all, try to name another player in college basketball history who's scored more than 2,700 points and made more than 440 three-pointers.
There is none. Because few have ever played the game on the stage Redick has enjoyed. Few ever have had each of their accomplishments lauded to such excessive extremes. Few have had their personalities gutted on internet message boards.
"When you constantly feel like all eyes are on you," Redick said, "it changes the way you act."
If the widespread enmity toward Redick is the chicken, then the Duke guard's swashbuckling mannerisms are the egg. It's hard to tell which came first, but you couldn't have one without the other.
"Early in my career, I kind of embraced the villain role and fed into it," Redick said. "I said, Alright, if they want to call me these things, then I'm going to act like a jerk on the court.' And that made people dislike me even more."
The more people disliked Redick, the more he acted out. The more he acted out, the more he was disliked. It became a vicious cycle. The heckling became addictive to fans and overpublicized by the media.
"In my 27 years of calling games for ESPN," college basketball guru Dick Vitale said, "I have never seen a player take more verbal abuse than (Redick) has taken."
Then, one day, Redick simply woke up and decided that the whole routine had grown tiresome.
"Over the past two years, as I've matured as a person, I've just become more secure in who I am," he said. "And now there's no reason for me to act like an idiot out on the court.
"For any college kid, when you first come to school and you're 18 or 19, you have your doubts about who you are. You have your insecurities. And as you grow over the years, you become more secure in who you are. For me, I was given kind of a crash course in that."
Now Redick instead channels his focus into making himself better, into making Duke a better team.
That's not to say he's oblivious to the crowd attention. When a fan at Boston College held up a sign last month that showed Redick wearing a pink cowboy hat superimposed onto the "Brokeback Mountain" poster, the Duke guard came back to the layup line laughing, pointing the sign out to several teammates.
"I think J.J. gets a bigger kick out of that stuff nowadays than the kid who made the sign," Dockery said.
That in itself is a sign of maturity.
"It's not something you come in with," Harris said. "It's not something you can stop one day and say, I'm not going to let it get to me.' You have to get burned and burned and burned before it doesn't burn you anymore. And I think J.J. is as hardened as he can be."
RESULT: SUCCESS ON EVERY LEVEL
Redick's overall growth would have meant very little if it had not directly translated into the development of his game.
But determined to leave his imprint on Duke history, he dedicated himself to becoming a complete player. He focused on his defense, added an off-the-dribble game to his offensive repertoire and learned to use his skills to make his teammates better.
Meanwhile, he has shown an almost obsessive dedication to staying in shape and personified a passion that the Duke legends before him have utilized to win championships.
"There's something itching inside of those guys that they can't completely scratch all the time," Krzyzewski said. "They keep scratching at it and it keeps itching. And that itch is the itch to be something special. J.J. is definitely one of those guys."
Now he is the linchpin of Duke's national title hopes.
Heading into the NCAA Tournament, Redick had 15 30-point games this season and had scored 904 points, a single-season record at Duke. On top of that, he was averaging a career best in assists (2.7 per game) while boasting a sparkling 91.7 career free throw percentage, the best in ACC history.
Earlier this year, after Redick dropped a career-high 41 points on then-No. 2 Texas, Longhorns coach Rick Barnes compared his offensive movement to a rushing stream. Yeah, Redick may splash this way, be re-directed by a rock that way. But there's absolutely no way to stop him.
"He's better in every area that you can name in basketball than you think he is," Dawkins said. "You say he can really shoot it; he shoots it better than you think. You think he can handle the ball OK; no, he handles it better than you think. You think he's a decent athlete; no, he's a better athlete than you think. He's decently quick; no, he's quicker than you think. And that's when you really realize how good of a player he really is. I get to see that every day."
And it's all what Krzyzewski had envisioned as he recruited the kid out of Cave Spring High School in Roanoke, Va., five years ago.
"He had great, great spirit," Krzyzewski said. "And he was a natural who liked pressure. Not many kids show that, ever. I smiled a lot driving back on that three-hour drive, after watching one of his games. I remember thinking, I have a chance to coach that kid. My plays are going to work a hell of a lot better.'"
With a maximum of two weeks left in his college career, Redick reflects with pride on all he has accomplished. And yet there's still a major void to take care of. In three years, he has yet to suit up for a national championship game.
Many of the greatest players in Duke history, and especially those from the Krzyzewski era, topped their amazing individual accomplishments with NCAA championship rings. Christian Laettner and Bobby Hurley won in 1991 and 1992. Shane Battier and Jason Williams reached the promised land in 2001.
In Duke's last three postseason losses, Redick shot just 10-for-42. The Blue Devils fell twice in the Sweet 16, once in the Final Four.
Each loss has carried its own hollowness, a disappointment that cuts like a hunting knife. It's something Redick will think about in those rare moments of solitude as he sits in his off-campus apartment, watching TiVo'd episodes of The O.C., 24, CSI and Lost.
After four years of growing up and improving as a basketball player in a journey he describes as "everything I expected and then some," Redick only can hope for the dream ending. He also understands now that reality doesn't always have it that way.
"I remember right before I left for Duke before my freshman year, my dad told me that I wouldn't always be on the mountaintop, that sometimes I would be down in the valley," Redick said. "I didn't really understand what he meant then, but after four years here I definitely understand what that means."
Dan Wiederer, an ACC beat writer for the Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer, is a regular contributor to the ACC Sports Journal and ACCSports.com.
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