By Brendan Lowe
February 10, 2006
ROANOKE, Va. – A Duke University student from the backcountry, a basketball player who practices pilates and poetry, a white guy with an affinity for tattoos and Tupac Shakur. During the past four years, Duke senior guard J.J. Redick has proven stereotypes stick to him as well as defenders.
As the instigator of the Maryland-Duke rivalry that has prompted some of the most violent riots in the university’s recent history, Redick has dealt with some of the worst insults and offenses pelted on a basketball player, yet they have left him unfazed.
“It is not difficult to block out the crowd and sometimes play along with the crowd, especially during warm ups,” he said in a statement e-mailed from Duke. “Once the game starts, it is easy for me to just focus on what is going on in the game.”
As he makes his way to the campus that has inextricably linked his name with an expletive, Redick will muster all of the confidence he is so well known for as he faces Maryland for the last time.
However, best friends and coaches from his hometown in Roanoke said there is another side to Jonathan Clay Redick. Off the court, the average guy’s grandstanding goes quiet like a raucous rival crowd hushed by one of his long-range three-pointers.
“He’s always been extremely confident on the court and sure of himself,” said Billy Hicks, the Cave Springs high school basketball coach four of the five Redick children have played for. “That doesn’t mean he’s a cocky person off the court. He’s far from it. He’s a very giving, loyal person off the court.”
“I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.” — Philippians 4:13 A tattoo on Redick’s chest.
Redick’s youth has the aura of a fairy tale. After he watched former Duke forward Christian Laettner receive the pass from Grant Hill, turn, and hit the winning jumper against University of Kentucky in the 1992 NCAA East Region, Redick announced to his parents he was going to play basketball at Duke.
Fast forward to his adolescence. In the spring of 2002, Cave Springs found itself poised to play in the state championship without its champion. Redick, who had committed to Duke before his junior year, had injured his foot in the semi-final game, and while the team prayed at dinner before the final, it was very unlikely he would play. Redick’s father reminded him of the line from Philippians 4:13.
“On a 1 to 10 pain scale, [Redick] said it was a 9,” Hicks said. “He got down on his knees in the locker room before the game and he said, ‘Lord, take away the pain for 32 minutes.’ He went out and played and scored 43 points, and we beat a 28-0 team that was much better than us at every position but his, and we won the state championship.”
Redick still recites the passage before each free-throw attempt.
Tom Hagan, Ryan Hergrueter and Daniel Payne, seniors at the University of Virginia, Virginia Military Institute and William and Mary, respectively, and Redick’s best friends, attribute his resoluteness to his family and his faith.
Redick’s mother, Jeanie, homeschooled him through fifth grade, and his father, Ken, who averaged 5.5 points per game for Ohio Wesleyan University, coached some of Redick’s youth teams.
Jeanie and Ken, whose past work as a potter led to Redick’s middle name of ‘Clay,’ declined to comment for this story.
By all accounts, the Redick family is tight-knit, brought together by their shared athleticism. Barring injury, all five of the Redick children will have played Division I-A basketball or football.
“You look at the whole Redick family, and the best athlete is the little girl,” Randy Meck said of Abby, a 6’0” freshman basketball player.
Not being the best is nothing new to Redick. Though he played on the same Amatuer Athletic Union team as more naturally talented players, including former Terrapin John Gilchrist, Redick unlocked the key to his success — literally. After Hicks gave his guard a key to the gym, Redick was shooting 500 jump shots a day.
“Even now, if he’s home for two nights, he’ll be in this gym for two nights,” Meck said.
“Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.” — Joshua 1:9 Another tattoo on Redick’s chest.
To slow down Redick, Terps fans have thrown everything they have at him, including batteries, spit and sexual suggestions about his mom and sisters. While Payne said his friend is unshaken, comments about family cross the line.
“He hates that his family had to go through all that and they have to hear all this stuff,” Payne said. “If he had a chance to talk to Maryland students, he’d say chant all you want, but to keep it on me, keep it on Duke, leave his family alone.”
Hicks believes fans’ vitriol has forced Redick to become more withdrawn. The expressive outlet of poetry helps, Hicks said — Redick counts rap artists Tupac and Nas as his biggest influences — as does the loyalty of his three best friends, who have been a unit since junior high.
Hergrueter, a economics and business major who walked onto the basketball team at VMI, recalled an evening five years ago when Hergrueter was spending the night at Redick’s. The two were shooting hoops on the family’s gravel road around 10 p.m. when they decided to make 10 straight free throws before going to bed. Predictably, Redick made his 10 in about two minutes, Hergrueter said. For some reason, Hergrueter, the 6’6” center on the Cave Springs state championship team, was having great difficulty consistently making free throws. Redick encouraged his friend until he finally completed the task three hours later.
“He would not leave my side,” said Hergrueter, who added, “I would totally consider J.J. my brother in a way.”
Redick’s loyalty to Cave Springs runs deep, his friends said. Hicks said Redick makes sure to attend at least one Cave Springs game during each winter break and that he has brought nearly everyone he played with on the state championship to a game at Duke.
That hometown love was shaken recently when a fan at the Virginia Tech-Duke game in Blacksburg on Jan. 26 held up a sign reading “Cave Springs Hates J.J.” Afterward, Hergrueter, who attended the game, said Redick emerged from the locker room surrounded by four police officers.
Despite the run-ins with opposing fans over the years, Hicks believes Redick will ultimately benefit from attending Duke. He still remembers verbatim what Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski told him while he recruiting Redick.
“He said, ‘If J.J. comes to Duke, he will not be a good player, he will be a great player. When he leaves, he will go down as one of the greatest to ever play at Duke, and the fans will adore him.’