Enjoying best year in NBA, he'll always be Duke's J.J. Redick

cwright@newsobserver.comJanuary 2, 2013 

— The rivalry travels; this much J.J. Redick knows.

The seventh-year NBA shooting guard is enjoying his best season with the Orlando Magic. He is averaging 14.4 points, almost six more than his career average. He already has eight 20-point games, after reaching that total just 14 times in his first six seasons.

He outscored Dwyane Wade in the Magic’s overtime loss to the Miami Heat on Monday, and last season made a 3-pointer to force overtime in a playoff game against Indiana.

He knows his NBA accomplishments are mere background noise. He knows there is no screen to slip behind to escape his college roots.

He gets heckled in Charlotte not because of anything he has done to the Bobcats but rather because of where he went to school.

Regardless of the colors and words on the front of his NBA jersey, he is forever Duke’s J.J. Redick.

“I hear it all the time,” Redick said in a recent conversation with The N&O. “I hear it from just the most random places. The other day I was walking down Park Avenue and a guy yelled from across the street, ‘Go Heels!’ Some people don’t get over it. Some people don’t move on. I’ve moved on, believe it or not.”

Redick is engaging and smiling throughout the interview. With apologies to Tar Heels fans, he comes off as nothing like the caricature. A walking dictionary of Duke basketball, Redick discussed, among other things, his steady progress in the NBA, his favorite moment in the rivalry, why he smiled when Austin Rivers hit The Shot, and how he out-recruited Matt Doherty to help Duke land a McDonald’s All-American.

Q: We’ll get to Duke in a minute, but let’s talk about your year. What’s different this year?

It’s been my goal every year I’ve been in the NBA to improve. I always feel, if you’re improving and getting better, then you’re going to keep a job. Obviously my playing time has gone up a little bit, but offensively, not having Dwight (Howard) has allowed other guys to just get more touches. Even when he went out last year, I think I averaged 16 a game, when he was out with his back injury. So it’s just a matter of there being more shots available for other guys.

Q: Your game is evolving, too. It’s not just a matter of minutes or shots …

That’s the first point, too. I have tried to improve. Some of the sets that we run now are more conducive to my game. And being able to move a lot, similar to how I played at Duke, in terms of coming off picks, constant motion. Can’t really do a lot of constant motion in 24 seconds, it’s little different in college, but certainly our sets have helped. (Magic coach) Jacque (Vaughn) has put me in a position to make plays for other guys, too.

Q: How much better are you now than what people remember at Duke?

(Laughing …) I mean, I’m a lot better. If I hadn’t gotten better, I still wouldn’t be in the NBA. You have to improve. It’s something I take pride in. It’s a good goal to have for your life, in general, is self reflection, self examination, how can I get better, how can I improve. Ultimately that leads to how can I help the team win. Our team has been the benefactor of a few guys having that mindset.

Q: Now, let’s talk about one of our favorite subjects, Duke-Carolina …

Sure.

Q: You’ve mentioned how the 1992 Duke team got you going in their direction …

Yep. Sure.

Q: Was Carolina ever in the mix in terms of recruiting? Did they come to Roanoke to watch you play?

They came to a couple of tournaments to see a couple of players. Doug Wojcik was the assistant at the time for Doherty. I committed pretty early to Duke. I can remember the summer before my senior year, I had already committed to Duke, and I was rooming at Nike Camp with Shavlik Randolph and he was undecided. And Doherty called our room to talk to Shav and I answered the phone. And he was like, ‘J.J., should have recruited you!’ (Redick laughs again.) They had Rashad McCants at the time. It was pretty much Duke for me.

Q: You said, even now, you hear Duke-Carolina all the time. Is it still the best rivalry you’ve been a part of?

Oh, definitely. That’s one of the most storied rivalries in all of sports. It’s an absolute honor to be a part of it. I have great respect for the University of North Carolina. I have great respect for their program and their players and coaches. To be on the other side and represent Duke in that rivalry is a huge point of pride with me.

Q: What’s your favorite moment in the rivalry?

Whew. I’ve got a lot of them. I would definitely say (Steve Wojciechowski’s) senior day in 1998 was my favorite moment. Duke is down 17 in the second half. Carolina’s got (Antawn) Jamison, Shammond Williams, Ed Cota, Vince Carter. They’re stacked. Wojo’s heart, hustle and leadership led that team … along with Elton Brand scoring in the post … led that team to a great victory. Wojo seeks out Coach K and gives him a hug. That’s a moment in time that has been etched in my brain.

Q: You dropped 35 on those boys, that couldn’t have been too bad …

Yeah, from my personal experience, that was a good one. I’ll always remember my first Duke-Carolina game. That was my freshman year, and it was a home game for us. You remember the first time you participate in that rivalry; we won that game and I had a fairly nice game, so that’s something I’ll always remember.

Q: If we played an NBA game with Duke-Carolina alumni right now, who wins?

(Pauses several seconds). I think right now, Duke. I would take us. We’re a little younger, our younger guys … Kyrie (Irving) is playing at an All-Star level right now. Luol (Deng) has been an All-Star. C-Booz (Carlos Boozer) … we’ve got a lot of good players. We’ll let Grant (Hill) continue to rest. (More laughter). He can be the honorary player/coach in that game.

Q: Do you guys talk about the rivalry now that you’re in the NBA? In 2010, you and Carter were teammates in Orlando, Duke wins the national championship. How much do you talk about that?

There’s always the $20 bet, or ‘I get your per diem next road trip’ type thing about the game. You might say something to a Carolina guy right after the game but not a whole lot. The only guy I’ve heard that really has a problem with Duke guys is George Karl. That’s the knock against him.

Q: This year’s team, No. 1, off to a great start. Can they hang another banner?

I like the team from what I’ve seen. I watched the second half of the Ohio State game, Temple game, I think they’re very well balanced. They have great guard play. Their guys have all improved in some way or another and adding Rasheed (Sulaimon) as a freshman, a dynamic player on the wing, helps. To me they’re your typical Duke Final Four team. Obviously, college being a one-and-done format, you can never solidly predict what’s going to happen in March, but they have all the makings of a championship-level Duke team.

Q: Last year’s game, Austin’s shot goes down … did you see it? What was your reaction?

We actually played that night. We play like every Duke-Carolina game. I rarely get to watch the game. So I was actually in the cold tub afterwards, and my Twitter timeline all of the sudden went nuts with the shot. I didn’t get to see it live, but that’s one of the top five or 10 Duke-Carolina moments in the last 15 years.

Q: Was it cooler because it was a 3 and you could kind of put yourself in that position?

Yeah, I had a similar situation my junior year. We were down one or two, ball went in and out on me at the end of the game.

Q: Wasn’t going to bring it up …

(Smiling again …) Just happy for Austin that he was able to make the shot.

Wright: 919-829-4643

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