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Mike Wise

A Picture of Redick Isn't Always Black and White

By Mike Wise
Friday, March 25, 2005; Page D05

His ears are pinned to his scalp, rising to form pointed, miniature peaks. His buzz-cut is more etched than cropped, angular and precise, as if someone used a black Sharpie instead of a razor. His skin is chalky, in dire need of Kona sun.

At first glance, J.J. Redick is not Duke's deadeye shooting guard, the most disliked college player in America.

He's Eddie Munster in high-tops.

Defiantly bobbing his head, pumping his fist to the nth power, Redick will square up in Austin tonight against Michigan State in the round of 16. He is the focal point of scorn and derision, a cocksure junior taking hairpin curves around a screen.

No one wants to know how he makes 93.7 percent of his free throws or converts those impossibly long three-pointers. Instead, Redick is asked why fans loathe him, whether the nastiness has racial undertones, why everyone outside of Durham, N.C., wants the kid's head.

Appreciating him as the college game's greatest shooter must be too easy. No, he has to be J.J. Ridicule.

"I really, honestly think if I had played at any other school, I wouldn't be a public enemy," Redick said. "Because we're Duke, because I have Duke on my chest, people are going to point to me and say, 'I hate that kid.' "

At least Redick can answer back on the court. His mother, Jeanie, just sits behind the Duke bench or up in the stands "hearing the most nastiest things about my son," she said.

At Maryland a year ago on national television, the students chanted, "[Expletive] you, J.J.! [Expletive] you, J.J.!" He has changed his cell phone number four times, including after a 3:30 a.m. incident in which Maryland students verbally abused him.

"The 17th call that night, I finally asked the girl, 'How'd you get my number?' She said, 'I'm at this party and they're passing it around. Just thought I'd warn you.' "

It also was not pretty when it was learned that Redick's younger brother is dating the daughter of Virginia Tech Coach Seth Greenberg.

"It bothers me when they cross the line and start saying things about the family," Jeanie said. "When he buries the three, it silences them; it's his weapon against all the hostility. I just usually have to sit there and take it."

"Oh well," she said, resigned to the taunts, "they hated Christian Laettner, they hated Bobby Hurley. Mrs. Wojciechowski said they even hated Wojo," said Jeanie of Steve, the former squat Duke guard and now a Blue Devils assistant coach. "I don't know what it is. I don't get it. I guess it's just Duke."

Don't forget Danny Ferry and Chris Collins, two more reviled former Dookies. And the inescapable common denominator: They're all white.

Duke has been to 10 Final Fours, won 66 tournament games and three national titles under Coach Mike Krzyzewski. Beyond grand success, the school is also thought to be associated with privilege, aristocracy and an outside perception of children attending the university: "We got in and you didn't."

Duke parents, the logic goes, can afford more than a state school. Their children probably grew up on a leafy cul-de-sac and never encountered real adversity.

Never mind that this is as stereotypically damaging as assuming that every young black player had one parent -- probably his mother -- and must have grown up in the 'hood.

Never mind that, at least in Redick's case, it's untrue.

"Where we live in Roanoke is nice, but J.J. grew up on a gravel road," Jeanie said. "We live out in the country."

Redick might be right about wearing Duke across his chest. Nobody would boo Jason Williams when he was at Florida, because he was perceived as a poor white kid from West Virginia.

When Williams was drafted by Sacramento and began exhibiting his showmanship, he became known as "White Chocolate." However racially charged, the nickname became a term of endearment from most black players in the league.

As Chris Webber once said affectionately of Williams, "A white boy with funk in his game, how crazy is that?" His acceptance was defined by his ability not to play "white."

When Redick curls around screens and catches and releases from 25 feet, he is the embodiment of every spot-up Caucasian shooter. His elbows in, his rotation perfect. Ray Allen of the Seattle SuperSonics squares up better, has one of the prettiest rotations in all of basketball. But more people call Redick "fundamentally sound."

"I don't take it personally," Redick said in a Post interview last month. "I think if I played for another school, and still played the way I play, I wouldn't get it as bad. I get it from fans because it says 'Duke' on my jersey. I'm not really sure why it's white guys. I know people didn't really like Chris Duhon and Dahntay Jones. They got it bad on the road, and they're not white."

More alarming, in some warped minds Redick represents more than Duke. A person close to the program, who requested anonymity, said a man recently requested an autograph, explaining, "You know I'm really sorry but I just think the world is ready for a white boy that writes poetry, that's down to earth and doesn't have tattoos and diamond earrings.' "

The kid cannot merely compete for a national championship. He has to be either a bigoted symbol of racial hoop equity or the most reviled player in the nation.

"If anyone knew him, they wouldn't hate him," said Jeanie, who expects to hear the boos tonight in Austin. "He's like the boy next door. If you saw him in street clothes, you wouldn't know he was a basketball player."

Wouldn't it be something if that's what people let him be?

© 2005 The Washington Post Company