The other side of J.J. Redick
DURHAM, N.C. -- So J.J. Redick and his grandma walked into a tattoo parlor one day
No, this is not another fanciful attempt by an opposing student section to needle the most persecuted college player in years. Fans have made up amazing things about Redick and his family, but this isn't one of them. This is a true recounting of the day the Duke guard and his grandmother went under the needle together.
About 18 months ago, Redick was relaxing with his family on vacation at the beach in North Carolina. That's when Grace Redick noticed and admired the small tattoos on her twin granddaughters, Catie and Alyssa, J.J.'s older sisters.
Next thing you know, on the way back from the beach, J.J., Grace and Alyssa were stopping at a body art emporium in Raleigh.
"Are you sure you want to do this, grandma?" J.J. asked.
"What's there to be afraid of?" Grace fired back, then stepped up to get her tattoo first.
Today the 80-year-old has a butterfly on her shoulder.
"I want another one," Grace Redick declared. "On my ankle."
This is one thing you learn from spending time with the Redicks: They are not your conventional family. Surprises are everywhere, from grandma's shoulder to mom's and dad's earthiness to the fascinating space between the star shooter's ears.
The J.J. Redick story runs more than skin deep. He is so Duke. And at the same time he is so different.
J.J. keeps his ink to himself. The white knight of college basketball's ivory-tower program conceals his inner Iverson beneath his jersey -- a jersey that inspires polar-opposite Pavlovian responses across America. Not since Christian Laettner has a wearer of that shirt been loved and hated like this.
"I didn't get tattoos so other people would say, 'Oh, J.J.'s got tattoos. He's got a basketball on his arm that says King of the Court,' or something like that," Redick said. "I got a tattoo for me. It's a constant reminder, every day, of what God has done and what he will do in my life."
The reminders are etched upon the senior guard's lean torso -- one on his chest, one on his abdomen.
The script lettering on his stomach reads, "Isaiah 40:31," referring to this Bible verse: But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.
The other tattoo, on his chest, came first. It's the Japanese word for courage, and beneath it is reference to another Bible verse, Joshua 1:9. That one reads: Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.
That's the tat he got with grandma. And if there is one thing you can say about J.J. Redick, it's this: He's got basketball courage.
It takes courage to embrace the burden of potential failure and hoist shots at the moments of maximum pressure. It takes courage to thrive as the most revered and most reviled college player in America. It takes courage to put your personality out there -- the vulnerable poet's side, the arrogant baller's side, the unapologetic Christian's side -- for public dissection.
It would be so much easier to assume the dull automaton pose prevalent among today's college basketball players. Redick doesn't do easy.
"God's got to be his comforter," J.J.'s dad, Ken, said. "There's got to be times in that spotlight, with that much pressure -- and internal pressure from the Duke system of how you have to perform every day -- when he couldn't survive without faith, without being imbued with that spirit.
"He's vulnerable, he's weak, he's like the rest of us. He's not superhuman."
He only plays that way.
Redick's court courage seems reinforced with titanium today. But at that crossroads time in the summer of 2004, when he and grandma stepped into that tattoo parlor together, he literally might have needed the message injected into his skin.
"[The tattoo] probably gave him some confidence and courage," Grace Redick said. "Maybe it was there always, but he needed something to make it stronger."
With his tats under wraps, J.J. Redick looks like the uber-Dookie: The latest in a two-decade line of well-skilled, well-spoken, well-groomed white-bread ballers who smugly disembowel you on the court.
In spirit, he's been one of them since age 7.
That's when he watched Laettner hit the most famous shot in college hoops history against Kentucky. Right then and there, on March 28, 1992, Redick declared he would play for Duke one day, and the vision never wavered. J.J.'s mom, Jeanie, remembers conversations her son had with friends, fans, opposing coaches and others, around the time of middle school:
"You're pretty good. Do you want to play in college?"
"Where do you want to go?"
"OK. Well, what's your second choice?"
"I don't have a second choice."
J.J. never even opened the piles of recruiting mail from other schools. He committed to the Blue Devils almost as soon as the offer came, during his junior year of high school.
"I dream big," Redick said, "then work to make those dreams come true."
Yet despite being a lifetime Duke designate, he hardly was punched out of a Coach K cookie cutter. Or anyone else's.
|“||You can never project that he'd be as great as he has become. But I thought he'd be an All-American. He liked pressure. He liked to be the one to produce under pressure. ”|
|—Mike Krzyzewski on J.J. Redick|
Ken and Jeanie Redick and Jeanie's sister, Susan Carpenter, have driven the 2½ hours from their home in Roanoke, Va., for the Duke-North Carolina game. They settle into a booth at P.F. Chang's outside Chapel Hill and order their pregame dinner: Vegetarian lettuce wraps, tofu and broccoli, Szechuan-style asparagus and water.
Ken, who coordinates employee substance-abuse programs, and Jeanie, a certified nutritionist, are vegetarians. Jeanie did not raise her five children without meat, but she was a three-veggies-a-meal martinet.
"I grew up eating all the right stuff -- organic milk, never ate fast food," J.J. said. "I was a very picky eater, which didn't do well in my house."
It was an interesting house. In the late 1970s and early '80s, Ken and Jeanie Redick were leading a bohemian existence in Cookeville, Tenn. -- perhaps not a counter-culture life, but an alternative lifestyle.
They lived on a farm with some friends and operated an American crafts gallery, selling handmade items from around the region. Pottery was the Redicks' personal artistic passion, and Ken worked as a stoneware potter.
With that as inspiration, the couple named its third child -- and first son -- Jonathan Clay. Interestingly enough, Jonathan Clay "J.J." Redick hated the substance.
"He never would get his hands wet in clay," Jeanie said. "I always said he'd be a surgeon, because he didn't want to get his hands dirty."
By the time the family moved to Roanoke, J.J.'s hands had found their artistic medium: a round ball, a round hole. But before then, Ken and Jeanie put the boy on their unique parental pottery wheel and began to mold.
He was home-schooled until fifth grade by Jeanie, who put an emphasis on teaching her kids to be self-disciplined self-starters.
"I think it laid a really good foundation in their lives," said Jeanie Redick, a woman comfortable without lavish makeup or dyeing her gray hair.
Trying to home-school five active kids probably put some of that gray in her hair. J.J. had a way of taking advantage of his mom's multi-tasking.
"He liked to take out the trash," Jeanie said. "With five kids I might not realize that he'd be missing for a while. Then I'd say, 'Where's J.J.?' and he'd be out under the goal."
The original Redick family basketball goal still stands behind their rustic house, which sits on a hill amid three acres outside Roanoke. Dribbling on the uneven gravel surface was perilous, so shooting was the prime pastime. Just make sure you put some extra loft on it from the left side, to arch it over the tree branch.
This is where the game's prettiest stroke was honed, thousands of shots at a time.
"If you had to teach a player how to shoot, [Redick] has the perfect, perfect form," Louisville coach Rick Pitino said.
Redick was the proverbial postal service shooter: Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night kept him from his appointed jumpers. When he burned out the halogen light his dad installed to shine on the court, he'd train the car headlights on the goal and keep shooting. Jeanie would plead with him to come in and go to bed.
"Whenever he was out on the court -- wherever it was, behind the house or anywhere else -- he was happy," Ken Redick said. "The world was great when he was out there shooting. He's always been that way."
If J.J. wasn't shooting jumpers, he was throwing fastballs. He was a young star in both sports until something had to give.
The breaking point was the summer after sixth grade. Redick helped lead his team deep into the national AAU basketball tournament in Salt Lake City with a broken left thumb, then flew back to Virginia and had to ride through the night to the Atlantic coast to pitch in the state AAU baseball championship.
After that it was time to make a choice, and basketball won. But what Redick did in that baseball game shows you what smolders inside the kid. On almost no sleep and after a grueling two-week basketball tournament, he pitched eight innings of a regulation six-inning game and struck out 15 batters.
"I guess that was just a will to get it done," J.J. said. "My arm was sore for a week. I've just always been so competitive like that. My desire to win is kind of what drives me."
Stories like that have proliferated throughout Redick's career. In the state championship game his senior year at Cave Spring High School, he played through a painful heel injury suffered two days earlier in the semifinals and scored 43 points to lead his team to the title.
Redick prayed before the game for the pain to be alleviated. The next morning, he couldn't walk. In between he was untouchable.
That was the will that dazzled Mike Krzyzewski when he went to watch Redick play at Cave Spring. He loved the peerless shooting form, but he adored the fearless competitor who came with it.
"You can never project that he'd be as great as he has become," Krzyzewski said. "But I thought he'd be an All-American. He had great, great spirit. He was a stud.
"He liked pressure. He liked to be the one to produce under pressure. Not many kids show that ever, but certainly not that early. I smiled a lot driving back 2½, 3 hours from watching him."
By the end of Redick's sophomore year at Duke, Krzyzewski was smiling less.
The kid had been an immediate success in Durham, maybe too immediate for his long-term good. He averaged 15 points per game as a freshman and 15.9 as a sophomore, helping the Blue Devils to the Final Four. But after a come-from-ahead loss to eventual champion Connecticut in the national semifinals -- in which Redick missed a crucial late shot -- it was time for a critical re-evaluation of the prodigy's progress.
Redick was crushed by the UConn loss and stumbled through a depressed period. He didn't get a whole lot of sympathy from the Duke coaches, who gave him this tough-love appraisal of his game: You're overweight, underdisciplined and uncommitted to fulfilling your potential.
"He had to make a decision," Duke assistant Chris Collins said. "We told him, 'You can be a good player for four years and be on good teams. Or do you want to be great?' It would require drastic changes in his lifestyle and a commitment he'd never given. That was a moment of truth for him as a basketball player."
Like generations of young people before him, Redick had gone to college and become intoxicated by its freedom. He went from home school to I rule.
Those relentlessly healthy meals mom used to make? Replaced by Bojangles' chicken and biscuits and 4 a.m. burrito runs to Cosmic Cantina.
He also got into the social ramble, as Satchel Paige once said, and that ain't restful. In the spring of his freshman year, Redick was in a dorm room where students were smoking pot when campus police entered. Redick said he was only there to check e-mail, was not charged and reportedly later passed two drug tests, but his image took a hit.
Basketball, books and partying don't go well together, and Redick had a hard time prioritizing.
"I did a lot of stupid stuff my first two years," Redick said, without going into detail, "both on and off the court."
So he listened to the criticisms from the coaches, accepted them and got down to the task of reinventing himself.
"We regimented his whole summer," Collins said. "Every hour of every day was accounted for, and he followed it. Now it's become who he is."
Who is he now? A disciplined, superbly conditioned athlete who has become the leading scorer in Duke history and soon will be the leading scorer in Atlantic Coast Conference history. A healthy eater (once again) weighing 15 pounds less than his fat-boy days. An utterly committed team leader. And, all things considered, a much happier person.
After averaging 21.8 points per game last year and being named a first-team All-American, Redick decided he had earned a second trip to the tattoo parlor. That's when he got the Isaiah 40:31 tat, to commemorate what he called "the best year of my life."
"I regained my passion for basketball," Redick said. "My relationships with my family members were as good as they've ever been -- and my first two years, those were sometimes rocky. I met my girlfriend during that year and regained my spirituality."
What would Jesus do if he swished a 3 in a big game in a hostile gym? Probably not what J.J. Redick used to do.
As early as his freshman year at Cave Spring High, J.J. was a bragging brat on the court. He once opened a varsity game hitting three straight 3s, then ran past the opposing coach chirping, "Who's guarding me?"
It was the same thing at Duke. Every time he hit a shot, somebody had to hear about it. An introspective child who craved the solitude of shooting alone on that gravel court at home became a trash-spewing punk in public.
"He created this personality outside of himself -- this cocky, outward alter ego," Ken Redick said. "He's survived by creating that."
Said J.J.: "Early on in my career, I definitely had an annoying persona, a brash persona on the court. I'd talk trash or head-bob after making a shot. A lot of that stemmed from insecurities. I wasn't sure how good I could be or who I was.
"I still might grin -- I won't use a cussword, but you know what grin I'm talking about -- on the court. But that's just because I'm having fun. I try to be humble. I realize that any talent I have is a result of God's blessing. I don't feel the need to [talk trash] as much anymore."
Opposing fans feel no less of a need to pillory Redick, however. They cuss at him. They make signs disparaging him, his family, his masculinity. They howl with outrage when he tries to work the refs (who protect him shamelessly, they insist). And on those few occasions when they've gotten hold of his cell digits, they call him, too.
"People would call me six or seven times in a 30-minute period and leave stupid messages," Redick said with an incredulous laugh. "I'm just like, 'Who's got the time to do that?' I don't have the time to call my mom sometimes. I definitely don't have time to call some random person over and over and tell them that they're an idiot."
While he has Adam Morrison for competition as national player of the year, he has no competition for the title of America's Most Hated Player.
"He just looks like a regular fan," teammate Lee Melchionni said, trying to explain the mentality behind abuse. "He's a 6-4 white guy, and he's a shooter. Anybody can go in the backyard and shoot it.
"It's easier for the fans to target him. You can associate yourself with him. I think that's why people hate him."
Of greater concern, Melchionni said, are opposing players invading Redick's personal space. Earlier this month Boston College's Sean Marshall moved up to kissing range of Redick and screamed in his face until officials separated the two.
"We've got to do a better job as a team protecting him out there," Melchionni said. "He's got guys just attacking him and trying to get him off his game."
Apparently, not every player in the ACC has gotten the memo about the more mature, less verbose J.J. Take the North Carolina game Feb. 7, for instance.
"I hit a 3 on Wes Miller and it was a tough shot," Redick recounted. "He touched the ball as I was going up, and I hit a fall-away 3. We were coming downcourt and I said, 'Good D, man,' and he's like, 'Shut up.' I said, 'Wes, I'm not talking trash. That was good D.' I think there's still that persona that I'm a total jerk."
But in his heart, Redick knows that having the haters suddenly change their minds and fall in love with him wouldn't suit his purposes. He admitted that in the absence of any real, tangible disrespect for motivational fuel, he's not above inventing synthetic fuel.
"Sometimes I even create it in my mind that people are doubting me," Redick said. "People have these doubts, and I have to prove them wrong.
"It was interesting watching everybody's reaction to the whole Joey Porter-Jerramy Stevens thing [from the Super Bowl]. I think it was [Michael] Wilbon and [Tony] Kornheiser [who] were talking about how Porter maybe created this rift or this conflict in his mind, just to hype himself up.
"I had to laugh. I mean, I do that. You always look for some kind of edge, something to give you a little extra motivation."
J.J. Redick has been reading "The Purpose Driven Life" this winter. In basketball terms, he's been living The Purpose Driven Season.
Redick is completing the finest scoring year in the gilded history of Duke basketball. At 28.9 points per game, he's on pace to shatter the school record of 26.1 points, set by Bob Verga in 1966-67, and it would be the highest single-season average in the ACC since David Thompson rang up 29.9 in 1975. He should have Jason Williams' season points record of 841 wiped out before Duke even gets to the ACC Tournament. And he could take down Williams' season 3-pointers record of 132 by the time the NCAA Tournament tips off.
His bicoastal competition with Morrison has captivated the country. And given the fact that Morrison rarely plays before the rest of the nation has gone to bed, Redick has become the face of this college basketball season.
"When I see him on the floor it just amazes me," grandma Grace said. "It's such a thrilling thing to know he has this talent."
The individual awards will flood in. It's time now, in the final month of his college career, for headlong pursuit of the one basketball thing J.J. does not have: a national championship.
"That's it," Ken Redick said. "That's everything."
In the kind of full-circle story that sports seems to produce, it could come down to Duke-Connecticut. That would present the ultimate chance for Redick to measure his growth -- as a player and a person -- since the devastation that followed the loss to the Huskies two years ago.
And what if he missed the big shot a second time against UConn and a title eluded him?
"I think he'd be able to put it in perspective a lot better," Ken said.
"However it ends up," Grace Redick said, "it's going to be the right thing."
However it ends up, nobody needs to see J.J. Redick's tattoos for proof of his on-court courage.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.