By Bomani Jones
Special to Page 2

If Duke played the Ku Klux Klan, I'd root for a 0-0 tie. I'm not keen on Coach K's scowl. I have ordered a "Duck Fook" T-shirt. My stomach turns when analysts talk as though Duke's basketball program is more upstanding than everyone else's, without any evidence. I hate that a school so deep in the South is populated by so many carpetbaggers. It's so bad that each passing day makes me like blue less and less. And it's my favorite color.

J.J. Redick
AP
Stop and appreciate how sweet a shooter. J.J. Redick really is.

But ... umm ... I kinda (ahem) like J.J. Redick.

Considering that Duke and Carolina play each other Tuesday night -- Tobacco Road's battle of evil and good -- and my documented allegiance toward good, I must really like J.J. Redick. I mean, after putting this in writing, I might as well flip my car over to save my neighbors the trouble.

This is like Alice Cooper liking the sound track to "Saturday Night Fever" (and he did, actually).

I like the cut-off T-shirt because it looks like the one I wore when I played basketball (badly). I like all the shots he buries, even those from the scorer's table. I even liked that he stood eye-to-eye with Boston College's Sean Marshall on Wednesday night when Marshall screamed in his face, especially since Marshall's breath was probably kickin' like Van Damme. He's a Kobe Bryant-style gunner, without the hops but with much better shot selection.

Off Duke's campus, I might be alone on this one. When the Blue Devils played Virginia Tech earlier this season, fans claiming to represent Redick's high school brought a sign to Cassell Coliseum saying "Cave Spring Hates J.J." Luckily, Redick -- a senior who grew up less than an hour from Blacksburg -- doesn't have to go home again.

In 2004, fans at Maryland serenaded him at the free-throw line with a demand that he perform a sexual act upon himself. At that same game, someone had a sign proclaiming that he'd made whoopee with Redick's sister. There was no mention of which of his sisters was being discussed, but his youngest sister was in high school at the time.

That's dirty pool. Good thing no one ever showed such a sign to Vernon Maxwell.

And that's just a sample. The hatred of Redick stretches across the country. In an e-mail, a fan from McLean, Va., wrote, "Redick's most unforgivable sin, besides worshipping a false idol in the statue-like Coach K, is subjecting the world to some of the most horrible poetry ever written, putting him in the same category as Jewel and Kevin Federline, both of which I'd rather see playing basketball."

Dante from Los Angeles wrote me that Redick's OK with him, "but my homegirl would like to hit him with a car."

That homegirl is a North Carolina alum. In Chapel Hill, Redick is probably the least popular Blue Devil since Christian Laettner. That's something akin to being Gloria Estefan's least favorite politician since Fidel Castro.

Little of what's said about Redick is fit to print here, but a student I met in Chapel Hill, Jelani Ramos, summed up the most common criticism of Redick:

J.J. Redick
AP
Student, and teacher.

"I feel like Coach K is the emperor, and J.J. is his next-in-line Sith crony."

After receiving a funny look, Mr. Ramos continued.

"Look at him, though. Compare pictures side by side. J.J. has gotten paler, his hairline's receded a little and his ears have gotten pointier over the past four years."

Ouch. I'm just not sure when Redick became Coach K's son.

Is all this hate really necessary? ACC message boards are full of fans spewing millions of reasons to hate Redick. They range from his supposed arrogance to anger that more wasn't made of the suspicion he smoked marijuana in a dormitory in 2003. Many refer to the dreadful poetry he read aloud in an interview last season. And none of this is helped by the multitude of broadcasters who credit him for everything from his work ethic to the flawless form with which he ties his shoes. It seems like only Billy Packer doesn't rush to slobber all over the kid.

But no one has any good reason to hate Redick. There's no way he is more detestable than Chris Paul, who cowardly punched Julius Hodge last season -- from behind, no less -- but was "secure" enough in his "manhood" to cry on the bench during losses. And he's definitely not in the same league as the gold standard for collegiate villains, Christian Laettner. Before he was the Dream Team's bellhop, Laettner could be seen sneering across the country and, if the situation called for it, stepping on players' chests in the NCAA Tournament without receiving an ejection or suspension. Redick isn't even as objectionable as Steve Wojciechowski, the current Duke assistant who tap-danced on the thin line between being scrappy and being dirty during his playing career. And he's surely not as overrated as Danny Ferry.

With the exception of Laettner, none of them caught the hell Redick has taken since he got to school. At some point, the divinely justifiable distaste for Duke has to give way to an appreciation for Redick's game. Players such as Grant Hill, Elton Brand and Luol Deng could be appreciated by even hardened Duke haters because of their talents on the court, even if it took a few years after college for them to be seen objectively.

Maybe people will see Redick the same way. But with so many people predicting his professional demise -- many of whom lazily assume he'll flop like Steve Alford instead of considering he could be like Reggie Miller -- nothing short of an All-Star career could make that possible.

It's not even Redick's fault he went to Duke. He was too young to know what he was doing. Would you -- yes, you -- want the jheri curl and skinny tie you wore to the senior prom held against you? Didn't think so.

But the fact that he goes to Duke is the only reason for all this venom. Since college players are rarely allowed to say anything quotable, there's only so much one can do to draw the ire of anyone. Few could say whether Redick's voice is high or deep, if he has a discernible accent, or even if he's capable of conjugating verbs.

What's clear is that he looks like what so many people associate with Duke -- unathletic white players who are pumped up illegitimately by a fawning media -- and it's safe to say that's what so many people hate.

J.J. Redick
AP
Everyone seems to get in Redick's face.

But if my fellow Duke haters aren't careful, they'll miss their chance to appreciate one of the best shooters in recent memory. They'll miss the only player I've seen who must literally be guarded as soon as he crosses half-court, someone whose accomplishments are amplified when you consider that Shelden Williams is, unequivocally, the most overrated player in America and freshman point guard Greg Paulus wets the bed when the heat's turned on.

Like it or not, Redick is one of the two best players in America.

The distaste so many have for Redick reminds me of the distaste I had for Bobby Hurley when he played. Hurley, the NCAA's all-time assists leader, was the media's darling when he was in school. The constant references to him being a "throwback" and comparisons to Bob Cousy were nauseating, much like the unending adulation thrown Redick's way gets sickening. As a result, I assumed everything I hate about Duke to be true about Hurley; he even hailed from New Jersey.

Small problem, though -- Hurley was anti-Duke in so many ways. His game was street, full of the fire ill-informed folks say white players lack. He was the son of Bob Hurley, the basketball coach/probation officer who, according to Adrian Wojnarowski's fantastic book "The Miracle of St. Anthony," might be the toughest guy in Jersey. In the midst of hating him as much as the name on his jersey and his teammate, Laettner, I missed enjoying a special player.

And it almost happened again with Redick, whose AAU team, Hampton's Boo Williams All-Stars, counts Allen Iverson as its most successful product. In case you're unaware, nothing says Duke less than Hampton or Iverson.

So hate Duke as much as possible. That's what any decent person would do. But lay off Redick just a little, unless you've got better reasons than the ones I've heard.

Bomani Jones is a frequent contributor to Page 2. Tell him how you feel at bomani@bomanijones.com.




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THE MOST HATED PLAYER IN AMERICA