Duke’s NCAA Tournament runs have come to crashing ends each of the last two seasons, and both times J.J. Redick had the ball.
As a freshman he went 2-for-16 against Kansas in the Sweet 16, when the Blue Devils fell 69-65. Then, last year in the Final Four, Redick missed two consecutive shots in the waning moments of Duke’s heartbreaking 79-78 loss to Connecticut.
At the end of each season, he was not having fun on the court anymore. Realizing something had to change, the junior rededicated himself to basketball this summer.
“I wanted to make basketball fun again and I wanted to commit myself to that,” Redick said. “I was going to be an upperclassman and it was time to get serious and put in the work to be a good player.”
Redick remained in Durham for both summer sessions to take classes and prepare for the difficult preseason. He participated in daily workouts with fellow teammates junior Sean Dockery, freshmen DeMarcus Nelson and David McClure, and even worked out with NBA stars like Mike Dunleavy, who were in town for part of the summer.
“I am in the best shape of my life,” Redick said. “I really don’t ever get tired out there. There are certain things that if any player did he’d get tired, but as far as just going up and down the court and playing hard every play, I don’t get tired. It’s helped me to maintain my leg strength and my wind.”
Throughout the preseason, which many of the players have described as the hardest one since they’ve been at Duke, Redick’s teammates have admired his new energy and enthusiasm for the basketball and conditioning drills.
“He has had some distractions in the past two years that really affected him to becoming the best player he can become,” senior Daniel Ewing said. “He basically matured and cut down on some of the outside activities and really focused.”
During the past two seasons team members have questioned the shooting guard’s work ethic, which has, at times, made for a shaky rapport with some other players.
“My relationship with my teammates is great,” Redick said during the preseason. “I think it has improved a lot in the past six months. I think I really turned a corner this summer with my commitment and my work ethic, and I think my teammates saw that.”
The coaching staff, which played an integral role in this turnaround by providing much of the necessary guidance and resources, has been equally impressed. Redick said he has always had a strong bond with assistant coach Chris Collins, who recruited Redick from Roanoke, Va., but his relationship with head coach Mike Krzyzewski has greatly improved since the end of last season.
“[Collins] is kind of like my older brother,” Redick said. “He gets on me, and he makes sure that I stay on top of things, but he’s also a great friend and a great guy. With Coach K, I think over the summer we got closer, and I think our relationship is only getting stronger.”
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As a result, the players and coaches selected Redick as a captain, along with Ewing, for the upcoming season—a move that some might have considered shocking in March.
“It’s something that actually meant a lot to me because I felt like I earned my coaches’ and my teammates’ respect over the summer,” Redick said. “I take it seriously and I feel like it’s a big responsibility.”
The outgoing and vocal junior possesses many of the attributes necessary to be an effective captain, Krzyzewski said.
“He doesn’t get tired in practice or he doesn’t show it—that’s a great example,” Krzyzewski said. “You’re running sprints and you try to win every sprint. You’re running the mile, and you try to win the mile. You’re the bunny that everyone’s chasing. The rabbit on the race track.... He’s emerging as an outstanding leader.”
As previous seasons have worn on, Redick, a career 15.5 point per game scorer, has shown signs of fatigue that have affected his production. He said his lack of conditioning last year first caught up to him against Florida State in late February, when he went 1-for-9 from the field and scored just seven points. In the remaining 10 games, Redick scored more than 20 points just twice and failed to break double digits on two occasions.
“In his first two years, both of those seasons in the last month he got a little bit worn down physically,” Collins said. “Every game we play he’s grabbed and held. That takes its toll physically.”
In an effort to prevent a similar late-season collapse, Redick worked diligently with speed and conditioning coach Jeff Howser and assistant strength and conditioning coach William Stephens. He has lost more than 20 pounds since May and decreased his body fat from more than 11 percent to less than 5 percent.
“In high school you can be in really good shape—for high school—and then off-season get out of shape, and then crash and get in shape again,” Krzyzewski said. “When you’re at this level of playing you can never get out of shape. What he’s done, he’s not only not gotten out of shape, but he’s increased his level of physical conditioning.”
Redick expects to have an even better season than a year ago, when he was selected as a third-team All-American. The weight he lost will likely make him quicker, and he said he believes his summer workouts have made him a much better on-the-ball defender. In addition, he concentrated on ball handling and shooting off the dribble, two relative weaknesses in his game from previous seasons.
Redick’s emergence as a more dedicated leader entering his junior season has not come as a surprise, Krzyzewski said.
“Most juniors in our program are in better shape, not just this year, but Johnny Dawkins, Grant Hill, Christian Laettner,” Krzyzewski said. “You mature. It takes you a while to figure it out.”