Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski doesn't hesitate in calling Redick the best pure shooter he's had in his 30-year head-coaching career. "But he's still evolving," Coach K says, noting the 25 pounds that the 6'4", 190-pound Redick shed last summer to help prevent the late-season fatigue that afflicted him in his first two college seasons. "J.J. is a better player than he was at this time last year. He's a better leader, a better defender, and he can put the ball on the floor. If J.J. were a house, he'd be a house that now has many windows. He used to have just one window, and that was shooting."
From the day that seven-year-old J.J. saw his first college basketball game-- Duke's 1992 NCAA championship game win over Michigan--he resolved that he would someday play for Coach K in Durham. And he never veered from that track, committing to the Blue Devils before his junior season at Cave Spring High in Roanoke, Va. (thus ensuring those traitor taunts from Cavaliers fans). "On the court everything's pretty much been like I thought it would be," Redick says. "The thing that's probably been different, which I didn't fully realize in high school, is the dislike for Duke that's out there. Some of the stuff that's happened during road games has been pretty shocking."
The nadir came during Duke's 68-60 win at ACC rival Maryland last season. As Redick stepped to the free throw line, hundreds of students--many of them wearing f--- duke T-shirts they had bought outside the arena--chanted, "F--- you, J.J." in front of a national TV audience. "I also heard sexual references to my little sister," Redick says. "That's when you want to go up in the stands and have someone say that to your face." Redick laughs off a little vulgar PG-13 creativity (he thought the sign J.J. Drinks His Own Pee was "hilarious"), but he knows Terps fans will stop at nothing. Consider Redick's new cell number, which he guards like the nuclear football after someone in College Park got hold of his digits a year ago. "It got to the point where I was getting 50 to 75 calls a night," he says. "They were handing the number out at bars and parties. One Maryland fan left a message calling me the Antichrist."
A simple Internet search will turn up all manner of Redick-themed hate propaganda, which prompts the question, Why has Redick become, as Collins puts it, "public enemy Number 1?" The answer is more complicated than you might think. For starters, Redick is the best player on the nation's most visible team, a program whose success under Krzyzewski (10 Final Fours, three championships) draws "evil empire" comparisons to Microsoft and the New York Yankees. What's more, Redick acknowledges that he invites attention with a WWE-style court persona, one that he's convinced is a job requirement.
"How I play on the court is not how I am off the court," he says. "You've gotta be cocky when you shoot the ball, and I feel like I have to play with a swagger. Sometimes that results in me talking to other players and fans, or doing a head bob and smiling. It's not something I do consciously, but it's something I've learned to do out of necessity over the years."
Yet there's something more at work here, something Redick is well aware of. Over time several Duke players have passed along the public-enemy title like a crown of thorns: Christian Laettner, Danny Ferry, Bobby Hurley, Collins, Steve Wojciechowski. At the same time black Blue Devils stars such as Grant Hill, Jason Williams and Elton Brand have largely avoided becoming such targets. It may be un-PC to say so, but it's hard not to conclude that race is a factor. "I'll be blunt," says Redick, casting himself as an Everyman. "I'm white. I'm not a big guy who dunks on people, and that's something most fans can identify with."
"If you saw J.J. with a backpack on campus wearing khakis, you wouldn't pick him out," says Collins. "College fans view the white guard as the guy they hate because he's the 'common' guy. And not just at Duke."
For his part Coach K contends that Laettner remains "first, second and third" on Duke's alltime most-hated list. Perhaps, but Laettner never had to endure a culture of anonymous Internet message boards and 24-hour sports radio. Redick does. "Over the years arenas have become more hostile," says Coach K's wife, Mickie, who stopped attending games at Maryland six years ago after being struck with a cup of ice. "We're very desensitized to everything these days. But those people who hate J.J., if they knew him, they'd be his best friends."
If only they knew Redick, they would know that he made a surprise visit last fall to the Krzyzewskis' house, not to see Coach K but rather to console Mickie after the death of her father. That he got his first tattoo last summer at the same time his 79-year-old grandmother, Grace, got hers. And that he has a passion for writing intricate Beat-style poetry, which he hopes to have published someday.
"Poetry for me is an escape," says Redick, whose three favorite verse writers are Tupac Shakur, Bruce Springsteen and the rapper Nas. "A lot of what I write about is spiritual stuff, mental battles, internal struggle. Whenever I go home, I'll have poetry-reading sessions with my family."