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Redick snapping back to life

GARY SHELTON
Published March 21, 2004

RALEIGH, N.C. - A wrist snaps, and a shot flies. Just like that, all is right with the world.

A wrist snaps, and a net sings. Suddenly, his teammates are bigger, faster, better. The rims look bigger, and the floor looks smaller and the lanes to the basket turn into interstates. Opponents look slower, wearier, overmatched.

A wrist snaps, and a smirk returns. Once again, the Duke Blue Devils are something to behold. Try them on if you dare.

The color returned to Duke's world Saturday afternoon. Once again, the children sang and the breeze was cool and the sky was the color of Mike Krzyzewski's sportscoat. Just like that, the dusty, bumpy road to the national championship seemed as if it were covered in yellow bricks.

J.J. Redick is back. And so are the Blue Devils.

Redick rediscovered his lost arc on Saturday. The kid with the wayward shot was once again a sharpshooter, and because of it, Duke overwhelmed Seton Hall 90-62.

It was never a game, partly because Redick made sure of it. He scored 17 of his 21 points in the first half. He hit short shots. He hit long shots. Most of all, he delivered a warning shot.

On a day such as this, Redick seemed to be saying, Duke is the team to beat in this NCAA Tournament. On a day such as this, when his shot is falling, when opponents have to extend their defense to account for him, when Duke is complete, let everyone else take a number and wait their turn.

Funny. There are times when Redick is in the zone, and you'd swear every shot he takes is going in. Every shot is so smooth, so effortless, it is as if you are watching someone throw socks into a hamper. In a sport where it seems players have forgotten how to shoot, Redick has moments where his 25-foot jumpers look like layups. What does J.J. stand for? Joyful Jumper, one supposes.

Yet, for the past four games, Redick has been mired in the worst slump of his life. True, that life isn't 20 years old yet, but when you play at Duke, there is a lot of pressure hanging around and, besides, you've heard of teenage angst.

Redick was having trouble sleeping, trouble smiling and trouble swaggering. Most of all, he was having trouble shooting, and the Blue Devils were struggling because of it.

"If you have air-conditioning, you take it for granted, right?" Krzyzewski said. "We didn't have air conditioning for a few days. Suddenly, the air came on, and J.J. shot, and we all felt a hell of a lot better."

A long-distance caller can do that for a team. He hits a couple of shots, and suddenly, the defense has to creep toward him, and the big men can breathe. Opponents, such as Seton Hall's Andre Barrett, wear themselves out on defense chasing him and have less to offer on offense. With every shot, a team can feel its confidence return.

Perhaps that explains why the Blue Devils were so determined to pump life back into Redick at halftime of their tournament-opening victory against Alabama State. Forget the Xs and Os and the adjustments.

The entire intermission turned into an intervention, a self-affirming testament to the wonder that it is Redick. The sophomore guard failed to score in the first half, and the team spent most of its break taking turns chucking him on the shoulder. Had he missed one more shot, the team might have held hands and sung The Greatest Love to him.

Give the Blue Devils credit for knowing how much they needed Redick. In their 29 victories this year, Redick has shot 44 percent. In their five losses, he has shot 35 percent. Consider the two games against Wake Forest. In one, Redick scored 23, and the Blue Devils won. In the other, he scored two they lost. The more Redick misfired, the more beatable Duke appeared to be.

"We told him that we were a No. 1 seed, that we were the ACC regular season champions, that we had been rated No. 1 during the season, because he's a great player," Krzyzewski said. "We told him he didn't have anything to make up for."

Said guard Chris Duhon: "We told him to stop putting the weight of the world on his shot."

Saturday, it was Redick's turn to answer. And once again, he was the same deadly shooter, and the same obnoxious competitor, that has driven opponents crazy all season. Redick is one of those players full of smirks and sneers and poses that annoy other teams to no end. Ask N.C. State guard Scooter Sherrill, who was ticked enough this season to throw a slur his direction. The school apologized, but fans took it upon themselves to keep the insult alive.

In other words, Redick is the perfect face for Duke, a program that invites you love it or hate it. But once Redick's shot disappeared, his emotions left, too.

"I give this team a swagger when I'm playing with emotion," Redick said. "I wasn't doing that. My game is built on confidence and swagger, but for a while there, I had a dip in my confidence. It was probably the low point of my career."

For that reason, you could feel the juice when Redick came out firing, hitting five in a row. His head was bobbing again. His sneer was back.

Late in the first half, Redick hit a shot that will haunt Seton Hall for a while to come. The Pirates had scored nine in a row to cut the deficit to 10, and it was beginning to look as if they had a chance.

With 47 seconds left, however, Redick took an inbounds pass, twisted and - seemingly from the lap of Seton Hall coach Louis Orr - hit a long 3-point shot. The game was never in doubt again.

Redick sneered. He pumped his fist. He ran to the bench, full of fire and confidence and, well, himself.

"Good to have you back," assistant coach Chris Collins said.

"Yeah, I'm back," Redick said.

As for Duke? When Redick is throwing the ball in from the next area code, it makes you wonder. Suddenly, the Blue Devils look slicker on defense, stronger on the boards. Suddenly, they look complete.

A wrist snaps, and a team moves on.

You might even say it swaggers.

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