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Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Morrison, Redick a cut above the rest

Morrison, Redick a cut above the rest

They couldn't be further apart, at times.

They couldn't be more similar, either.

They are each other's most constructive critic, calling the other out on what he does well, while sometimes chiding him on what he needs to improve.

One is on the left coast, the other on the right -- and that can apply to their political views, too.

Who is the best player in college basketball?
Adam Morrison
J.J. Redick
One wears his hair a bit shaggy, the other prefers it closely cropped. One chooses a mustache, the other wouldn't dare grow something so, er, '70s. One wears his socks high with the stripes showing, the other doesn't mind no socks being seen at all.

But both are flat-out ballers, the best at their respective positions, possibly the top scorers in the country when the game matters most.

So, here they are, a few years removed from meeting at Michael Jordan's camp in Santa Barbara, Calif., Gonzaga junior forward Adam Morrison and Duke senior guard J.J. Redick, turning into close friends as they chase two goals: one they publicly want (the national championship), and one they won't politic for (national player of the year).

They talk a few times a week, mostly while playing an online video game. The conversations aren't always about ball. Sometimes they turn political, or maybe even just about Morrison's 'stache. Regardless, they have become each other's biggest rival -- without ever playing against each other.

But boy do they want to meet -- on the court in March.

"I'd love to play him, and I bet you he would say the same thing," Morrison said. "Me versus him and then J.P. [Batista] versus Shelden [Williams] would be pretty solid. They're No. 1 in the country and deserving, and I don't know any team that wouldn't want to play Duke anytime, anywhere."

No offense to Connecticut, Villanova, Michigan State, Memphis, Oklahoma and maybe even Texas, but a matchup that would command the most hype -- save a UConn-Duke final -- would likely be Morrison vs. Redick in the NCAA Tournament.

In an age in which college players prematurely give up their eligibility in pursuit of a first-round NBA draft spot, Morrison and Redick provide us with a pair of throwbacks. They are starting to create distance in the player of the year race, with one glorious performance after another.

Morrison went for 43 in an epic triple-overtime win over Michigan State in the Maui Invitational semifinals. He also had 43 (tied for the NCAA single-game high this season) in a loss at Washington. He banked in a winning 3-point shot to beat Oklahoma State in Seattle. He has basically carried the top-10 Zags as they struggle to get healthy.

Redick torched Texas in what was supposed to be the game of the year, with nine 3s and 41 points. He lit up Indiana for 29 in Bloomington and tossed in 30 against Valparaiso.

Morrison is No. 1 in the country in scoring (28.4 ppg). Redick is No. 2 (25.4 ppg). Morrison has made more free throws (59 to 55) but Redick has made more 3s (37 to 17).

"We're similar in that we both are scorers and both know how to put the ball in the basket," Redick said. "Beyond that, the only other fact that makes us similar is that we're both white. We're different players. He's more of a pure three [small forward] and he's 6-foot-8. I'm definitely a two-guard [at 6-4].

"He has the ability to score [in a few] more ways than I do," Redick said. "But I can shoot the 3 better."

Redick then remembered another similarity: No two players may be as intense and passionate about the game.

It's not rare to see Morrison practically knock out a teammate when his juices get going after making a big shot. Redick isn't shy about getting in the grill of any teammate, from seniors on down.

"Both of us have that competitive drive, and that's something that I have prided myself on, in how hard I play every game and every play," Redick said. "I've seen that in him this year. His desire to win has elevated the play of his entire team."

"Adam epitomizes their whole team," Redick continued. "They're all fighters. They scrap and claw, and if they're outmatched talent-wise, they'll physically find a way to stay in games. They're all hard-nosed kids."

Redick said a matchup against Gonzaga would be a contrast of styles.

"I joke with Adam that they don't play any defense, and their games are always 98-96, while ours can be 70 to 60-something. They rely on offense while we rely on our defense," he said.

So, how does Redick see Morrison's game evolving?

"He can score in more ways than anyone in the country," Redick said.

Redick noted a play Morrison made against Maryland in Maui.

"He was coming down on the fast break, he jump-stopped in the middle of the lane, elevated and when a player went up to block his shot, he adjusted, brought the ball down to his waist and flipped it up with a floater and it went in," Redick said. "He's so creative with the ball."

OK, now it's Morrison's turn.

"The biggest thing I've seen this year is how he's moving without the ball," Morrison said of Redick. "He's more of a threat than just shooting 3s. He's opened up his game a lot. He can stroke it better than anybody coming off screens."

Morrison said Redick was perceived to simply be a 3-point shooter and he has "done a good job of making people pay for overplaying him on the 3 by bouncing by people."

Morrison said there is one more similarity that Redick missed.

"We want to hit the big shot and take the big shot and aren't afraid to miss it," Morrison said. "We're on the court to be leaders and leaders take big shots. If we miss them, we'll put the blame on ourselves."

Still, the style comparisons don't stop with their on-court games.

"He should grow his hair out and stop wearing those low-cut socks, because it looks like he's just wearing shoes," Morrison said. "I hate that."

"I keep giving him grief about that mustache," Redick said. "He wears those socks like Larry Bird. I would say I'm more of a pretty boy."

Despite the marked style differences, it's hard to separate the two, who have become the runaway favorites to land the national player of the year award. Gonzaga coach Mark Few said, at the end of the season, it might just be better to tab them as co-players of the year, since it's too hard to choose.

At least the race for the national title has more than two viable choices right now.

So, how will this thing end in March (or even April)?

"I'd be really excited [to play him]," Redick said. "I always enjoy playing against friends and competitors, and he is the ultimate competitor. Gonzaga is a great program and it would be an honor to play them."

First one to 43 points wins. Game on.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at

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