SI Vault
Jewel of a Duel
Grant Wahl
March 06, 2006
Linked at the top of the scoring race and the AP poll, shooting stars Adam Morrison of Gonzaga and J.J. Redick of Duke can't both be the best in college basketball. �Or can they? �SI's panel of players answers this question and others
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
March 06, 2006

Jewel Of A Duel

Linked at the top of the scoring race and the AP poll, shooting stars Adam Morrison of Gonzaga and J.J. Redick of Duke can't both be the best in college basketball. �Or can they? �SI's panel of players answers this question and others

View CoverRead All Articles
6'4" HEIGHT 6'8"
190 WEIGHT 205
49.7 FIELD GOAL PCT. 51.2
88.0 FREE THROW PCT. 78.0
22 20-POINT GAMES 22
13 30-POINT GAMES 12
27-1 TEAM RECORD 24-3
No. 1 AP RANKING No. 5

The midnight hour had already passed by the time Duke's J.J. Redick got back to his off-campus apartment on Feb. 20, glanced at his cellphone and saw yet another text message from the 509 area code. Adam again. Redick smiled. A few hours earlier he had set Duke's career scoring record in a 92-71 win over Miami, and now Gonzaga's Adam Morrison-his trans-continental brother-in-arms, national player of the year rival and Xbox-obsessed Halo 2 partner-was checking in from the West Coast: � CONGRATS ON THE RECORED�� HIT ME UP LATR� Just as Hollywood has given us TomKat and Brangelina, college hoops has produced RedMo, the sports pairing that fans can't stop talking about. While the two friends have become the story of this season, trading paint in the race atop the nation's scoring chart, they've still found time to blast a few online aliens and marvel at the media whirlwind. "We've talked about how this whole thing between us has been created," Redick says. "I'll be watching Adam's game, and Dick Vitale is calling me out and the fans are chanting, 'J.J. who?' Before we were just two buddies playing Halo together, and now we're like, 'Do you think our calls are being monitored?' But it's cool. Anytime you have story lines, it's good for the sport."

Since Dec. 10, the day Redick, a 6'4" senior guard, torched Texas for 41 points and Morrison, a 6'8" junior forward, banked in a buzzer-beating three to sink Oklahoma State, the player-of-the-year battle has been a two-man race. During a recent 10-day stretch Morrison and Redick traded the scoring lead four times, and at week's end Morrison held an edge (28.6 points per game to Redick's 28.0) as thin as his Fisher-Price My First Mustache. Just as remarkable, in leading Duke (27-1) to No. 1 and Gonzaga (24-3) to No. 5, respectively, Redick and Morrison had scored 40 or more points a combined eight times this season. "It's nothing short of what Bird and Magic did for college basketball [in 1979]," says Gonzaga coach Mark Few. "I know that's sacrilegious to say, but I really believe this is the 2006 version of that."

While Redick and Morrison will have to wait until the NCAA tournament for the chance to produce Bird-Magic television ratings, their bicoastal pas de deux has already been historic. Not in the modern era have two college basketball players been so simultaneously proficient at the sport's bedrock objectives: scoring and winning. Only once before in the 58-year history of the AP poll have the nation's top two scorers finished the regular season on top 10 teams-in 1959-60, with Oscar Robertson of No. 1 Cincinnati (33.7 points per game) and Tom Stith of No. 9 St. Bonaventure (31.5)-and never have they been on top 5 teams, as Redick and Morrison were at week's end.

High-volume individual scoring and NCAA tournament success are almost always conflicting pursuits. One look at scoring champions of recent vintage-Centenary's Ronnie McCollum, Long Island's Charles Jones, Virginia Military Institute's Jason Conley-reveals a motley crew of gunslingers. Consider: Only one scoring champ has played on a national championship team ( Kansas's Clyde Lovellette, in 1951-52), and even Pete Maravich, the NCAA's alltime leading scorer, had only one winning season at LSU.

Yet when it comes to field goal accuracy, Redick (50.8%) and Morrison (49.7%) have maintained a precision this season that's staggering for perimeter players. "They are both team players, which is clearly remarkable, and their shooting percentages reflect that," says Washington State coach Dick Bennett, whose team gave up 25 points to Morrison in a 67-53 loss on Dec. 8. "There are guys who will take 30 shots to score 20 points, and that is clearly at the expense of teammates. [Redick and Morrison] are so accurate that they don't need a lot of shots to score a lot of points."

College basketball lacks a single award with the prestige of the Heisman Trophy, so it's a near certainty that either Redick or Morrison will become the fifth player to win a scoring title and at least one of the six leading national player of the year awards in the same season, joining Robertson (1957-60), Maravich ('69-70), Bradley's Hersey Hawkins ('87-88) and Purdue's Glenn Robinson ('93-94). But which of the two players is more deserving this season? Redick and Morrison have eerily similar statistics (chart), rendering a decision solely using those criteria impossible. Redick is generally acknowledged to be a slightly better defender than Morrison, but neither is considered outstanding. So let's take a step back-just as Redick and Morrison do before they drain their 27-foot jumpers-and consider the arguments for each player.

In one corner stands Redick, who has defied his limited athleticism-and ignored the verbal harassment of envious fans who've targeted him as the nation's most hated player-to become the ACC's alltime leading scorer and the NCAA's leader in career three-pointers (414) and free throw percentage (92.2). "You've got a 6'4" white kid who's relatively unathletic, not superfast, just basically toying with teams and doing what he wants," says Duke teammate Lee Melchionni. "J.J. works hard at what he does, he's in unbelievable shape, and he just puts the ball in the hoop."

In the other corner there's Morrison, who has the country's most complete offensive game-despite being a type 1 diabetic who sometimes has to inject insulin into his abdomen during timeouts. "I've never seen a player who makes more closely guarded shots," says Few. "What you think would be a bad shot is a pretty good shot for us and for him because of his high release, his concentration and his toughness. He's made thousands of those in practices and games."

In an SI survey 67 players-one each from teams in the six traditional power conferences-were asked, among other things, to pick the national player of the year. The reason cited most often by those who voted for Redick was that he has played against tougher competition within the ACC. (Poll results by conference begin on page 66.) In fact, Duke ranks third in the nation in strength of schedule; Gonzaga, a member of the mid-major West Coast Conference, is 90th. "Redick has some of the best mental focus I've ever seen as far as dealing with the garbage that people say about him, and he still brings his A game every night," says a Pac-10 player, who like all voters in the SI poll was granted anonymity in exchange for his frankness. "You know that people are going to focus on him, but he's still able to light teams up. And he doesn't have Morrison's height advantage."

Redick may have faced tougher competition, but Morrison has been equally impressive against ranked teams, averaging 30.3 points per 40 minutes in five games to Redick's 29.4 in eight games against Top 25 foes. Although Morrison has a solid inside complement in underrated forward J.P. Batista, most of the players who voted for Morrison believed he has less support than Redick, whose teammates were all top-tier recruits and include a likely All-America big man in Shelden Williams. "I'd take Morrison," says one Big East voter, "because he plays with less-talented guys than Redick does. Plus Morrison can take you inside and out, which is rare for someone his size."

Continue Story
1 2