One Memory Would Make Story Complete
My less than steel-trap memory tells me the occasion was the announcement that one installment of the 2001 ACC’–Big 10 Challenge would be held in Greensboro and pit Duke against Illinois. But I arrive at that conclusion by process of elimination more than anything else. I do recall that it was held in the recently opened Carlyle Club in the Greensboro Coliseum, and it had already become my standing policy to never turn down an invitation to a press luncheon at the Carlyle Club. Not only is the chicken cordon bleu and blackened swordfish always superb but the digs ain’t too shabby, either.
But there was one inducement that would’ve drawn me there, even if it had been held at Jim’s Lunch and the fare was Penrose hot sausages and pickled eggs, and that inducement I recall with pristine clarity: Johnny Dawkins and Len Elmore were the marquee attractions.
Entering the room, I was able to have a quick and cordial chat with Elmore, the former Maryland All-American who has blossomed into one of the nation’s most eloquent college basketball analysts, but, being the diehard Dookie that I am, I really wanted to get a few moments with Johnny Dawkins. My only ice-breaker was that I was at the first-round Eastern Regional game (as a fan) when Duke almost got upset by that juggernaut from Southwest Missouri Valley State ‘— and would’ve had not Dawkins literally taken the game over in the final two minutes. Of course, he remembered that game and we chuckled about how close they’d come to the ignominious infamy of being the first No. 1 seed to be eliminated by a No. 16.
Still, it’s not every day that I get a little face time with Duke’s all-time leading scorer, and I pressed on, hoping to ask at least one question that had some journalistic merit. Recruiting being the cornerstone of success, I popped the question: ‘“What’s the word on that hotshot kid from Virginia who committed early, what’s his name, Redick or something?’”
A wry smile immediately crossed Dawkins’ face, yet he demurred, ‘“Well, I really can’t comment much on recruits’…’”
Now, let me interject here that there are many situations where total objectivity is required, that to admit a bias toward one school or another is strictly verboten, but this was not one of them. Being in a convivial setting, rather than a post-game locker room, I blurted out, ‘“Johnny, if I told you I was a lifelong Duke fan, going back to Carroll Youngkin, Howard Hurt, Doug Kistler, Johnny Frye and Jerry Robertson, strictly off the record, am I going to like this kid?’”
The smile morphed into a full-faced grin, he looked me in the eye and replied, ‘“If you’re a Duke fan you’re gonna love this kid. He can shoot the lights out. Trust me, you’re gonna love him!’”
Rather than press onward, I merely returned his smile and said, ‘“Thanks, Johnny. That’s what I wanted to hear.’”
Another year would pass, as that hotshot kid from Virginia who’d signed after his sophomore year was only a junior at the time, before we were to find out the veracity of Dawkins’ claim. But even then, after he’d blistered the league his freshman year, it was clear to me that if this kid stayed around for four years he would become something very, very special.
In the ensuing years, I’ve drifted back to that informal chat with Johnny Dawkins a few times. Watching JJ Redick mature from a deadly three-point and free-throw specialist into a slasher, passer, penetrator, pull-up jumper artist and consummate team player has proven time and time again just how accurate the coach’s words were.
A few games into his senior season I began to realize that I missed JJ Redick already. So accustomed have we become to his twisting the dagger in opponents’ hearts just when they thought they were mounting a comeback, that the thought of him not being there someday soon is cause for depression. I truly dread the thought of seeing that No. 4 hanging from the Cameron rafters rather than popping one from downtown that throws dirt on another victim’s coffin.
Yet, somehow, I find solace in the fact that the circle is now complete. When the two embraced after he had broken his coach’s career Duke scoring record, the lump in my throat told the story that all things must pass, that we need to enjoy the moment, that it’s the journey not the destination that matters.
Still, if JJ really wants to pay back his coach and make this four-year fairy tale complete, a national championship would do the trick. But if it’s not meant to be, thanks for the memories, JJ. We won’t see another like you pass this way again.
Ogi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, heard each Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. on ‘“The Dusty Dunn Show’” on WGOS 1070 AM, and seen on ‘“Triad Today’” Friday at 6:30 a.m. on ABC45 and Sunday at 10 p.m. on UPN48.