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Sometimes a hero surpasses expectations

  • Published Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2009, at 12:05 a.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2009, at 11:21 a.m.

He's the leading scorer in Duke basketball history. He was the leading scorer in ACC history before Tyler Hansbrough came along.

He shoots free throws like they're layups and three-pointers like they're free throws. And even though it's taken J.J. Redick a little longer to acclimate to the NBA game with the Orlando Magic, he clearly is still a big deal.

That was obvious from the number of kids who sought his autograph before Tuesday night's Magic-New Orleans Hornets exhibition game at Koch Arena.

Redick is a really, really big deal to 16-year-old Max Runyon, a Derby High sophomore whose walls at home are crammed with Redick memorabilia and whose heart is filled with Redick inspiration.

So it was with great anticipation, and a small dose of apprehension, that Runyon met Redick in the Magic locker room before the game.

As Runyon stood in a corner looking for Redick, the 6-foot-3 guard walked in with Magic teammates Dwight Howard, aka Superman, and Vince Carter, aka superstar.

This was the moment Runyon had been waiting for since Redick's freshman season at Duke. I don't know if a 16-year-old can have a Bucket List, but if so this moment was at the top of Runyon's.

Armed with a media pass (he does some work for the Derby school newspaper) and a list of questions, Runyon managed to get the words out even though his tongue didn't totally cooperate.

Redick was more than cordial, approaching enthusiastic, to answer Runyon's questions, especially after he learned of Runyon's passion for Duke.

Earlier in the day, I talked to Runyon about his affinity for Redick and his goal to meet the Magic guard, who is in his third NBA season.

"My goal is to meet him and interact with him for the first time,'' Runyon said. "I've idolized the guy ever since I started watching basketball. I just got hooked on it. He always wanted to win and he always had that mentality. I love his passion for the game. And he can really shoot.''

But it goes deeper, really.

Runyon was just a so-so student before he started following Redick and Duke, where academic standards are as much a part of a basketball player's life as running wind sprints.

Redick, for instance, majored in history with a minor in cultural anthropology. Needless to say, he probably didn't do a lot of loafing in the classroom.

"My grades improved dramatically when I started watching Duke because I knew it took so much to get into school there,'' Runyon said. "I couldn't just fly by anymore.''

Runyon said he's carrying about a 3.9 grade average now and he's as determined as ever to attend Duke.

It's probably not going to be as a basketball player, though, although that is his dream. He's hoping to make the JV team at Derby this season as a 5-foot-11 guard.

"I probably don't have the kind of talent to play at Duke,'' he admitted.

Redick was a high school All-American in Roanoke, Va., and an immediate impact player for the Blue Devils.

Runyon, pointing out that Redick has been such a huge role model in his life, asked Redick who his role models have been.

"As far as sports, I'd probably say for basketball it was Reggie Miller and for football it's Brett Favre,'' Redick said. "I just like the way both of those guys played. Neither of them was necessarily the most physically gifted, but they played hard and they worked hard and that was something I always aspired to do.''

Next, Runyon asked about the lessons learned from playing for Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski.

"I think one of the things I learned, and it comes from his military background, is just learning to rely on other people,'' Redick said. "Sometimes you think you can do everything on our own and we often struggle when we do that.

"After my first couple of years at Duke, I learned to rely a lot on my coaches and my teammates and K himself. That really helped me.''

Finally, Runyon asked Redick about his most memorable basketball game.

Redick said the most exciting basketball he has played was in the NBA Finals last season, when Orlando lost to the Los Angeles Lakers. He also mentioned playing for ACC championship teams at Duke.

Redick shook Runyon's hand and signed his Duke basketball — even though Max didn't bring a Sharpie — inscribing it with inspiration to "follow your dreams."

I asked Redick whether he ever grew weary of the adoration of fans, even though from his interaction with Runyon I thought I knew the answer. I was right.

"You never grow tired of it or take it for granted,'' he said. "I'm enjoying this, interacting with Max. Obviously, I take a lot of pride in Duke and it means a lot to me. So I always enjoy meeting a Duke fan because I grew up a Duke fan myself and idolized guys like Trajan (Langdon), Christian Laettner and Bobby Hurley. All of those are guys that I now have a relationship with. It's part of carrying on a legacy.''

In Redick's eyes, Runyon is a part of that legacy.

The kid, obviously, had his first 15 minutes.

"It was just amazing meeting him and talking to him,'' Runyon said. "It was everything I could have asked for. He was such a nice guy. Just everything was great.''

Runyon said he had some reservations and worried that Redick might be put off by answering his questions and signing his basketball.

Instead, Redick said he had all the time in the world because he wasn't going to play in the game.

"We had a sincere conversation,'' Runyon said. "It wasn't just J.J. talking to a little kid or just another fan. It was just Max and J.J. I couldn't believe how perfect it was.

"Amazing.''

Eagle sports columnist Bob Lutz co-hosts "Sports Daily" from 9-11 a.m. weekdays on KFH, 1240-AM and 98.7-FM. Reach him at 316-268-6597 or blutz@wichitaeagle.com.

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