Sonics draft Ridnour in first round

Published on Thu, Jul 3, 2003 by Jack Kintner

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Sonics draft Ridnour in first round

By Jack Kintner

Luke Ridnour decided earlier this year to turn pro after his junior year at the University of Oregon, and in last week's NBA draft was selected by the Seattle Supersonics as the second of their two first-round picks, choosing six-foot-nine-inch Nick Collison of Kansas first.

�I just hung out with my buddies. It was a long day, I�ll tell you that much. I�m just thankful it�s over,� Ridnour said.

There had been a couple of dozen friends and family at their Dakota Creek house south of town, Ridnour said, and things had been uncomfortably quiet. The draft had been going on almost two hours when NBA Commissioner David Stern walked to the podium to announce the fourteenth selection which belonged to Seattle, and when he announced Luke�s name the place erupted.

�Everyone was yelling. It was incredible because Seattle�s where I really wanted to go,� he said.

Sonics general manager Rick Sund said that Collison and Ridnour both have a good chance at making a smooth transition to the NBA, �a much bigger jump� than going from high school to college.

�We were talking last year about getting more speed at our point guard situation, somebody who can push it up the floor, and that�s Luke�s game,� Sund said.

Sund isn�t bothered by those who criticize Ridnour�s defensive abilities. �I think the game is really suited to these two guys, the pace of the NBA. The other thing, particularly with Luke, is his quickness is outstanding and his footwork is outstanding. With his speed and quickness he�ll be able to pressure the ball.�

Among his many achievements in the sport, Ridnour was Washington State High School Player of the Year and a McDonald�s All American, leading Blaine to two consecutive state basketball titles in 1999 and 2000. At Oregon he was the only player to start every game his freshman year, and was one of only two players ever to be named the Pac 10�s regular season player of the year and league tournament MVP the same year in addition to having set many other records at both schools.

There are some interesting parallels with the two players. Both are sons of their high school coaches, both came from small towns (Collison is from Iowa City, Iowa, population 5,400) and both dominated their respective division 1A college programs.

Collison�s Kansas team, under coach Roy Williams, lost this past season�s NCAA championship final game to Syracuse 78-81, when senior point guard Kirk Hinrich had a last second three point shot blocked. The Oregon Ducks lost to Utah 60-58 in the first round of the national tournament when their point guard�s (Ridnour) last minute three point attempt was foiled by a collapsing Utah defense.

Both players are 22, born within four months of each other, and both were introduced to the media on Monday afternoon, and later appeared together on such local sports programs as Fox Sports Northwest.

Leaving Oregon early was not a snap decision Ridnour said last week. He passed on the NBA�s invitation to attend the draft in New York, preferring to take a few days at home with his parents, Blaine high school teachers Rob and Muriel Ridnour and his older sister Heather, currently a graduate student at Eastern Washington University.

�It�s a good year for point guards,� he said, summarizing his reason in a characteristic economy of words.

Last May he was quoted by the university�s athletic department as saying that he�d �prayed a lot� about the decision. �I think the Lord has a plan for me and this is part of it. It�s time for me to do this,� Ridnour said.

For Ridnour this was unusually candid. Friends and family report that his religion is a rudder, giving him guidance but out of sight, neither hidden nor blatant. �[Since the draft] I think about what this [opportunity] will mean for me, the chance to become what I�ve been created to be, to find out what that is,� he said.

Two descriptions widely used when speaking of Ridnour are work ethic and humility. Blaine high school band teacher Bob Gray first met Luke Ridnour as a grade schooler in one of his general music classes he taught at Blaine elementary school.

�I told this little guy that he�d have to leave the basketball he was carrying with him under his seat, and you would have thought I�d asked him to cut off a finger. As I got to know him he turned out to be as hardworking as any student I�ve seen work on anything. He was always the last kid out of the gym, so to speak, in that instead of using his gift as a reason to relax, it made him work all the harder.�

Blaine High School principal, former pro athlete (baseball) and Ridnour family friend Dan Newell said that �by the time he was in middle school he was already scoring at will, always playing with much older kids. In addition to his depth of character, he�s always had this tremendous work ethic. For example, even as a little kid, he'd get [his mother] Muriel to set an egg timer for him while he jumped rope for conditioning.�

Ridnour�s serious approach to the game contrasted with the hype in the way ESPN televised the draft, marching each draftee in turn up to Stern to be congratulated before a back stage interview as their commentators, Dick Vitale and Jay Bilas, gushed over their records. When Ridnour's name was read, however, they attacked both his defensive skills as inadequate for the NBA and the Sonics as well for making a bad choice. Bilas at one point literally screamed that Ridnour �couldn�t defend the chair I�m sitting on.�

�That [remark of Bilas�s is] the best thing that could happen because he�ll be fine,� Newell said. �He�s got this court sense, an ability to see the entire floor and get the ball to other people, to get it up the court as quickly but also as gracefully as anyone. And though some people see him as a shy kid, he�s just humble in the way people are who are unusually gifted and know it, see it as a responsibility.� Gray agreed, saying �These [commentators] are easterners who always think their players are better because they never see ours. Besides, they can�t measure heart. Luke hates to lose, and will work at it until he wins. That�s a work ethic you can�t coach.�

Ridnour will shortly be off to Los Angeles for the NBA�s summer league. A team spokesman said that the schedule was still being worked out, but training camp begins in late September for the October exhibition season, followed by the regular season that runs for six and a half months. Though he has yet to sign a contract, Ridnour expects to make a little over a million dollars his rookie year.

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