Bucks like Ridnour’s approach to playing position

Point of emphasis
Bucks like Ridnour’s approach to playing position
by Truman Reed / special to Bucks.com

The Bucks are hoping that newly acquired guard Luke Ridnour will flourish under coach Scott Skiles. (Getty)
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August 19, 2008

MILWAUKEE -- If you read the bio of Luke Ridnour, one of the newest Milwaukee Bucks, it will tell you that he attended the University of Oregon and, before that, Blaine (Wash.) High School.

What the bio doesn’t document, though, is that somewhere along the line, Ridnour took a class that you won’t likely find in any college or high school curriculum catalog. And he excelled in it.

That course would be Point Guard 101.

Through some thorough background checks, some keen observations or both, new Bucks general manager John Hammond and head coach Scott Skiles obviously found this item somewhere in Ridnour’s resume. From a Milwaukee perspective, it was undoubtedly the key that opened the door Aug. 13 to the three-team deal that brought Ridnour, Damon Jones and Adrian Griffin to Milwaukee and sent Mo Williams to Cleveland and Desmond Mason to Oklahoma City.

Maybe the Bucks brass used Fred Jones as a reference.

The veteran NBA guard, a collegiate teammate of Ridnour’s during their highly successful flight as Oregon Ducks, once remarked that, unlike many of the men who have played his position, Ridnour “doesn’t want to be the highlight of the game. He wants to have everyone involved and get everything going.”

On the day the 6-foot-2-inch, 175-pound Ridnour met the Milwaukee media for the first time, he never admitted to taking a secret night class to master the tricks of his trade.

He did confess, though, to spending countless late-night hours on the blacktop or hardwood, practicing his craft. He had to be one of the local light bulb salesman’s best friends.

And Ridnour made Jones look like a scout in the making, too, confirming his former teammate’s profile of his game.

“I remember watching the movie ‘The Pistol’ at an early age and watching Pete Maravich dribble,” Ridnour said. “That was kind of my first thing I wanted to do: dribble.

“As far as passing, no matter what, all I’ve ever wanted to do was pass instead of score. I’ve always gotten more joy out of that. So it’s just kind of been molded into the way I play the position.”

Skiles, whose own backcourt savvy separated him from his contemporaries as a high school star in Indiana, a college All-American at Michigan State University and as a 10-year pro, saw the old-school point-guard tendencies in Ridnour during his college years and throughout his first five NBA seasons.

And shortly after being named head coach of the Bucks back on April 21 of this year, Skiles discovered that Hammond saw them, too.

“Luke’s a player that I’ve liked for some time,” Skiles said, “and I found out in meeting this summer that he’s a player that John (Hammond) liked also, for what John just said: ‘He’s a pure point guard, he pushes the ball as well as anybody off the dribble, but particularly by the pass.’

“He’s very creative in the way he can get the ball up the floor. He sees the floor. And he has played very good on-the-ball defense, particularly for Nate (McMillan, his first coach with the Seattle SuperSonics). One of the things that intrigued us is that Luke had his best couple of years when he had Rashard (Lewis) on the wing and Ray (Allen) at the two guard. We don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to look at Michael (Redd) and Richard (Jefferson) in that regard.”

Skiles knows more than a thing or two about decision-making on the court. He dished out an NBA record 30 assists in a game while playing for the Orlando Magic against the Denver Nuggets on Dec. 30, 1990. He still ranks as the Magic’s all-time assists leader, and he averaged 6.5 dimes per game over his NBA career.

“I feel like Luke’s always been a good decision-maker,” Skiles said. “If they leave him open, he’ll go ahead and take the shot, but otherwise he’s just playing his game. And those are not easy decisions to make; they’re split-second. Oftentimes you win or lose based on those decisions you make in a split-second. The better decision-makers you have out there, the better offensive team you are.”

Once you’ve witnessed Ridnour’s approach to playing his position and the innate court vision he displays in doing so, it is not surprising to learn that he is a coach’s son.

Luke grew up tagging along to practices and games with his father, Rob, then played for him from 1996 through 2000. Together, they led Blaine High’s Borderites to a four-year record of 97-11, highlighted by Washington class AA state championships in 1999 and 2000.

The coach’s son averaged 23 points and seven assists over the course of his prep career. He was a three-time AA state player of the year as well as a 2000 McDonald’s and Parade All-American, and he still holds Washington AA tournament records for career points and assists.

Through it all, Rob Ridnour never had to coax his son when it came to playing basketball.

“I grew up in the gym, watching basketball since I can remember, and having a ball in my hands,” Luke said. “One thing I really respect about my dad is he never pushed me into it. It was just something I loved to do, even at an early age. So I kind of just took it and ran.”

Luke’s earliest hoops memories go way back.

“I remember going to the games with my dad as a little kid,” he said. “And I remember halftime being my time to shine. I’d get out there in front of the crowd and dribble around. My dad has told me a lot of stories about that sort of thing.

“That was the first thing I was really excited to do.”

Rob Ridnour was an accomplished basketballer in his own right, having played at Eastern Washington University. One might venture a guess that he was a crafty floor general during his own playing days, and that he passed down a pass-first approach to his son.

Not so, according to Luke.

“My dad has never really passed in his life,” Luke said with a grin. “He was a scorer. He liked to put it up.”

Luke did concede, though, that his father was the earliest – and one of the most vital – influences on his career.

“Obviously my dad was one of my big influences, just because he’s worked with me since I was young,” Luke said.

Sometimes dad’s influence meant tempering Luke’s hot pursuit of his passion.

“If I was in trouble, he and my mom (Muriel) would turn out the lights,” Luke said. ‘It was one of those kinds of deals.”

Luke’s obsession for the game rivaled that of his hero, Maravich, who died at the age of 40 in 1988, when Luke was just 6 years old.

“Yeah. I was a guy who, if I didn’t play at least four hours a day, I wasn’t happy,” Luke said. ”I’d play morning to night, skip dinner, skip school if I could to go and play hoops. It was something that I loved to do. I couldn’t get enough of it.

“I’d dribble through the hallways in school and get in trouble. It was just something I loved to do, and it’s been in me for a long time.”

Ernie Kent, who won a recruiting battle from Utah, Kentucky, Gonzaga and Washington to bring Ridnour to Oregon, probably realized what he was getting well before Luke got off the plane for his official visit to the UO campus … carrying a basketball.

Luke not only won the starting point guard job, but was named Pac-10 Conference Freshman of the Year in 2000-2001, becoming the first Duck to earn that distinction.

By his sophomore season, he was organizing scrimmages and workouts at McArthur Court that often lasted until 2 a.m.

Selfless player that Ridnour is, he gratefully lists Kent as another one of the great influences on his career.

“In college, Coach Kent gave me an awesome opportunity to run,” Ridnour said. “He gave me the ball and let me go with it. So he was important, too.”

“Our team at Oregon was special. Everyone got along real well, and it was like a family. Playing there was a lot of fun.”

Ridnour teamed with Luke Jackson to lead the Ducks to the NCAA Tournament twice, including the Elite Eight in 2002. He set a school season record for assists (218) and made a Pac 10 record 62 consecutive free throws.

He was named Pac-10 Player of the Year following his junior season, in which he averaged 19.6 points and 6.7 assists per game. He was such a McArthur Court fan favorite that during his final game, the crowd chanted “one more year" so loudly that the game had to be stopped while he walked off the court.

He later announced his intention to leave Oregon early to pursue his goal of playing in the NBA, and he was selected 14th in the first round of the 2003 NBA Draft by the SuperSonics.

Ridnour averaged just 16 minutes per game through 69 games in his rookie season, though he did compete in the Rookie Challenge during 2005 All-Star Weekend.

He became the starting point for Seattle the following year, averaging 10 points and 5.9 assists per outing, and upped those numbers to 11.5 and 7, respectively, in his third pro campaign.

His proficiency at running the point made such a strong impression on Team USA officials that they included him in the player pool that evolved into the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team that is now competing in Beijing, China. He helped prepare Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Michael Redd & Company for their FIBA Americas championship conquest last summer.

Ridnour, who like Redd is a devout Christian, looks forward to having him as a teammate.

“Michael and I have actually done some Christian ministry work together,” Ridnour said. “I’ve known him for awhile. I know that’s a huge part of his life, and it is of mine, too. I know that’s why I’m here, and I give God the glory for it.”

Ridnour’s games played, minutes and numbers went down last season, when he sustained a broken nose during the exhibition season and then a torn right quad that forced him to miss four weeks of the regular season.

He was understandably glad to hear the news of his trade to the Bucks, for several reasons.

“Just knowing, first of all, what’s been going on here this summer, with Coach Skiles coming in, and Mr. Hammond here,” Ridnour said. “And knowing that Richard (Jefferson) was coming. And knowing the guys that they had here. There’s a lot of talent here. And for me, just getting a fresh start. I’m looking forward to playing with these guys. It’s something that, for me, is a real blessing and something that I’m excited about.

“I can’t take anything away from what I had there (with Seattle). It was a great experience for me. But I’m ready to move on and excited to be in Milwaukee with a new start, a new opportunity, and something that I’ve been looking forward to. Ever since I heard the news, I can’t tell you how excited I’ve been.”

Ridnour doesn’t expect anything to be handed to him. He anticipates assuming a leadership role with the Bucks in the same way he did it in high school, college, and during his early NBA years.

“I think like anything else, you’ve got to come in and earn it,” he said. “You’ve got to show guys that you’re here to compete and you’re going to work hard.

“For me, that’s something I like to do – get in the gym and work. And I think as you do that, you earn respect, and leadership kind of comes with it.”

Hammond looks forward to seeing Ridnour put his lessons to work in a Bucks uniform.

“I’m just really excited about having this guy,” Hammond said. “As I’ve said before, he’s a consummate point guard. There’s never been any question about who or what he is. He was a point guard yesterday, he’s a point guard today, and he’s going to be a point guard tomorrow. That’s who and what he is.

“He’s in a unique position in this league. You need to have people who can deliver the ball to people in the right place and at the right time. He can do that, and is just a very, very good fit for our team right now.”