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Ridnour relishes rookie role

Faith and fortitude help ex-Duck adjust to life in the NBA

He has basketball, big bucks and his Bible, and not much else really matters in Luke Ridnour's heaven on Earth.

It's basketball every day for the self-professed gym rat Ñ and the NBA gyms he rats around in hold about 20,000 each, a far cry from the hundreds at Blaine (Wash.) High School and the 8,000 or so at Oregon's McArthur Court.

'It's been awesome for me,' says Ridnour, a rookie point guard with the Seattle SuperSonics who will face the Trail Blazers at KeyArena on Monday.

'It' includes making money playing basketball every day, much of which Ridnour has donated to churches.

'You sure can do a lot with money,' says Ridnour, whose three-year contract is worth about $4 million.

And it includes reading the Bible every day, a discipline that keeps him grounded in faith while he experiences the glitz and glamour of the NBA for the first time.

Ridnour may play at a frenetic pace on the court, but the whirling dervish stays away from the fast life off it.

'I live my life trying to follow the Lord,' he says. 'I don't get caught up in the other stuff. It hasn't been tough for me at all.'

Ridnour, the 2003 Pacific-10 Conference player of the year, has had a good start to his NBA career. He plays about 18 minutes a game, and he averages 7.0 points, 2.6 assists and 1.0 steals. He hasn't shot well yet Ñ.388 from the field, including .370 from 3-point range Ñ but he hasn't received consistent minutes, either. 'Sometimes 10 minutes, sometimes 30 minutes,' he says.

He generally plays in the first and third quarters. He scored a season-high 17 points and played a season-high 34 minutes at Denver on Dec. 20.

'You've got to be mentally ready all the time, because you don't know when you're going to play,' he says.

The Sonics start Brent Barry and Ray Allen at guard, and they ask Ridnour to pick up the pace when he gets in.

'I try to make the game fast, just like at Oregon,' he says. 'I put a lot of pressure on the ball.

'You quickly learn what you can and can't do in this league. With each game I get more comfortable.'

It was difficult early on for Ridnour, chosen 14th in the NBA draft after he decided to skip his senior season. He had surgery on his abdomen and groin, which forced him to miss nearly the entire preseason. He played in just one preseason game, but even with his limited preparation, Ridnour found himself in coach Nate McMillan's rotation.

No, he didn't make quite the impact that Sonic guard Ronald Murray did, but he has shown flashes.

'It was tough sitting out, because I really wanted to show what I could do,' Ridnour says. 'Fortunately, I could play right away.'

Ridnour and Murray got playing time largely because Allen sat out 25 games because of an ankle injury that required surgery.

Barry, he says, has helped him adjust to the NBA game and lifestyle. He also has befriended Seattle guard Richie Frahm, the Battle Ground, Wash., native who, unlike Ridnour, took a circuitous route to the league Ñ playing in Asia, Italy and the Philippines. Ridnour calls the NBA and its travel 'a grind,' but he enjoys it, because it's basketball 24-7.

Ridnour regularly talks with UO friends and former teammates Jay Anderson, Matt Short and James Davis, and to Duck star Luke Jackson 'a little bit.' He hardly misses the school work, but 'I just miss hanging out with my buddies Ñ people my own age. College life is fun.

'Don't get me wrong,' he adds. 'I'm in a good place. I wouldn't change my decision' to leave Oregon early.

After experiencing the NBA, he says Jackson 'can definitely play up here. He needs to continue to have a good year.'

Where Jackson, a 6-7 forward/guard, gets drafted 'will just be a matter of if a team needs him at that particular position,' Ridnour says.

With his money, Ridnour has bought a house on Lake Washington Ñ 'what I've always wanted' Ñ and helped out his family and three or four churches.

He spends most of his time at the Sonics' practice facility working on his game. He and the Sonics' strength and conditioning coach have become rather close acquaintances; Ridnour needs to bulk up and add some quickness.

'I'm just going to give it my all and see what happens,' he says.

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