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Ridnour takes freedom and runs with it

Oregon point guard rides a line that's just the right side of reckless

SACRAMENTO, Calif. Ñ Growing up in Blaine, Wash., two blocks from the Canada-U.S. border, Luke Ridnour had the choice of watching the Vancouver Grizzlies or Seattle SuperSonics.

He basically ignored both.

'I'm a college guy,' the Oregon point guard says. 'I've always liked college basketball. It's just pure. You're not getting paid; players are playing hard to win, and for their team and for each other.

'That's what makes it special.'

You mean the slick passer and fancy dribbler with playground game, James Naismith imagination and Dean Smith smarts has never dreamed of playing in the NBA?

'Well, you have to,' Ridnour says. 'It'd be nice to get a paycheck like that. But there's nothing like college basketball.'

So relax, Oregon fans, Ridnour won't be leaving Eugene early for the NBA draft. You've got two more years left to watch him. And by his senior year, in 2003-2004, he could be All-American material and drawing as much notoriety as another Northwest point guard, Dan Dickau at Gonzaga.

Ridnour has enjoyed a stupendous sophomore season. Going into the NCAA tourney, he was averaging 15 points, five assists and fewer than three turnovers, and shooting .433 on 3-pointers.

More important, he helped Oregon establish its national identity: a band of offensive-minded players who thrill crowds with Ridnour-to-Freddie Jones alley-oop dunks and long 3-point shots and became Pacific-10 Conference champs because they bought into playing defense.

But back to Ridnour and Dickau. It's been an interesting convergence of nationally prominent point guards in the backwoods of NCAA basketball, involving two guys who happen to be 6-foot, bushy-haired players with the same boyhood idol, Pistol Pete Maravich.

Dickau transferred from Washington to Gonzaga in 1999. UW coach Bob Bender chased Ridnour on the recruiting trail to replace him, just as Gonzaga's coaches sought Ridnour to play alongside him.

Oregon coach Ernie Kent outsold them both, but not before Kent considered local prep star Blake Stepp of South Eugene.

Stepp emerged at Ñ surprise Ñ Gonzaga.

Last summer, Dickau and Ridnour met at a Nike all-star camp. They hit it off.

'He's just a good floor leader, sees the floor, gets his teammates involved and understands the game of basketball so well,' Ridnour says. 'I talk to him every once in awhile to see how he's doing. We know each other pretty well. It's not a personal battle at all.'

When Dickau, the purported poster boy for throwback players featured recently in Sports Illustrated, leaves college ball, will Ridnour take his place? Maybe. Probably. He could be better.

This year, Ridnour has been bent on making sure teamwork and chemistry exist on the Ducks after a freshman year that ended in disarray. The Ducks were 14-14, and Ridnour considered transferring.

He and others spent all summer lifting weights and playing basketball until the wee hours of the morning. then they blasted through the Pac-10, leading the league in scoring and shooting and going 16-0 at home.

Game by game, it appeared Ridnour got more comfortable being the man in charge. He would whip behind-the-back passes, weave through traffic for layups, and stop and pop 3-pointers on the break. Kent gave him freedom, and Ridnour ran with it.

Each game, Ridnour thrives when toeing the 'thin line' between being creative and reckless.

'The basic thing is, you have to get the ball where it needs to go,' he says. 'If you get that with a behind-the-back pass, you still get it there.

'When you cross the line is when you start not getting the ball there when you could have. You start getting too fancy and play for the crowd and not the team. I've done it a few times. I gotta watch it and play under control.

'It's not for the crowd. It's just fun basketball. I enjoy getting other people going, seeing people excited.'

Reserve guard Anthony Lever says that makes Ridnour exciting.

'That's his comfort zone,' Lever says. 'He's so used to doing it, it's not a problem. To him, it's not reckless.'

Ridnour played high school basketball for his father, Rob, and earned Washington Class 2A Player of the Year honors three times. Fancy dribbling and slick passes? Second nature to him by the time he graduated from the Borderites.

Kent knew he had something special when Ridnour exited the plane for his recruiting visit Ñ carrying a basketball. Supposedly, he sleeps with a basketball.

'He's a gym rat,' Kent says.

But back to Ridnour and Dickau. Dickau has made his reputation as a floor leader who can take over a game with his long-distance shooting Ñ NBA range on 3-pointers Ñ and drives to the basket.

Oregon sophomore guard James Davis, who played against Dickau in high school, says Ridnour excels more at ballhandling.

'When you play against somebody every day, you get to know their tendencies,' Davis says. 'You can guard them better than most people. Every move he does you still can't steal the ball from him or nothing. You know the crossover is coming. He's just got an incredible dribble. I've never played against a player like that.'

Lever usually plays the point when Ridnour takes a rare break.

'You take him out,' Davis says, 'and things go stagnant. He gets us motivated and keeps us in the system. He has to be on the floor for us to be successful.'

In Ridnour, Jones and guard Luke Jackson, the Ducks have one of the best three-guard backcourts in the country.

What happens when Jones and Lever leave? Davis and incoming recruits Brandon Lincoln, Jordan Kent and JC Andre Joseph will get some minutes. Expect Ridnour's scoring average to move toward 20 points a game, but not at the expense of team play.

'He's really unselfish,' Davis says. 'Hopefully, I get some of those shots. With coach Kent's strategy, he wants balanced scoring. There's no need for somebody to take all the shots.'

The only thing that matters for a point guard, Ridnour says, is winning.

'I don't care what happens with assists, points and turnovers,' he says.

Contact Jason Vondersmith at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .