WASHINGTON -- The questions are mounting for Cam Reddish.
Reddish is an insanely talented 19-year-old college basketball-playing freshman. Every program in the country wanted him. He chose perennial powerhouse Duke and helped the no.1 ranked Blue Devils dominate throughout the season when healthy. NBA teams with high 2019 draft lottery picks in their future are keeping a close watch on the 6-foot-8 small forward.
While receiving praise for his athletic traits and two-way game, Reddish didn’t always reach the high bar of expectations outsiders set. Sometimes the nitpicks or louder criticisms – Sports Illustrated deemed Reddish’s season entering the NCAA Tournament “wholly underwhelming” -- seemed to overshadow the promise.
NBC Sports college basketball analyst Rob Dauster sees maybe 4-5 future All-Stars in the 2019 class. “Cam Reddish has that ceiling,” Dauster said.
The problem is now the discussion seems more focused on Reddish’s floor.
Nobody should expect a finished product at this stage of his burgeoning career. The public evaluation process, while part of how fans and the media express opinions, is certainly an odd dynamic from the perspective of the human being on the other end of the assessment.
On this final point, Reddish agrees.
“Yeah, it’s annoying,” he said Thursday before Duke’s practice at Capital One Arena.
There are relentless side-by-side comparisons to two teammates and fellow freshmen, one of which, Zion Williamson is the sport’s most exciting player in two decades.
The trio including RJ Barrett arrived on campus as the projected top three selections in the 2019 NBA Draft. Williamson is now the clear-cut number one while Barrett, Duke’s leading scorer, remains in that top-3 range.
Reddish does not.
There are some valid concerns and rationale for a draft projection range now moving toward the middle of the lottery.
Reddish’s overall field goal percentage precipitously dropped in March. His performance in the ACC tournament “was the most alarming of his yearlong disappearing acts” wrote ESPN draft analyst Mike Schmitz. Sitting out Friday’s Sweet 16 win over Virginia Tech with a sudden knee injury re-introduces toughness suspicions.
The Wizards (31-46), who have a small forward vacancy after trading Otto Porter Jr. and Kelly Oubre Jr., would select eighth overall in June’s draft based on current odds entering Saturday.
Weeks ago, nobody imagined Reddish could potentially slip to any team selecting in this range.
He finished fourth among ACC players in made 3-pointers and sank 5 of 8 from beyond the arc in the Feb. 8 win at then no. 1 ranked Virginia. Reddish averaged 25 points in two “Game of the Century” meetings against rival North Carolina.
Thursday’s press availability represented some change in perception since the season tipped.
Reddish spoke inside Georgetown’s home locker room at Capital One Arena, which turned into Duke’s headquarters entering the second week of the 2019 NCAA Tournament. Dozens of reporters and cameras crowded into the tight space seeking a great sound bite or interesting moment ahead of the Friday’s rematch with ACC foe Virginia Tech.
More media members arrived toward the end of the locker room session with Williamson’s arrival. College basketball’s leading man and viral video staple had just concluded a more formal Q & A session at a makeshift dais with RJ Barrett, Duke’s other starry freshman. Head coach Mike Krzyzewski held court moments later.
While the topics for those three largely centered on Williamson’s otherworldly work and Duke aiming for another championship under Krzyzewski, mentions of Reddish occurred. They came with caveats.
One questioner asked the Coach about Reddish’s confidence level. The reporter mentioned the forward made several big shots during the season yet cited a low 3-point shooting percentage relative to some teammates. Reddish’s percentage (33.3) actually tops Duke’s other primary perimeter threats, Barrett (30.3) and point guard Tre Jones (26.5), but he did slump late and, perception is reality.
“(He) stays confident because he is confident and we're confident in him,” Krzyzewski said.
It’s unclear how confident Coach K or Duke’s medical staff is with Reddish’s availability for Sunday’s regional final against Michigan State. Reddish is considered a game-time decision after apparently tweaking his knee during Thursday’s practice shortly after that locker room chat. Krzyzewski learned Reddish could not play shortly before tipoff of Duke’s 77-75 win over Virginia Tech.
Expect more side-eye from the NBA Draft crowd if Reddish remains sidelined or returns with mixed results.
We’ll see if any knocks go too far.
Reddish remains a coveted prospect. The Norristown, PA native just hasn’t put it altogether yet.
[Cam is] just going to be a constantly growing player,” Krzyzewski said. “He's a young player. He's got talent. He's a great kid, coachable. He's improved tremendously defensively. And a toughness, just to be able to handle the rigors of this level of schedule. …
“Even Zion and RJ, these guys aren't as good as they're going to be. They're in the process of becoming (better).”
Reddish recognizes areas of growth.
“I think I’ve improved a lot on my defense. I put an emphasis on that coming in because that was (a concern) some people said about me,’ he said.
Reddish enjoyed the ride with Williamson and Barrett to date despite the fishbowl existence.
“It’s been fun. Learned a lot from those guys,” Reddish said. “Every day has been nothing short of a blessing.”
Come June some NBA team may consider spending a high draft pick on Reddish a blessing. If the current evaluation trend of his game continues, Reddish and his supporters might find the lead up to the draft all kinds of annoying.
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