RICHMOND, Va. – Being the consummate teammate, David Hinton decided to reach out to Juvonte Reddic, a fellow Winston-Salem, N.C. native, in the summer of 2010. So Hinton picked up the 6-foot-9 forward and drove to a local gym for a workout. It sounds like the afternoon went well.
“It was probably the most awkward car ride I ever had,” Hinton joked recently. “We literally just sat there for like 15 minutes…how far he’s come from that day to now is just unbelievable.”
There’s a snapshot from early in VCU’s 2011 Final Four run of a fresh-faced Reddic pounding his chest with his right fist, howling into the air, that came to typify the emotion of the experience. The Final Four march was an event so significant, so unbridled, that it managed to sweep up even the most reserved, in this case Reddic.
Months later, while discussing the three-point play against USC that sparked Reddic’s triumphant outburst, he spoke of it almost sheepishly. At the same time, he acknowledged the need for more moments like that, when emotion and adrenaline fueled him on the basketball court.
“It’s just my personality, I’m just kind of quiet,” Reddic said earlier this season. “I’m kind of nonchalant, I normally don’t show too much emotion. It’s just something I’m working on. I have people tell me that every day, why I don’t show a lot of emotion on the court. I don’t know. It’s just how I am.”
That kind of behavior doesn’t come naturally for Reddic, who is likely the most reserved player on the VCU roster. His face, often draped in a stoic stare, hides a bright smile and a warm persona few outside the team see. But that is beginning to change. Reddic will never be confused with the class chatterbox, but he’s beginning to soften his hard exterior. He’s getting more comfortable talking on and off the court, and it’s allowing him to become a better basketball player.
It’s been an area of emphasis for Reddic and VCU Coach Shaka Smart.
“We talk about it a lot,” Reddic admits. “Before every practice he tells me to work on my talking and be more enthusiastic. He says if I do it in practice then it’ll help me in the game. I think I’m getting a little bit better, but I’ve still got a long ways to go. Talking and being enthusiastic helps you play better, so I’m just trying to work on that, and I’m getting there.”
For much of this season, Reddic has been the Rams’ best player. The sharp upward trajectory of his development has yielded career-high averages of more than 13.8 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. His offensive skill set, once limited to a series of 12 to 15-foot spot-up jumpers, is as varied and dangerous as some of the best post players in the nation.
Not only has Reddic extended his range to around the 3-point arc, but he’s now armed with an arsenal of post moves and baby jump hooks. He’s also comfortable putting the ball off the floor and driving to the rim. Although his minutes played are effectively the same as last season, he’s producing more points, rebounds and steals.
But to Smart, Reddic’s on-court results merely a product of his personal growth. Smart rarely judges Reddic’s performances by what he reads in the box score. He’d much rather evaluate his junior forward’s intangibles like his “motor” or how he’s communicating on the floor. Smart’s basketball philosophy sees the game as a series of outgoing behaviors: emotion, freedom, communication. Even if a person isn’t blessed with these qualities, Smart urges his players to grow into them.
“Ju’s making progress. He’s getting better,” Smart said. “The biggest thing is he’s making progress as a person. It’s all connected to his success on the court. He’s more outgoing. He smiles more, he talks more. If we can continue to move him there…if he can just keep making progress off the floor as a person and keep growing, his game is going to come right along with it.”
It’s that progress off the court that is allowing him to thrive on it. He’s not a finished product, but he’s starting to grab people’s attention. At the Battle 4 Atlantis in November, Reddic booked a 16-point, 13-rebound double-double against future NBA Draft pick Mason Plumlee of Duke, then followed with 12 points and nine rebounds against Alex Oriakhi of Missouri. Plumlee and Oriakhi are widely regarded as two of the nation’s best frontcourt players, and Reddic averaged a double-double against them.
Hinton, who is regularly matched up against Reddic in practice, calls Reddic a “freak athlete”. Meanwhile, Smart says Reddic is the second-fastest learner he’s coached at VCU after Larry Sanders and has become one of the team’s hardest-working players.
Clearly, Reddic has the tools to become a great player, physically, mentally and, Smart believes, socially. It’s a matter of blending those skills together, and Reddic appears to be getting closer with each game.
“If you see him on the court talking and smiling, then it’s a good day,” Smart said. “He’s going to do really well.”