Duke Recruit Cam Reddish Is Going to Be a Star, but Not the Kind You're Used To

Jason King@@JasonKingBRSenior Writer, B/R MagMarch 27, 2018

SPRINGFIELD, MA - JANUARY 15:  Cam Reddish #22 of Westtown School reacts in a game against IMG Varstiy National during the 2018 Spalding Hoopall Classic at Blake Arena at Springfield College on January 15, 2018 in Springfield, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
B/R (via Getty Images)

Tipoff was less than 30 minutes away as Cam Reddish scribbled his name on basketballs, ball caps, forearms and foreheads as quickly as he could. He took selfies with students and posed for pictures with couples and their infants for what seemed like forever.

Each time the 5-star recruit looked up, the horde of people around him at the Duke University Store appeared to grow larger.

The impromptu autograph session was both unplanned and unexpected. Reddish had simply wanted to buy a hat when he and his father dipped into the apparel shop about an hour before a College GameDay tilt against Virginia in February 2016.

But before he could even begin to browse, Duke fans rushed toward him as if he were Christian Laettner, Kyrie Irving, Grayson Allen or even Mike Krzyzewski himself.

"For a few minutes," Reddish said, "I could hardly move."

As the crowd continued to swell, employees herded fans into a line that snaked through the store. Eventually, a security guard was summoned to escort Reddish and his family back to Cameron Indoor Stadium, where they took their seats just before the national anthem.

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The star treatment—Reddish's first true taste of hero worship—made quite an impression on one of the nation's top sophomores.

Or, more specifically, one of the nation's top high school sophomores.

"I'd never experienced something like that before," said Reddish, who was 16 at the time. "I left there thinking, Man, Duke is the place for me."

Three years later, the infatuation over Reddish has only intensified.

Not just in Durham, North Carolinawhere Reddish will arrive this summer as a key member of one of the most hyped recruiting classes in college basketball history—but also nationally. A 6'7" wing who can play four positions, Reddish has already drawn comparisons to Penny Hardaway, Grant Hill, Paul George, Rudy Gay and Jimmy Butler.

Eric Bossi, a national recruiting analyst for Rivals, said Reddish will be one of the most versatile players in all of college basketball next season.

"If you went into a lab and created the ideal basketball player, he would look exactly like Cam Reddish," Bossi said.

Multiple websites have pegged Reddish to be a top-three pick in the 2019 NBA draft. Not that he's looking that far ahead.

"College is an important time for me," Reddish told Bleacher Report earlier this month. "I'll probably only be there for one year, so I need to make the most of it. I need to improve. I need to get better."

He paused.

"I need to be challenged."

In many ways, though, Reddish's career to date has already been a battle. As much as he's flourished on the court, the attention he receives away from it often makes him uncomfortable.

Few—if any—elite prospects in the class of 2018 have been scrutinized as heavily as Reddish. For the past three years at the Westtown School near Philadelphia, scouts, recruiting writers, fans and opponents have picked apart his every move. Or at least that's how it often feels.

Reddish isn't vocal enough, people have said, and he often appears passive and disengaged. Reddish may be one of the nation's top talents, but some question whether he's a great leader. Is he a winner?

Described by his friends, coaches and family as an introvert, Reddish says the criticism often brought on extra stress during his prep career and also on the AAU circuit. And he knows it could enhance at Duke and hover over his freshman season like a rain cloud—unless, of course, he finds a way to block it out.

"I'll have really good numbers, and we'll win," Reddish said, "but people will criticize me because I'm not out there screaming. Or they'll say I don't look interested. That's just my face. I can't help that. A lot of players are super-duper hyped and screaming, but that's not who I am. I'm just going to keep playing my game."

Steve Tulleners, the associate director of admissions at Westtown School, has mentored Reddish for years and is amazed at how well he continues to navigate his career amid a national glare he could easily do without.

"Since the seventh grade, Cam Reddish has been Cam Reddish every time he's set foot in a gym," Tulleners said. "He's the guy everyone talks about, the guy everyone watches. That can be a very difficult thing for any teenager—and especially one that might not want to be in the limelight all the time.

"People assume that because Cam's got [almost] 100,000 Instagram followers and because he's this incredibly gifted kid, that he loves all this. I'm not sure that's the case."

The phone buzzed just past midnight—about an hour after Cam had turned off his television following Duke's victory over Wisconsin in the 2015 national championship game.

As the Blue Devils celebrated in the locker room at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, assistant coach Jon Scheyer stepped outside and called one of the nation's top high school freshmen.

"We just won a national championship," Scheyer told Reddish, "and we're going to win another one when you get here."

Reddish and his family were shocked.

"I went into work the next day and told everyone about it," Cam's mom, Zanthia, said. "For [Scheyer] to call right after that game, while they were still celebrating...I'm thinking, How do you even know who my son is?"

Three months later, Scheyer brought head coach Mike Krzyzewski to watch Reddish compete in the Peach Jam summer league tournament in North Augusta, South Carolina.

"The teams were going through warm-ups," Scheyer said, "and without me even pointing him out, Coach motions toward Cam and says, 'It's obvious that kid is a player.' He was swishing threes and pull-up jumpers and doing all these crazy dunks.

"With some kids, you can sense within seconds that they're special. Cam is one of those kids."

It didn't take long for Cam's parents to realize their son was gifted. His father, Robert, who played at Virginia Commonwealth from 1989-91, coached Cam's Little League team. On the court, Rob, as his wife calls him, said Cam was doing things as a second-grader that couldn't be duplicated by a group of junior high players with whom he also worked. Throughout elementary and middle school, Cam always played two age groups up.

"He was scoring more points than the other team's stud," Rob said, "but he was two years younger."

Still, Rob made it a point not to coddle his son. If Cam wasn't assertive on the court, he had to run laps. Talking back during a huddle was grounds for an automatic benching.

"I'd just sit there with my head in my jersey and cry," Cam said. "We'd fight and bicker because I didn't understand why he was so hard on me. I was like: 'You're my dad. Why are you doing this?' I was too young to realize that all of it would help me down the line."

Indeed, by the end of his freshman year, media outlets across the country were writing about Reddish and labeling him a can't-miss prospect. It was then that Reddish enrolled at Westtown School, a private boarding school just outside of Philadelphia known for both the academic and character development of its students.

"For us, it wasn't about going to a basketball factory," said Zanthia, an elementary school principal near the family's home city of Norristown, Pennsylvania. "It was more important to get the academic confidence and preparation that would enable him to go to a college like Duke and perform."

At Westtown, students are given daily chores, such as working in the school cafeteria. They have curfews and required group activities and outreach projects. In the classroom, expectations are high.

"I wouldn't say I was cocky when I got here," Reddish said, "but I was really stubborn. All I wanted to do was play basketball. In my head, that was the only reason I came to Westtown. Everything else, I was like: 'Get out of my face. I don't want to hear it.'

"In reality, I came here for academics. But at the time, I wasn't worried about homework or anything because I didn't think it mattered. I had a bunch of C's, but I didn't care. I was just digging a hole for myself. Eventually I got out of those holes, but it took a while, and I learned from it. Being here has really changed my perspective on life."

That's not to say Westtown School doesn't boast a high-level basketball program. When Reddish was a junior, Sports Illustrated assigned a video crew to trail the team throughout the season for a soon-to-be-released documentary entitled "We Town." Along with Reddish, the squad was led by seniors Mohamed Bamba, a projected lottery pick in this summer's NBA draft who signed with Texas; and Brandon Randolph, who averaged 11.6 minutes a game this season as a freshman at Arizona.

Much like his blue-chip teammates, Reddish drew interest from almost every school in the country. As he took his official visits—Kentucky, Connecticut, Villanova and UCLA were among his finalists—Reddish knew exactly what type of pitch he wanted to hear from a coach.

Or rather, what type of pitch he didn't want to hear.

"He didn't want to be somewhere," Zanthia said, "where everyone was saying: 'You're the guy. We're going to build our team around you and put the ball in your hands. You, you, you.'

"Plenty of coaches made those promises. What they didn't realize is that, as they were telling him that stuff, Cam was crossing them off his list."

There was one set of coaches, however, who continued to say all of the right things—starting with the night they phoned him immediately following their NCAA championship victory in 2015 to the morning more than two years later, in August of 2017, when Reddish verbally committed to their program.

A short time later, he made his intentions known in a first-person article in the Players' Tribune.

"People say I'm laid-back," Reddish wrote. "They say I'm quiet. But they don't see what's most important. They don't see the work. To me, basketball is about what you do when no one's watching. The way I see it, I'm not a prospect. I'm a work in progress. There's always more to learn.

"And that's why I'm going somewhere that I can be challenged as a leader, challenged as a student, challenged to grow up, on and off the court.

"That's why I'll be attending Duke University."

For nearly three years, it rarely failed.

Each weekday morning at 6 a.m., Steve Tulleners would arrive at the Westtown School weight room for an early workout, and within minutes, he'd hear a basketball bouncing in the gymnasium, which is located one level above.

"If I didn't hear anything by 6:15," Tulleners said, "I knew something was wrong."

For at least an hour before class each day during the school year, Reddish would hoist shot after shot while listening to rap music on his earphones. He'd repeat the routine during breaks in the afternoon and again at night.

"You're not going to have to beg to get Cam into a practice facility," Tulleners said. "You're going to have to beg him to get out."

Each summer, when he returned home, Reddish would often leave his family's house for a predawn workout and return before his parents were even awake.

Basketball, Reddish is fond of saying, is more than simply a love or a passion. It's his heartbeat.

"He's always had a different trajectory as it relates to basketball," Zanthia said. "It defines him. It's who he is. It's all he thinks about. It's what he wants to be. He's walking into his calling."

Considered the No. 2 recruit in the country by multiple websites, Cam Reddish will join a Duke team next season that many expect to win the national title.
Considered the No. 2 recruit in the country by multiple websites, Cam Reddish will join a Duke team next season that many expect to win the national title.Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

That's why it's so frustrating for Reddish—and those close to him—to hear criticisms about his fire and drive. Most of the questions stem from Reddish's shy, somewhat aloof demeanor.

Reddish's three best friends are kids he met in preschool. He's not the type to speak up in class or to be the center of attention at a party. Although he became more vocal as a senior, his coaches constantly urged him to be more of a leader on the court.

"As a society," Tulleners said, "we celebrate extroverts in sports. We expect our leaders to entertain us and to be Tom Brady-esque: brash and loud and out front.

"But Cam isn't like that. Cam is an introvert, and many times we don't know how to deal with introverts, especially when we want them to be our superstars. We label them detached and disinterested, and with Cam, that assessment isn't fair. It just isn't true."

At times—especially during the past year—there has been a sense that the burden of living up to everyone else's expectations has been overwhelming for Reddish. After a subpar outing during the first game of his senior season, he was summoned to a meeting with his parents and coaches. When asked what was bothering him, Reddish told them they were putting too much pressure on him to act a certain way, to do certain things.

To be someone he's not.

"Everyone probably thinks this is easy and that I've got it made because I'm ranked so high," Reddish said. "I mean, there are definitely times when you're playing well, and you think, I'm the man. But you have off days too. You lose confidence and think, Dang, maybe this isn't for me. Maybe it's over. The more publicity you get, the harder it can be."

Last summer, Reddish discussed how to deal with those pressures during a lunch with NBA star LeBron James in Los Angeles. TMZ cameras captured footage of the two as they were leaving the restaurant along with James' agent, Rich Paul, causing even more scrutiny.

"No one—or at least not the typical student—can grasp what Cam is going through and how hard it is," said Paul Lehmann, a geometry teacher at Westtown who has worked closely with Reddish. "There's such a disconnect between all he has to do—and all he has to deal with—to make it, compared to everyone else. From every angle, he's hearing: 'You've got to do this. You've got to do that.' It's a lot for an 18-year-old to handle."

Reddish continues to adapt and mature within the spotlight. With his new journey at Duke just months away, Reddish is looking forward to a new beginning in Durham, where Krzyzewski has referred to Reddish as a "beautiful basketball player," per Chris Johnson of Sports Illustrated.

Along with No. 2-ranked Reddish, the Blue Devils also signed No. 1-ranked R.J. Barrett and received a commitment from third-ranked Zion Williamson, marking the first time in history that the top three prospects in a recruiting class will team up.

"Cam knows he's got more in him," Scheyer said. "I think he knew when he signed up that this wasn't going to be easy. He's not just going to scoot by. As good as he is, he's nowhere close to as good as he can be.

"He's going to get pushed, and he's going to get coached. We'll put him in a position where it's not going to be easy. But a year from now, he'll be such a better player compared to where he is now. Our environment, with the players he'll be going against every day in practice, he can be and should be an incredibly special player."

And a player, Reddish hopes, whose personality and style will not only be accepted but also embraced.

"Cam is going to be superstar," Tulleners said. "He'll just be a different type of superstar than people are used to. And there's certainly nothing wrong with that."


Recruiting rankings from 247 Sports.

Jason King is a senior writer for B/R. A former staff writer at ESPN.com, Yahoo Sports and the Kansas City Star, King has received mention for his work in the popular book series The Best American Sportswriting. In both 2015 and 2016, King was tabbed as one of the top five beat writers in the nation by the APSE. Follow him on Twitter: @JasonKingBR.


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