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Freshman Ny Redding gives Cougars true point guard

PULLMAN – Ernie Kent said he does not remember Ny Redding making a shot during the freshman’s first three weeks at Washington State, but that story is probably apocryphal.

Yet many around the program remember the uncharacteristic scoring struggles from the same player who broke teammate Que Johnson’s record for 40-point games in one season at Westwind Prep and who averaged 29.8 points per game as a senior after transferring to the Phoenix prep school.

“Everybody thinks they can jump in and play and they can’t. It’s just like rookies going to the pros. No matter how good you are you can’t just jump in and play,” said assistant coach Greg Graham, who primarily coaches WSU’s offense. “It’s a different game. It took him a little while to adjust.”

So Redding, whose father is an assistant coach at Cleveland State, sought solace in the gym. He broke his shot down to its component parts, endlessly repeating his follow-through and wrist action.

The extra work didn’t necessarily change much about the way Redding scores, but it reminded him that he can do so, easily.

“I always look at being in the gym as preparation for the game. So if you come prepared you have more confidence,” Redding said. “You think, ‘I worked harder than this guy so I’m going to play better than him.’ ”

That preparation is why Kent believes Redding has handled the adjustment to college life better than any of the team’s other freshmen. The fact that he finished the semester with the best grades on the team seems to back that up.

As does Kent’s willingness to hand over the keys to WSU’s fast break.

The point guard in Kent’s offense is more of a coxswain than a conductor. Unlike most of his counterparts, he does little to survey defenses or initiate plays in a half-court offense. Rather, his job is to be the pacesetter, to keep the Cougars running on offense and to decide where the defense is taking the longest to set up and then attack that area.

He doesn’t dominate the ball, he gets rid of it. Few players are ready to do it as freshman and those that are have turned out to be pretty good. At Oregon there was Luke Ridnour, former lottery pick of the Seattle SuperSonics; Aaron Brooks, who is also still in the NBA; and Tajuan Porter, who set the Pac-10 record for made 3-pointers.

Redding moved into the starting lineup in WSU’s fifth game of the season after dishing six assists in 17 minutes in the previous game against UC Santa Barbara in the opening round of the Great Alaska Shootout.

While Redding has been a deferential scorer, he led that tournament with 21 assists in three games. He is the first true point guard the Cougars have had since Reggie Moore and his presence means they no longer have to devote one of their scoring guards to bringing the ball up the court.

“It’s allowed us to move Ike (Iroegbu) over to the two spot where we can play a little faster, a little more speed and play two point guards at times,” Graham said. “His growth has helped him and helped the team.”

The Cougars have asked Redding to grow up in a hurry and at times, it has appeared, too fast. In Sunday’s win over UC Davis he turned the ball over eight times, prompting Kent to remark afterward that perhaps Redding had left his game at home in Ohio over winter break.

He better find it quickly, because as soon as he’s adjusted to a higher level of basketball the competition is about to get a lot tougher. The Cougars begin conference play on the road and Redding will not just have to play against better players, he will have to deal with the crowds at Stanford, California and rival Washington before playing another home game.

The Cougars are going to again send him into the deep end of the pool and hope he can again keep his head above water.

“The thing I’ve noticed about Ny is that he really responds well to challenges,” Kent said. “My job and our job as a staff is to get him ready for what he’s going to face, but ultimately he’s going to have to face it and make the adjustments to his game to get to play at the level they’re playing at.”

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