There aren't many guys picked 43rd in the draft hanging around the NBA these days. When the league’s talent scouts think that little of a player, he had better start learning Turkish or Italian. Michael Redd, however, decided to dig in and let his game do his talking. When his stock plummeted deep into the second round, he started boning up on the language of jump-shooting and defense. Today, there isn’t a team in the NBA that wouldn’t trade two #1s for Michael. This is his story…

GROWING UP

Michael Redd was born August 24, 1979, in Columbus, Ohio. (Click here for today's sports birthdays.) He lived with his parents, Haji and James, about 15 minutes away from the campus of Ohio State University. Michael’s father, a church pastor, had been a great hoops player in his youth, and dreamed of making it to the NBA. A prep All-American, he was recruited by the nation's top coaches, including Bobby Knight, Digger Phelps and George Raveling.

Unfortunately, an ailing mother kept James close to home, and derailed his pro aspirations. Instead, he followed his second calling, opening a storefront church in a strip mall, and later in the basement of a larger church. It was supported by donations from followers, and from his wages earned at the local Pepsi bottling plant.

Michael started along the same dual path. At age two, he was firing rolled-up socks and Wiffle Balls into a pink trash can his parents set up in a hallway. He also became increasingly involved in his father’s work, and remains a devout and active Christian today.

Michael was always big for his age. He played basketball and football as a child, and rooted for the Ohio State teams led by Dennis Hopson and later Jim Jackson.

Michael got a firsthand education on the basketball court from his father, elbows and all, during their many years of one-on-one wars. James encouraged his son to absorb punishment and stay focused on winning. Michael learned to take on challenges by giving everything he had. His father’s advice in basketball and in life was “Be involved.”


 

 

Like many young players in the early 1990s, Michael was captivated by Michigan’s "Fab Five." Despite his allegiance to the Buckeyes, he iodlized Chris Webber, Juwon Howard and Jalen Rose and fantasized about playing for the Wolverines.

A left-hander with an unorthodox style, Michael learned early on the playgrounds of Columbus how to create his own shot. He was quick, fast, tough and strong, and thanks to his dad, he had a sixth sense about how to use his body against defenders. An erratic shooter, Michael concentrated on getting as close to the hoop as possible before launching the ball toward the hoop.

In 1993, Michael enrolled at West Senior High School in Columbus. One of the Cowboys' all-time greats, James reminded his son that this was "his house.” By the time he was done at West, Michael replied, it would be HIS house. The teenager made the starting lineup as a high-energy slasher in his sophomore and junior years, but was off the radar as a college prospect until blossoming in his senior season.

Michael got plenty of attention during the 1996-97 campaign once the recruiting wars began. He had developed into an exceptional all-around talent and a competent shooter, averaging a robust 25 a game for the Cowboys. Mike Krzyzewski wanted him at Duke, while Minnesota, Iowa, and Cincinnati also made big pushes. In the end, Michael chose to remain a homebody, accepting a scholarship with Ohio State. Despite the team's mighty struggles on the basketball court and a new coach in Jim O’Brien, he liked the challenge of rebuilding a great program.

ON THE RISE

Michael started practice his freshman year with a chance to contribute immediately. The Buckeyes were coming off four losing seasons, and had not been to the NCAA Tournament since Jim Jackson was playing in Columbus in the early 1990s. Meanwhile, no upperclassmen had nailed down the shooting guard spot. When Michael stepped up and began stroking jumpers, his teammates and O'Brien began thinking he might one day become Ohio State’s go-to guy.

That day came sooner than anyone expected. When the regular season started, O’Brien saw that Michael had the ability to shake almost every defender he faced. He was dropping 20 a game against the Buckeyes' early season opponents, and continued to score against Big Ten foes, though often in games when Ohio State was trailing. Michael was proud of his achievements, but he felt like crying as the losses mounted. At one point, the team lost 15 straight. By year's end, they won just eight games, and only one conference game—the worst performance for a Buckeye squad since the 1928-29 season.

Throughout a season that featured one excruciating loss after another, Michael consistently put the ball in the hole, not only topping the Buckeyes in scoring, but leading the team toward respectability as they tried to put an 8–22 season behind them. He finished with a 21.9 average, becoming the first true freshman to lead the Big Ten in scoring. Not surprisingly, Michael was name Big Ten Freshman of the Year

Prior to the 1998-99 season, O’Brien was pressed for a prediction on how the Buckeyes would do. He cautioned the press about projecting Michael's performance as a sophomore, and said that he didn't want to get too hung up on winning and losing. If his squad finished .500, O’Brien said he would be happy.


Juwan Howard, 1993 Classic
 

Michael was picked for most preseason All-Big Ten teams, and even a few preseason All-America teams. Along with junior guard and team captain Scoonie Penn—a transfer from Boston College, O’Brien’s previous coaching stop—the lefty gave Ohio State one of the best backcourts in the country. As for the rest of the Buckeyes, they mirrored Michael’s trademark intensity from the start, and the team opened the campaign racking up 20-plus wins, delighting the Buckeye fans who packed the new Schottenstein Center.

Ohio State continued to roll as it entered the NCAA Tournament, defeating Murray State, Detroit and top-seeded Auburn to set up a showdown with St. John’s for a shot at a Final Four berth. The Buckeyes had not reached that plateau since 1968. With Michael and Penn leading the way—and key contributions from big men Ken Johnson and Jason Singleton—the team raced to a double-digit lead in the second half against Ron Artest and company, then held on for a 77-74 victory. Ohio State took the Red Storm out of their game with physical defense, while Michael and Penn triggered the offense, combining for 42 points.

The national semifinal against UConn had extra significance for O’Brien, whose time at BC included an 18-game losing streak to the Huskies. Unfortunately, his personal streak reached 19, as UConn won 64–58. Still, Ohio State's 27–9 season after an 8–22 record marked the largest turnaround in Division I ball in more than 25 years. For Michael's part, he led the Buckeyes in scoring again, with a 19.5 avverage. After just two seasons he was already among the school’s Top 20 all-time scorers.

At the start of his junior season, Michael was named team co-captain along with Penn. A natural leader, he was the perfect blend of team-first attitude and one-on-one magic. The Buckeyes continued to work on plays designed to free up Michael for open shots, including a multiple-pick set that created room for him on the left side of the floor. From there, it was showtime, because no one in the Big Ten could take him without help.

The Buckeyes again rode their sensational backcourt to standout season, winning 23 games and earning a share of the 2000 Big Ten championship. Michael was named First Team All-Big 10, finishing his junior year at 17.3 ppg, along with 6.5 rebounds a night.

In the final months of the season, Michael began thinking about his pro prospects. The consensus among those whose advice he sought was that he would be a first-round pick, probably in the Top 20. His size and quickness would serve him well as a two-guard in the NBA, as would his ballhandling and ability to drive to the hoop. Though Michael was not viewed as a consistent long-range shooter, he felt he had showed enough to convince the pros he could develop a perimeter game.

NBA scouts didn't agree. That June, Michael endured an excruciating draft. When the first round ended without his name being called, he was confused and distraught. Not until Milwaukee took their second pick at #43 did he find out where his professional address would be. Ironically, the Bucks were hoping for St. John’s Lavor Postell, but the Knicks had snagged him at 39.

Michael's disappointment continued during his rookie season, as he missed 66 games with a sore knee and scored a grand total of 13 points. The only positives were the kindness and support he received from veterans Ray Allen and Ervin Johnson, who helped him through his injury-riddled first year.

Not that the Bucks missed Michael. The troika of Allen, Glenn Robinson and Sam Cassell led the team to 52 wins and the Central Division title. Michael wasn't activated for the postseason, during which Milwaukee came within a victory of reaching the NBA Finals, falling to Allen Iverson and the Philadelphia 76ers in the conference finals. Michael at least got the feel of the playoff atmosphere by traveling and practicing with the team as it worked its way to the franchise's best finish in 25 years.


Scoonie Penn, autographed photo
 

The 2001-02 campaign found Michael in Milwaukee’s sixth-man role. After dealing backup Lindsay Hunter over the summer, the Bucks opened the door for the second-year guard to play a bigger role, and he grabbed the opportunity. Michael even started a handful of games when ironman Allen was slowed by injury. Coach George Karl became a convert after a mid-December game against the Indiana Pacers, when Michael netted 21 points in 18 minutes. His teammates began trusting him too, getting him the ball when he had the hot hand. When Robinson was hurt, Michael also filled in on the front line.

In February, Michael was in the game for mop-up duty in a blowout over the Rockets when he gave an extraordinary glimpse of things to come. In the fourth quarter against Houston, he nailed eight three-pointers to establish a new NBA record. Counting a third-quarter trey, he hit nine in all, breaking the club mark shared by Allen and Tim Thomas. Michael scored 26 points in the final period for a total of 29—a career high for hmi to that point.

The Bucks split their 82 games down the middle and missed the playoffs. Michael, meanwhile, finished fifth on the team in scoring with a 11.4 average and his 44.4 three-point average ranked eighth in the NBA. The main thing keeping him from starting was opportunity. His defensive work, which was below NBA average, was the other problem.

Even so, the Bucks matched a four-year, $12 million offer sheet from the Dallas Mavericks for Michael, who was a restricted free agent. As he began his third NBA season in the fall of 2002, he has developed into one of the league’s most heralded sixth men. The only Buck to play all 82 regular-seson games, Michael raised his scoring average to 15.2 ppg. His 43.7 three-point average was second-best in the NBA.

The Bucks were also evolving, having ended their relationship with Robinson. Still, at 42-40, they were only slightly better than a .500 club. While Milwaukee did make the playoffs, the team was bounced by the New Jersey Nets in the first round.

After the season, the Bucks jettisoned their remaining All-Stars and rebuilt the team around Michael and Desmond Mason, who was picked up from Seattle in a trade for Allen. Technically, the pair played the same position, but Mason was slotted in as a slashing forward, while Michael's role would be more focused on distance shooting. Milwaukee also added TJ Ford in the draft, hoping the Texas point guard would be the team's new floor leader.

MAKING HIS MARK

New coach Terry Porter got his young club off to a fast start in 2003–04, with Michael shouldering the bulk of Milwaukee's scoring load. He finished the season with a team-high 21.7 average in 82 games, and led the Bucks by logging more than 3,000 minutes. From Porter’s standpoint, the biggest bump in Michael’s game was his defense. He led by example, busting his tail all game long.


Michael Redd, 2001 Upper Deck
 

On the bubble in terms of his first All-Star selection, Michael made the decision easy when he strung together a pair of 40-point games in January of 2004. He got the nod over Cleveland rookie LeBron James and scored 13 points in 15 minutes of action.

Milwaukee's inexperience began to show in the second half, and the team faded to 41-41. In the playoffs, the Bucks had the misfortune of running into the eventual champion Pistons in the opening round, losing four games to one. Detroit knew that Milwaukee could not win if Michael failed to score, and their strategy of suffocating him all series long worked to perfection.

Instead of building on their surprising progress, the 2004-05 Bucks spent much of the season in disarray. Porter never found the right chemistry, Ford was injured, and the team never gelled on offense. To his credit, Michael deferred to his teammates whenever, but his unselfishness didn't produce the desired effect and the Bucks finished with just 30 wins. Michael’s numbers continued to rise. He averaged 23 a game and upped his minutes and shooting percentage. In the last year of his contract, he gave Milwaukee's front office a lot to think about, as the team's brass worried he might take his improving game elsewhere.

Michael's most ardent suitor over the summer was Cleveland. The Cavaliers wooed him with a five-year, $72 million deal, plus the opportunity to team up with King James. The Bucks countered with $90 million over six years. Michael took the extra money and accepted the challenge of turning the Bucks around.

He would get help from rookie Andrew Bogut and a healthy Ford. Jamaal Magloire and Bobby Simmons filled out the starting five. The Bucks also welcomed a new coach, Terry Stotts, a former assistant with the club. Michael did his part, boosting his scoring average to 25.4. Though Milwaukee managed just 40 wins in the increasingly competitive Central Division, the club's sub-.500 record was still good enough for the eighth and final seed in the playoffs.

The Bucks ran into the Pistons in the first round. After dropping the first two games at the Palace, Michael rallied Milwaukee in Game 3 with a stunning 43-point performance. But all this did was forestall the inevitable, as Detroit advanced and Milwaukee went home again.

Over the summer, the 2006-07 Bucks were recast as a youth-oriented team. With all of veteran bench players gone, Michael led a starting five that averaged just 23 years old, including Charlie Villanueva, picked up in exchange for Ford. Michael did not mind carrying the scoring load, but publicly stated that he hoped the Bucks could spread the shots around, as they did when Cassell, Robinson and Allen were there.

With preseason injuries to Bogut and Simmons, Michael didn't have that luxury. He was the man, and everyone knew it. In the season opener, he scored 37 on 14-for-22 shooting. In a November game against the Jazz, he netted 15 in the first half, then exploded for 42 after intermission to finish with a career-high and franchise-record 57. The Bucks needed everyone of those buckets, including the trey he sank with seven seconds left to knot the score at 111–111. Milwaukee still found a way to lose, on a desperation shot by Utah. Later in the month, Michael dropped 45 on the Lakers with a better outcome, as the Bucks beat LA, 109–105. His performance marked the most points scored by a Buck on the road in almost 20 years.

Milwaukee’s fate is in Michael’s hands for the foreseeable future. He has established himself as a premiere scorer, and has shown a willingness to stay late and work on the soft spots in his game. As the elder statesman on a young and talented team, he will no doubt be called upon for more vocal leadership, and perhaps will be asked to bridge the gap between the up-and-coming Bucks and any veteran additions the team chooses to make. For a player who has learned to far surpass expectations, this role should be a no-brainer.

MICHAEL THE PLAYER


Michael Redd, 2004 SI for Kids
 

Being a left-handed jumpshooter has its advantages in the NBA, where almost all of the long-distance artists are righties. With defenders used to guarding guys who go the other way, Michael uses a subtle hesitation move to gain a half-tick he uses with deadly effectiveness.

When the Bucks made Michael the centerpiece of their offense, they no doubt keyed on the fact that, unlike so many "primetime" players, his statistical performance tends to improve dramatically in the fourth quarter and overtime.

When Michael came into the NBA, he was considered a slasher with an inconsistent jumper. Now that he is one of the league’s premier shooters, fans complain that he doesn't slash enough. He sticks around the rim on defense, however, collecting a half-dozen rebounds on a typical night.

Michael's shot sometimes seems rushed, but it is that quick release that enables him to score with opponents right in his face. He elevates off the floor well on the shot, giving him some extra room for his release.

Michael practices as hard as he plays. He says that this approach was one of the primary reasons he was able to blossom after being a bench player his first few seasons. It has also helped him become the team’s leader. Not normally a vocal presence, he leads by example.


Michael Redd, 2006 First Row

 

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