ATLANTA — He played on the brightest stage in all of college basketball last year but, somehow, we still do not have a clear image of him.
We know his profile. A 6’8 sharpshooter with bounce, who would finish his high school career as the No. 2 player in the country. He would go on to Duke to team up with the No. 1 and No. 3 players in the country, RJ Barrett and Zion Williamson, and they became the most entertaining show in college basketball. However, as Barrett and Williamson’s stock rose, Cam Reddish’s time with the Blue Devils brought up more questions than answers.
Who exactly is Cam Reddish? Is he the aggressive bucket-getter who could shoot from anywhere and who averaged 28 points per game on 51 percent shooting during his senior year of high school? Is he the guy who terrorized Philadelphia’s high school hoops scene and dominated AAU/EYBL games effortlessly?
Or is he the passive, non-assertive, sometimes low-motor guy that failed to live up to lofty expectations at Duke? At least to Reddish, he couldn’t care less about those people and their thoughts.
”It’s in the past, I have nothing to say to those people,” Reddish said at the Atlanta Hawks’ Media Day on Sept. 30. “I’m moving forward.”
Reddish is moving on from a Duke chapter that wasn’t as successful as his fellow Duke draftees or as he hoped, but he did provide some insight on why.
Injuries played their role.
”Injuries will limit you. That’s why they’re injuries,” Reddish admitted. “But that’s not an excuse. I was playing through it, and I was going to play regardless. I was banged up a little bit, but it never crossed my mind to sit out.”
It’s not often that college players will risk further injury or poor play if they know they’re going to the NBA the next season. There was never any doubt Reddish was a one-and-done prospect; had he sat out the rest of the season at the first sign of serious injury, would his draft stock have fallen?
He learned a lot through his lone Duke season and the rehabilitation process that followed shortly after it. He had offseason surgery and was originally only supposed to be out for six weeks, but that six weeks turned into three months.
”There were no setbacks, I missed a couple of weeks of rehab because of the whole draft process with travel and stuff,” said Reddish. “Plus, there was no rush to be back from the team; they were pretty cautious too.”
The rehab process and wait was trying one for Reddish.
”Just watching is the hardest part,” the rookie said. “I haven’t played in a while, man, and I just want to play.”
Reddish is finally cleared to play, and he’s prioritizing his focus on one thing this season.
”Health is key to me,” said Reddish. “If I’m healthy, I can play. And if I can play, the sky’s the limit.”
What’s that limit? Rookie of the year? MVP? All-Star? Reddish thinks it’s all possible.
”As I said, I feel like the sky’s the limit for me. I feel I can win a variety of awards throughout my career. I just got to lock in and put my mind to it,” said Reddish with a smile. “And if I’m healthy, it’s easier to focus.”
His teammates know what he’s capable of, and are very glad the organization was able to pick him, especially Trae Young. On draft night, when the Washington Wizards picked Rui Hachimura at No. 9 overall, Young tweeted the eyes emoji in expectation of Atlanta’s next selection, which did end up being Reddish.
”He is, in my opinion, the most talented rookie who came out, as far as skills-wise offensively,” Young said of Reddish. “It’s unbelievable. He can do it all. He can score on all three levels. I’m looking forward to playing with him because he’s going to be able to contribute a lot.”
Hawks’ second-year guard Kevin Huerter echoed similar sentiments at media day.
”He’s so talented, and he’s been talented his whole life,” Huerter said of Reddish. “I remember back when I played with him on the USA Team. The way he played, the moves he was doing. Just crazy.”
The belief in Reddish’s abilities stretches beyond his teammates and extends to his entire draft class. In the annual rookie survey, Reddish was voted as most likely to have the best career in the draft class, including over number one pick Zion Williamson. Williamson and Reddish have met since the results were released, but he claims they’ve never mentioned it.
”I was actually with Zion yesterday, and it never came up at all,” Reddish said. “It’s not our job to talk about it. That’s for y’all to debate.”
Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce is well aware of the potential Reddish brings to the team, but he wanted to pump the brakes a little, emphasizing the fact that Cam is still a rookie and has yet even to play a game.
”I plan on utilizing Cam slowly and appropriately,” said Pierce. “Anytime you’re dealing with a rookie, it’s about finding out what’s best for him and what’s best for us, and finding that useful balance on how to implement him on the court.”
But for everyone who believes in the talent and hype of Reddish, there’s a naysayer pointing to his Duke days and his quote on quote lousy work ethic. Reddish, at Media Day, finally clapped back a bit.
”Do you honestly believe I would be here if I didn’t work hard?” Reddish said, with a bit more venom in his voice than before. “So say what y’all want.”
Towards the end of his media day availability, Reddish began to get a little reflective about his journey to the league. He’s very appreciative of all the love the city has shown him so far.
”It was surprising seeing my face on billboards, I never had that before,” Reddish admitted. “It made me feel good, happy to be here; I’m loving Atlanta.”
Outside of fans, Black Hollywood has been showing him love too.
”One of my favorite things about playing here is all my favorite rappers live here and attend games. Super excited to see them all,” said Reddish. “A few have already reached out too, Quavo and Bow Wow to name a few.”
But it wasn’t the rappers, the billboards, or the hype that gave him his ‘Welcome to the NBA’ epiphany. That didn’t hit him until he turned on his PlayStation.
”You see yourself in it growing up, and now it’s official,” explained Reddish. “I created myself all the time, and now I don’t have to. So surreal.”
The ink on the contract is dry, media day has passed, and training camp has begun. Actual preseason games kick off this week for the Hawks, and for Reddish, who will be experiencing his first game action in more than six months, the only focus is getting back to who he used to be after such a long recovery process.
”It has been a while, of course. But at the end of the day, it’s basketball; it’s what I do, it’s what I’ve always done,” said Reddish. “I want to get out there and get back to myself. Playing my game, getting comfortable with my coaches and teammates. Just being me. Being who I’m supposed to be and who God wants me to be.”
And who exactly is that? Who is the real Reddish?
That can best be summed up by the same answer Reddish gave when asked if the Hawks are a playoff team.
”I guess we’ll find out.”