No Passing Fancy

Like his boyhood idol, Ridnour shares his basketball passion, faith

The lives of Luke Ridnour and Pete Maravich barely coincided, but they could be considered kindred spirits.

Ridnour wasn't born until 9 ½ months after Maravich played his last National Basketball Association game.

Ridnour was just 6 years old when Maravich collapsed during a pickup basketball game at a church gym and died from an undiagnosed heart condition at the age of 40.

So what led Ridnour to emulate Maravich as his boyhood hero, almost to the point of obsession?

"It wasn't really anybody telling me about him; it was the movie, ‘The Pistol: Birth of a Legend,'" Ridnour explained. "I was young – maybe in second or third grade – when I watched it, and I remember thinking, ‘That's what I want to do.'"

The film portrays Maravich, college basketball's most prolific scorer ever -- with an average of 44.2 points per game -- during his first season of high school varsity basketball, which he played when he was in eighth grade.

The plot centers around the father-son bond between Pete and his father, Petar "Press" Maravich, who played professional basketball for the Pittsburgh Ironmen before coaching college basketball for 20 years. For three of those years, Press coached his son at Louisiana State University.

The family-oriented film revisits young Pete's quest to become the best player he could be while developing a number of innovative ballhandling, passing and shooting skills the basketball world had never seen.

The movie also delivers a moral message as Maravich attempts to break down the racial barriers of 1960s society by arranging for his all-white high school team to play against a neighboring school's team of African-Americans.

Young Maravich's obsession with the game led him to take his basketball with him virtually everywhere – even to the movies, where he dribbled in the aisle while watching the screen. He dribbled on railroad tracks and along the road while reaching out the window of his family car as his father drove.

"What made the biggest impression on me about the movie was the way he was dribbling everywhere and spinning the ball," Ridnour said. "I used to spin the ball until I put holes in it because he did it. I used to sleep with the ball because he did it. I did everything I saw him do in the movie.

"I even took my basketball to church. … everywhere."

Ridnour grew up in Blaine, Wash., a town now populated by about 4,800 residents nestled in the northwestern corner of the state, just a few miles from the U.S./Canadian border. Luke's father, Rob, became the high school basketball coach there.

"I grew up in the gym, watching basketball since I can remember, and having a ball in my hands," Luke said. "One thing I really respect about my dad is he never pushed me into it. It was just something I loved to do, even at an early age. So I kind of just took it and ran.

"I remember going to the games with my dad as a little kid. And I remember halftime being my time to shine. I'd get out there in front of the crowd and dribble around. My dad has told me a lot of stories about that sort of thing. That was the first thing I was really excited to do."

Young Luke quickly set himself apart from his contemporaries.

"I was known around my town for taking my basketball everywhere," he said. "It was kind of weird, but people understood. They used to say, ‘He's going to be in the NBA,' when I was in third or fourth grade."

Ridnour's obsession with basketball and with Maravich followed him into the classroom.

"I had to do a report for school on someone and I did it on him," Ridnour said. "I learned a lot about him, and from that point forward, I started carrying my basketball around with me and playing for hours upon hours. The movie was what kind of sparked it for me. That was it. That was all I needed to see."

Luke learned about how Maravich became an All-American, a National Basketball Association All-Star, and was recognized as one of the 50 greatest players ever to play the game on the NBA's 50th anniversary.

Ridnour also discovered the many trials and tribulations Maravich faced during his life before he committed his life to Christianity.

"I didn't really realize Pete's fate until several years after I saw the movie," Ridnour said. "I learned about all of the things he went through and how he changed his life. He made an all-out commitment to spend the rest of his life telling people about Jesus from that point forward.

"It was cool."

Luke's father influenced his son's budding hoops career, but sometimes had to temper his passion for the game.

His late-night shooting sessions needed curfews from time to time.

"If I was in trouble, my dad and my mom (Muriel) would turn out the lights," Luke said. "It was one of those kinds of deals."

And after those curfews were enforced, Luke took his basketball to bed with him. That ritual continued until he was 14 years old.

Luke played for his father from 1996 through 2000. Together, they led Blaine High's Borderites to a four-year record of 97-11, highlighted by Washington Class AA state championships in 1999 and 2000.

The coach's son averaged 23 points and seven assists. He developed into a three-time AA State Player of the year and a 2000 McDonald's and Parade All-American.

Some who followed Luke's prep career swear that he could get from one end of the basketball court to the other faster while dribbling the ball than he could without a ball, running a sprint.

Ridnour's prolific prep career drew college recruiters from in-state schools such as Washington and Gonzaga and from such nationally ranked programs as Utah and Kentucky.

But from the time Ridnour got off the plane for his official visit to the University of Oregon with basketball in hand, he liked what he saw and heard there. He decided to become a Duck.

Ridnour became Pac 10 Conference Freshman of the Year in 2000-01, but considered that year unfulfilling since Oregon went just 14-14, losing three more games than his high school team lost in four seasons.

During Ridnour's freshman year in college, his life took a turn – one similar to the one his boyhood idol took about five years before his sudden death.

"I was always a Christian, but my faith didn't really become personal for me until my freshman year in college," Ridnour said. "That's when it really hit me and I started a personal relationship with Jesus and it changed my life from there.

"I started speaking, talking to youth groups and really becoming outspoken about my faith."

Ridnour remembers reaching his pivotal crossroads.

"I was really struggling basketball-wise," he said. "Everything I had before that, my identity was in basketball. I was just not happy with that. I was tired of being known strictly as a basketball player.

"When you're strictly a basketball player, your whole identity is in the game. When you play well, you're happy. When you don't, you're sad. Losing gets hard. For years, basketball had been pretty easy for me and then all of a sudden, it wasn't. That changed me. I was searching. One night, I felt the Holy Spirit come over me and tell me, ‘This is me.' That was it for me."

Ridnour didn't look back.

"We had a chaplain who traveled with our team," he said. "I started talking about scripture with him and he just encouraged me to keep going. The same thing happened to a couple of other guys on our team. We had a strong core of Christian players."

Driven to change the team's direction, Ridnour orchestrated a series of scrimmages and workouts for himself and his teammates during the ensuing summer, and they paid off.

Oregon was picked to finish sixth in the Pac 10 the following season, but the Ducks took the league by storm. They won the program's first undisputed conference championship since 1939, when the team known as the "Tall Firs" won the very first NCAA Tournament.

Ridnour credits Ernie Kent, who coached him at Oregon, for the turnaround and for having a profound impact on his career.

"Coach Kent gave me an awesome opportunity to run," Ridnour said. "He gave me the ball and let me go with it. So he was important, too."

"Our team at Oregon was special. Everyone got along real well, and it was like a family. Playing there was a lot of fun."

Ridnour teamed with Luke Jackson to lead the Ducks to the NCAA Tournament twice, including the Elite Eight in 2002. He set a school season record for assists (218) and made a Pac 10 record 62 consecutive free throws.

Ridnour was named Pac-10 Player of the Year following his junior season, in which he averaged 19.6 points and 6.7 assists per game. He was such a McArthur Court fan favorite that during his final game, the crowd chanted "one more year" so loudly that the game had to be stopped while he walked off the court.

Ridnour now finds himself in his 11th NBA season, matching the total Maravich played during his Hall-of-Fame career.

During those years, Luke has demonstrated consistency as both a point guard and a disciple.

"My NBA career has given me a great platform to tell others about the Lord," he said. "People can see what it means to be a Christian when a guy gets up and not only talks about it, but lives it."

His efforts have met opposition at times.

"One thing you hear when some people find out you're a Christian is, ‘You're soft,'" Ridnour said. "That is the biggest joke. The Bible tells us we're going to be persecuted. We're so blessed in this country that we can say what we believe. It's not a matter of life and death here like it is in some places."

Ridnour especially enjoys sharing his basketball prowess and his faith with youngsters.

"I love doing camps," he said. "I get to work with the next generation coming up. It's great to see and work with more and more believers of that generation. I've done the camps for years back in my hometown. It's a small community, but we still get about 300 kids at the camp every year."

Some of Ridnour's campers have no doubt been inspired by him as he was by Maravich.

"I've studied more faith-based stuff than basketball stuff about Pete as I've grown older," Ridnour said. "People considered him a radical. If he was in a taxi, he told the taxi driver about Jesus.

"It was inspiring to me to hear of his commitment to Jesus and his faith. Whenever I can, I try to share my faith, too."

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