BLAINE — Prior to last summer’s trading frenzy that saw him dealt four times in less than a week, former Blaine High School standout and NBA veteran Luke Ridnour had essentially already decided to retire.
So as media outlets reported one trade after another — the non-guaranteed nature of his contract made him a valuable trade chip, as it allowed teams to free up salary cap space by waiving him — Ridnour watched from a distance while enjoying the beginning of newfound time with his wife and four young sons.
“It was pretty funny, because in my mind I was already retired,” Ridnour told the Tribune earlier this month. “I knew I wasn’t going to go to any of those places, so it was pretty funny to hear the comments and see everybody get so worked up about it.”
There hasn't been a press conference or formal retirement announcement from Ridnour, perhaps befitting of his ever-humble persona. But after not playing this past season, word got out that Ridnour is indeed retiring, and the Tribune confirmed that with him during a July 8 interview.
It marks the end of an impressive basketball journey for the most accomplished player in Whatcom County history — a path that took him from stardom at Blaine and the University of Oregon to a 12-year career in the NBA.
“It was just a blessing,” Ridnour said of playing in the NBA. “It’s something that I always dreamed of doing, and to actually get to do it was a lot of fun.”
Long before the bright lights of the NBA, or the towering Times Square billboard of him in an Oregon uniform, or his numerous college and high school basketball accolades, Ridnour was a small-town kid with a big-time love of the game.
His hardwood success took root in Blaine — a town of less than 5,000 residents tucked into the northwestern corner of the country — where the hoops-centric boy and his basketball were practically inseparable. As a fifth grader, he had watched a biopic about former NBA legend “Pistol” Pete Maravich, who became his boyhood idol. Emulating the hoops icon, Ridnour would bring a basketball along seemingly everywhere he went — to school, to church and even to bed.
“I started carrying a ball and playing all the time because I saw he did it,” Ridnour said of his Pistol Pete affinity. “It kind of inspired me to really start playing.”
Ridnour began spending countless evenings training on his own in the Blaine High School gym, crafting his skills through a variety of regimented drills and repetitions. The self-initiated workouts lasted several hours each night and grew progressively more intensive as he got older.
“He was really disciplined in his game,” said Luke’s father, Rob, a former longtime Blaine High School head coach. “When he went in the gym, he really worked. I’d watch him through the door once in a while just to see what he was doing, and it was amazing. He just really had a love for the game. I think that’s what separated him from a lot of players.”
For Ridnour, it was a labor of love that laid the foundation for his basketball achievements.
“It was never like work to me,” he said. “It was just something fun that I got to go do. I wanted to get better and better, so I would start to get in the gym anytime I could. In high school and college, we used to sneak in the gym and just play. I think if you want to be good at something, you’ve got to put the time in and you’ve got to enjoy doing it.”
Whatcom County legend
As the son of a high school coach, Ridnour grew up dreaming of the day he could don a Blaine uniform. Of course, with each level of basketball he reached, that dream evolved.
“I idolized the high school players, because I got to watch them play and those were the guys that everyone looked up to,” Ridnour said. “So I always wanted to play high school basketball. And then once I got there, it was college. And then in college it was the NBA.”
When his time came, Ridnour compiled a decorated career at Blaine that produced back-to-back 2A state championships. He took the county — and state — by storm, and even garnered national recognition.
After guiding the Borderites to sixth-place and runner-up finishes at state his first two years, Ridnour led Blaine as a junior to an undefeated 27-0 season that culminated in the first of two state titles. He then capped his brilliant Borderite career in 2000 with a legendary championship-game comeback in Yakima. With his team facing a 10-point deficit in the final minutes of regulation, he rallied Blaine to an overtime win for the program’s second consecutive state crown.
Averaging roughly 23 points and seven assists per game over his high school career, Ridnour led the Borderites to four state tournament appearances and a combined 97-11 record. He was a three-time state 2A Player of the Year and earned both McDonald’s and Parade All-American honors his senior season.
“I think probably his greatest strength to me was just his knowledge of the game,” said Rob, who coached his son all four years at Blaine. “He just had a really good feel for the game, even when he was a little guy. All the way through, he just knew how to play the game.”
University of Oregon superstar
Ridnour was heavily recruited by the powerhouse University of Kentucky program and visited several other colleges. But ultimately he headed down Interstate 5 to the University of Oregon, where he starred for three seasons as point guard of a high-scoring Ducks attack.
A creative floor artist known for his pinpoint passing, polished dribbling and speed with the ball, Ridnour was the perfect match for head coach Ernie Kent’s up-tempo, run-and-gun system.
“Ernie gave him the green light to play,” Rob said. “Ernie just kind of let Luke run the team, and they had a good supporting cast around Luke. It was just a great, awesome experience.”
Ridnour earned Pac-12 Conference Rookie of the Year honors his freshman season, and then as a sophomore guided the program on a storybook 2001-02 campaign. Riding the third-leading offense in the country, the Ridnour-led Ducks captured the program’s first conference title since World War II and advanced to the NCAA Tournament's Elite Eight for the first time since 1960.
Ridnour followed that with a magnificent junior season that earned him the Pac-12 Player of the Year award and an Associated Press All-American honorable mention. He finished the season with 19.7 points and 6.6 assists per game and led Oregon to the Pac-12 Tournament title — while earning tournament Most Valuable Player honors — and a second straight NCAA Tournament appearance. There was even a 170-foot-tall billboard in New York’s Times Square touting him for the Wooden Award, one of college basketball’s most prestigious honors.
Ridnour, who remains one of the Ducks’ all-time greatest players, set a single-season school record as a junior with 218 assists and ranks third in program history with 500 career assists. He was inducted into the Pac-12 Hall of Honor in January.
“We got lucky when he went to Oregon,” Rob said. “It was the right offense for him and it propelled him into the NBA, no question.”
12 years in the NBA
A few months after the conclusion of his junior season with the Ducks, Ridnour was selected 14th overall by the Seattle SuperSonics in a star-studded NBA Draft that included LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony.
Playing for Seattle was a dream scenario for Ridnour and his family, given the close proximity to home. Ridnour’s parents — who estimate they logged roughly 35,000 miles in their Camry one year while watching him play at Oregon and his sister, Heather, play at Eastern Washington University — made every Sonics home game during Ridnour’s five seasons with the franchise.
“It was unbelievable,” said Rob of watching his son play in the NBA. “A dream come true.”
Ridnour had some of the brightest years of his career in Seattle, most notably his second season in 2004-05 when he helped lead the Sonics to the Western Conference semifinals. He started all 82 regular-season games and all 11 playoff games at point guard that year, averaging 10.0 points and 5.9 assists per game.
Following his time with Seattle, Ridnour played two seasons with Milwaukee, three with Minnesota, partial seasons with Milwaukee and Charlotte and his final season with Orlando. He finished with career averages of 9.3 points, 4.5 assists and 26.1 minutes per game.
“Once I got (to the NBA), it was just getting into the right situations on the right teams,” Ridnour said. “For me, the reason that I was there was the Lord placed me there. I give Him the glory for it.
“And just the hard work,” he added. “Just continuing to work. Even when people said there’s no chance you’ll make it or keep playing, just to keep working hard.”
Ridnour was a respectable scorer in the NBA, averaging double-digit points per game in seven of his 12 seasons, including a career-high 12.1 with Minnesota in 2011-12. He shot 34.9 percent from 3-point range for his career, had a quality mid-range game and possessed a knack for making off-balance floaters look like a practiced art.
But as a crafty, pass-first floor general, Ridnour’s greatest strength was distributing the ball to other scorers. He posted an exceptional career 2.8 assist-to-turnover ratio and dished a career-high 7.0 assists per game in 2005-06 with Seattle.
Yet likely the most impressive number in Ridnour’s NBA career was 12 — the number of seasons he played. That’s 2.5 times the length of the league-average 4.8-year career, according to Business Insider. And during those 12 seasons, Ridnour started nearly 60 percent of the 830 games he appeared in.
Rob attributes much of his son’s NBA longevity to work ethic and character, as well as being under the right coaches. He believes that veteran coaches who were former players in the league — such as Nate McMillan, Rick Adelman and Scott Skiles — had considerable respect for Ridnour.
“Luke was a no-nonsense player, a locker-room guy, a good teammate,” Rob said. “He brought it every day in practice and he brought it every game — it didn’t matter if he played 20 minutes, three minutes or 40 minutes. And I think those veteran coaches saw that in Luke. I think that kept him in the league over a 12-year period.”
Faith, family and a humble outlook
While some players can be negatively affected by the limelight of Division I basketball and the NBA, Ridnour certainly didn’t fall into that category. Even as the Blaine product rose to fame, he remained grounded in his Christian faith and the perspective it provides him.
“As he got older and went off on his own at Oregon, his faith grew,” Rob said. “Sometimes you get exposed to the outside elements, (but) his faith actually grew when he got away from the house, and that’s a real credit to Luke. He already had the foundation as a kid with work ethic and stuff, but I think that faith really helped him propel to another level as well.”
Ridnour’s faith has long been at the center of both his basketball journey and life as a whole.
“For me, it’s everything,” Ridnour said. “I give (God) the glory for making it to the league. And for me, I don’t want to be known as a basketball player. A man of God is more what I strive for, and basketball was just a platform that He gave me so that I was able to speak about Him. So I think that’s all I continue to do — just use it and inspire kids to be bold and to go for it.”
With his basketball career in the rear-view mirror, Ridnour’s immediate plans involve spending time with his family, volunteering and “figuring out what’s next,” he said. For the most part, he’s simply been relishing the added time with his wife and four sons — a 7-year-old, 5-year-old twins and a 1-year-old.
“(It’s been) lots of good family time, coaching some Little League and staying busy chasing these little guys around,” Ridnour said. “So it’s been fun. It keeps us busy.”
Ridnour is currently making a homecoming of sorts, as he and his family are in the process of moving from Seattle back to Whatcom County. He also will return to Blaine High School on July 27-29 to host his third annual youth basketball camp (see details below). Back in the same gym where he trained endlessly as a kid, Ridnour hopes to share his love of the game with local youth — a love that helped propel him to the sport’s pinnacle.
“It’s just fun for me to give back to the community and get kids playing,” Ridnour said. “And most importantly, to have fun playing. I think that’s the most important thing for little guys — to have fun doing it.”
Luke Ridnour is hosting the third annual Luke Ridnour Basketball Camp on July 27-29 at Blaine High School.
The camp will be split into two sessions: one from 9 to 10 a.m. for ages 6-8 that costs $50 per player, and another from 10:30 a.m. to noon for ages 9-12 that costs $75. Both boys and girls are welcome.
To register, print and fill out the application on lukeridnourbasketballcamp.com. Send the form, along with a check, to 4292 West Rd., Blaine, WA 98230. All proceeds will be donated to a local cause.