Talk hoops all year long in Luke Winn's blog, a journal of commentary, news and reader-driven discussions about the college game.
11/30/2007 02:58:00 AM
Blog Q&A With ... Kansas' Brandon Rush
Kansas junior Brandon Rush declared for the Draft before tearing his ACL.
Scott Sewell/Icon SMI
For the latest edition of the Blog Q&A series, I chatted with Kansas junior Brandon Rush, who returned to the Jayhawks on Nov. 15 -- well ahead of schedule -- after rehabbing from an offseason ACL tear and subsequent surgery. Rush was KU's leading scorer as a sophomore and had declared for the 2007 NBA Draft, but was forced to remove his name following the knee injury. He scored 17 in each of the Jayhawks' victories this week (over Arizona and Florida Atlantic). The following is an edited version of our phone conversation from Thursday:
Luke Winn: Before you played your first game at Kansas, you were asked to describe your offensive repertoire, and you said, 'Highlights.' Is that still the description you'd offer, or would you revise it?
Brandon Rush: I wouldn't say it's highlights anymore. It's smooth plays. That's my style now. Guys on the team -- mostly [sophomore guard] Brady Morningstar, whose locker is right next to mine -- will call me 'Smooth.'
LW: The 55-footer you took at the end of regulation against Arizona got a lot of rim before missing. [Here's the YouTube.] If the Jayhawks held a beyond-halfcourt shooting contest in practice, who would win?
BR:Brady [Morningstar]. That's all he does during practice: shoot from halfcourt. He's redshirting this year, so he doesn't have to do too much.
BR: My first year in college, I was really nervous, and my hands were getting covered in sweat. Coach [Bill Self] told me that if I wore wristbands in that first game, I had to wear them the rest of the year. He's superstitious like that. So I had to wear them the rest of the year.
LW: Was there ever a point where you wanted to ditch them?
BR: No. I would have had so many turnovers if I did. The ball would have been slipping out everywhere.
LW: KU made a controversial font change on the front of your jerseys for this season, going with "Trajan" lettering. How do you feel about the new look?
BR: As long as it says Kansas and has our numbers on the back, it's fine with me. I heard they paid a pretty penny for this font, too. [It was $88,900.] Some people are upset about it, but there's nothing we can do; it was a thing the athletic department decided.
LW: If you could pick any college retro jersey to wear, whose would it be?
BR: I like the Tar Heels jerseys -- the baby blues -- and I've always loved Jordan, so I'd wear his old 23. I don't have it, but I'd wear it if I did. People on campus might get mad about that, though.
LW: You went to high school in North Carolina [at Mount Zion Academy] but you're a local kid, from Kansas City. Did you get to spend your Thanksgiving with family?
BR: I got to go home for a few hours. I went over to my grandmother's. We had a big Thanksgiving dinner down here, with my mom, uncles, all of them came. It was fun. Most of the [Kansas] players who didn't get to go home either went to Mario [Chalmers]'s or Brady's, since their families live in Lawrence.
LW: What's your favorite Thanksgiving food?
BR: This apple salad that my grandmother makes only once a year, for Thanksgiving. I don't know how she makes it, but it's got apples and mayonnaise and a bunch of other stuff.
LW: Last Sunday -- three days after Thanksgiving -- you guarded Arizona's Chase Budinger while you were still recovering from the knee injury, and he scored 28 points. That had to be a tough matchup, but who's the most difficult guy you've guarded in three years at school?
BR:Kevin Durant. He could do everything possible to score: he could shoot in your face, go off the dribble, post up. He was the complete package, the toughest guy to defend. I was trying to guard him before he caught the ball, so he wouldn't even get a chance to make moves, but that didn't work out too well.
LW: Do you guys play pre-game music in the locker room to get yourselves ready?
BR: Shady [Darrell Arthur] will come in sometimes and play some of his crazy Texas music.
LW: Crazy Texas music?
BR: Just crazy stuff that Texas people listen to, all the Chopped and Screwed stuff. If I'm on my iPod I only do Lil' Wayne. Anything by Lil' Wayne is my pre-game stuff.
LW: Students at Allen Fieldhouse have been waving those giant-head cutouts of Jayhawk players, which are kind of eerier. Which one do you think looks the scariest?
BR: I'd have to say Sasha [Kaun]'s, because his sign has got such a mean look to it, it is scary. I think it has more of an effect on people too, because they don't hold it up that much. It comes out, maybe, when he makes a free throw or a big dunk.
LW: Do you own any of those giant signs, by any chance? Maybe for your place?
BR: Naw, I don't own one. Darnell [Jackson] and I just have a giant, five-foot poster of the team in our main room, though.
LW: I've read a lot about all the rehab you went through on your knee before coming back to the court in the past few weeks. What was the lowest moment during that whole process?
BR: Just watching everybody else play. Watching everybody else get better in the summertime, when I couldn't do anything but rehab. It was depressing not to be able to get my reps in. I found ways to work. I couldn't run or anything, but I would dribble in place, and shoot without jumping. That was all I could do.
LW: Who was the first person you called when you hurt your knee in that pickup game in June?
BR: I called my mom first. Then I called my AAU coach [John Walker]. Then I called coach Self, and then my teammates. When it happened I didn't know what it was at first; I just told my mom I tweaked my knee a little bit, and that I was going to be out for a while. Then I came back to school, and it was still swollen, and I got an MRI. Before I even got the MRI, the doctor was saying there was a strong chance I tore my ACL, and that's what it turned out to be.
LW: Had you already packed up your college stuff to move out of Lawrence? You had declared for the draft the month before, and it seemed like a lock that you would stay in.
BR: I didn't have any of my stuff packed. I was really going to wait and see how the draft stuff worked out anyway.
LW: You declared for the NBA Draft out of high school in 2005, then pulled out, and now you're in your third year of college. Honestly, back to '05, where did you expect to be in '07?
BR: I was expecting to be in the NBA. But it didn't happen that way. I stayed an extra year at Kansas, then I got hurt this summer, and that changed some things. It's been a good experience. I'd had a lot of ups and downs in my life, but I've learned a lot just by being at a school like Kansas.
LW: What's the funniest thing you'll remember Bill Self telling you as a player?
BR: Just how he always talks about how my left arm is crooked. That brings a smile to my face all the time. I broke my arm when I was 11 doing backflips, on concrete, and I had to go through years of healing to get it back to normal. It's still a little crooked, though, and everybody on the team loves to make fun of it. If I fumble away a ball or something, coach Self will be like, "Just straighten out that left arm, and you would have caught it."
LW: Finish this sentence for me: If we don't make the Final Four this season ...
BR: It would be kind of a disappointment, because we've got the team to do it. We've got the team to make it happen. But even if it doesn't happen, I'd be happy that we went as far as we did.
This is the fourth expansion of The Style Archive, which opened on Dec. 4, 2006, and has grown to 34 exhibits. It's a blog-museum college hoops style -- everything from hairdos, to flair, to YouTube-worthy moves. The eight new inductees appear below, and the complete Archive can be found here.
(Readers are encouraged to make archive nominations either in the blog comments or by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org, and will be credited on the site for any successful suggestions.)
>> Feb. 23 Exhibits <<
The Kill Bill Dominic James, 5-11 guard, Soph., Marquette Classification: Golden overdose Submitted: by an anonymous reader (take credit in the comments!) Notes: James periodically goes on a color-coordination binge, matching his arm sleeve and high socks with his gold jersey. He actually wears two arm sleeves, with the base layer handed down from Allen Iverson.
Over-Earband Lorenzo Mata, 6-9 center, Jr., UCLA Classification: Headband/earwarmer Spotted: Feb. 10 at West Virginia by the blog Notes: Mata has been wearing his headband like this for a long time -- it's even over his ears in his official UCLA pic. He was not wearing it poolside in his most famous image, though.
The Chicago Shave Julian Wright and Sherron Collins, Kansas Classification: Shaved-in hair design Submitted by: Reader Dustin Fox Notes: KU's Chicago duo had matching patterns in the front-right portion of their close-cropped 'dos in late January. KU readers: If you have any more information on the design's significance, leave it in the comments.
Dirk's Doppelganger Kyle Wilson, 6-8 forward, Sr., Wichita State Classification: The Nowitzki look Spotted: Jan. 30 at Northern Iowa by the Blog Notes: Wilson grew up in Dallas, not Germany, but bears a strong resemblance to the Mavs' MVP candidate. Also, like Dirk, Wilson is his team's tallest starter, top scorer and highest-percentage three-point shooter.
The .44 Special Sean Singletary, 6-0 guard, Jr., Virginia Classification: Absurd, reclining game-winner Submitted: by a UVa alum in Duke grad school Notes: Singletary's one-handed, one-footed, horizontal shot to beat Duke on Feb. 1 might go down as the YouTube clip of the year in college hoops -- and will surely be the season's coolest clutch shot.
The '90s Bowl Lawrence Hill, 6-8 forward, Soph., Stanford Classification: Classic bowl-shave 'do Submitted: by Gonzaga alum Lawrence Cenotto Notes: Hill, who's stepped up as a sophomore to become the Cardinal's leading scorer (at 16.1 ppg) and rebounder (6.1 rpg), is rocking a look from the early part of the Mike Montogmery Era.
PR Stunt A.D. Vassallo, 6-6 G/F, Fr., Virginia Tech Classification: Head-shave abbreviation Submitted: by VT student Gregory Bringhurst Notes: Vassallo, whose father was a 17-year star in the Puerto Rican pro league, shaved an homage to his homeland in the back of his head. A.D. has played for Puerto Rico's Under-21 national team.
Flow It, Show It John Pelphrey, head coach, Southern Alabama Classification: Grown-out sideline 'do Submitted: by reader Rick G. Notes: Former UK guard Pelphrey sported a standard, shorter cut during the Jags' NCAA tournament trip in March 2006, but has since grown out his (Goldi)locks -- and appears to have cut about 5-10 years off of his age.
Kansas' Julian Wright, a star on the court and at the lanes.
As part of an ongoing series of Blog Q&As, I chatted with Kansas' Julian Wright on Wednesday. The versatile sophomore power forward helped spark the Jayhawks' overtime upset of top-ranked Florida in Las Vegas last Saturday night, scoring 21 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in 42 minutes.
Luke Winn: You committed to play for Kansas on the day Bill Self visited your home in Illinois, without ever even seeing campus first. What, exactly, did he say that convinced you?
Julian Wright: I was comfortable with him and Kansas. I was already starting to get recruited by him when he was at Illinois, so I was familiar with what he was about. He was straightforward; he talked about the Kansas family, and how I could play a lot, with some great guys, but I had to earn it first. Looking back, that was the truth, I wasn't ready to come in and start and play 30 minutes right away. I had to get better in practice first.
LW: There was some kind of apology in there, too, right? I had heard you were upset because KU had given up on recruiting you for the whole summer after [assistant] Norm Roberts left for St. John's ...
JW: At first I didn't want to hear from them again. Kansas had been my favorite -- even if I didn't say it -- way back in the spring, and I was upset during that summer, thinking, couldn't they have at least sent me a letter telling me what was going on, or why they weren't interested? My mom asked me to give [Self] the chance to explain what happened. So I listened, and knew I had to make a grown-man decision. I could have held a grudge like a little kid and not thought about it, and let someone else get that last scholarship. Or I could go ahead and play for the team I wanted to play for, with guys like Mario [Chalmers], who I had already gotten to know at the USA Basketball camp.
LW: The whole impromptu, players-only clearing-of-the-air session you guys had in your hotel the night before the Florida game is becoming Kansas legend. Can you tell me exactly what you said that evening?
JW: It'll need to be censored. Basically we all knew that coach [Self] was frustrated, and we were starting to get frustrated, too. He was on us all the time, and we needed him to be on us, but it got to the point where I could sense a lot of players starting to plant negative seeds, in terms of making small excuses or pointing fingers. And excuses are coach's pet peeve. I just started saying, 'What are we doing? This is not how we can play. How are we going to be good until we start playing the way coach wants us to? He's on us because he knows we can be better.'
I heard a lot of 'Shut-ups' from people, and I later apologized, because I was saying a lot of personal stuff, just to fire them up. It was basically the same stuff that coach says, but maybe in terms that a player could relate to a little more. I was frustrated. Not because people happened to have bad games, but because the way we were playing, there wasn't any zip to us, no passion or energy. I said we shouldn't be stressed out, we should be living for these moments.
LW: If the night before the Florida win was serious, what was the night after like in Vegas?
JW: We actually left right away. People were happy, but they were tired, too -- it was a high-intensity game. We watched the tape on the plane on the way back, and even though we won, we knew we still had work to do, that it's just a stepping stone to getting better.
LW: So you're telling me no one wanted to pull an all-nighter on the Strip.
JW: I think a lot of guys wanted to stay a little bit longer, but it was a tiring trip. We didn't even get back into our rooms [in Lawrence] until sunrise. Had we gone out [in Vegas], I would have been more scared for the staff than the players. (Laughing.) LW: And what was your favorite moment from that win?
JW:Brandon Rush's winning shot. Not that I thought Joakim Noah was going to block it, but I was in position to get the rebound just in case. At the same time, as a spectator, I knew he was going to finish strong and make it. Our main focus was to get in the paint and put pressure on Florida's defense, so it was fitting that the game-winner was scored in the paint.
LW: Switching sports here, I've heard you're big into bowling. True?
JW: I was actually a little late [for our interview] because I was bowling. I hadn't been to the lanes in a while.
LW: And you have your own ball?
JW: Yeah, it's called the "Big Bully." It's a dark red ball, with a logo of a guy with some big muscles on it.
LW: Is this a long-time obsession? Tell me how you got into the sport.
JW: I bowled once in seventh grade, and I didn't bowl again until my freshman orientation here at Kansas. ... This summer was when I got serious about it. I was up there [in the student union's J-Bowl] almost every day, trying to take it to another level. Some of the guys there had been bowling since they were 5, and they were brutalizing me by 50 pins while I was just struggling to not get any gutters. That's not the case anymore -- my motivation was to become the best bowler possible in the quickest amount of time, and my average is up to the 160 range now. I've gone from barely breaking 100 at the start to almost hitting 200 every third game or so.
LW: What's your taste in music like? Not bowlers' polka, I assume?
JW: My iPod has a little bit of everything, over 1,500 songs now. I mostly listen to R&B, though. A little jazz, a little hip-hop. But I'm not a big hip-hop head like a lot of players are. There are just too many songs out there that talk about the same stuff. It gets repetitive. I'm more of a person who appreciates the actual substance of the music, not just the music itself. LW: So who are your R&B All-Stars?
JW: Of all-time, the top three are probably Joe, 112 and R. Kelly. Lately I've been listening to a lot of Bobby Valentino, Eric Benet and Justin Timberlake, though. Gotta have Justin Timberlake on there.
LW: Back to hoops. You have pretty unique passing skills for a big man. How did that part of your game develop?
JW: I don't think I take it for granted, but when I start watching other guys my size with the ball, I start to appreciate my ability to see the floor. Coach gets mad at me sometimes because he says I think too much looking for the extra pass, rather than just going ahead and scoring. I guess I have a willingness to give. I'd rather see someone else get the basket. It comes from back home [near Chicago], when as a kid I'd play about two grades higher than mine, with guys who were stronger and faster. I've never been a ballhog, and and usually that's the only way they'd let me play -- if I promised them I'd pass the ball around.
The concept of creating your own shot was pretty much foreign to me until I got to college. And I still don't feel like I need to score a lot of impact the game. I'd rather pass it. LW: You've been creating a lot of looks for your new star freshman, Darrell Arthur. How happy are you with his progress?
JW: I was really proud of the way he played down the stretch against Florida. He's coming along faster than most freshmen. We took him under our wing this summer, and told him if he didn't worry about playing well, or being great right away, that's when he'd start to get good without even noticing it. The way he runs the floor and rebounds really helps us a lot.
LW: Finally, if you had to pick a College Dream Team -- four guys to play alongside you -- and you couldn't choose any other Jayhawks, who makes the roster?
JW: Man, that's tough. Since Al Horford blocked my shot like that, I'll take him at the five. I've got nothing against 7-footers, but I'll take him because I want all of my guys to run the floor. At point guard, I'll go with Acie Law [of Texas A&M]. He's smooth and knows how to play under pressure; I got to see him a lot this summer. At the two, I'll go with youth and use Kevin Durant [of Texas]. He's really skilled, long and athletic and can shoot the ball. I'll put him on my team any time -- he can explode for 20 points and plays far beyond his years. At the three I'll take Alando Tucker. He's pretty good up there at Wisconsin, a real tough-nosed player. I've never faced up against him, but I know he's from my area of Illinois, too. And I'll play the four -- I'm pretty comfortable with that now.