In the fall Missouri sophomore Kareem Rush showed some of his teammates a videotape of highlights from his high school days at Pembroke Hill Academy in Kansas City, Mo. The clips included a variety of spectacular dunks, but Rush's buddies couldn't help but notice that most of them were thrown down not by Kareem, but by his older brother, JaRon. It was the story of Kareem's life, caught on tape. "People always called me JaRon's little brother," he says. "Growing up in his shadow really shaped my personality. It taught me to be reluctant and hold back my feelings."
A smooth lefty swingman who at 6'6" prefers a feathery fadeaway to a thunderous slam, Kareem is casting a long shadow of his own these days. While JaRon, a 6'7" forward, toils in obscurity for the Los Angeles Sparks of the American Basketball Association—having gone un-drafted by the NBA last June after leaving UCLA following his sophomore year—Kareem has emerged as the leading candidate for Big 12 player of the year. Through Sunday he led the conference in scoring with a 21.9 point average, and last week he staged a national coming-out party by getting 27 points and 11 rebounds in the Tigers' 75-66 upset of then No. 3 Kansas.
Rush still isn't assertive enough for Missouri coach Quin Snyder, however. "Kareem plays the game with a lot of artistry, but he tends to take the path of least resistance," says Snyder, whose Tigers were 14-6 (5-2 in the Big 12) at week's end. "He's always waiting for you to call on him, when he should be raising his hand."
Snyder saw a prime example of Rush's tendency to be a follower in December 1999, when the NCAA suspended Rush for nine games of his freshman year for having accepting $2,300 from Myron Piggie, his former AAU coach in Kansas City. During the time he was out, Rush zealously attacked the workout regimen Snyder had given him, and after returning on Jan. 22 he averaged 14.7 points and was named Big 12 co-freshman of the year. Once the season was over, however, Snyder sensed that Rush was neglecting his responsibilities on and off the court. He insisted Rush call him once a day throughout the spring. "It was a way of keeping him connected," Snyder says. "He wasn't living his life with a strong sense of purpose. He's still developing that fortitude."
While Kareem grows more comfortable with his burgeoning stardom, he and JaRon, who had a rocky relationship growing up, are closer than they've been in years. Shortly after JaRon signed a contract last summer with the Kansas City Knights (he was traded to Los Angeles in December), he visited Kareem in Columbia. For the first time in Kareem's experience, several people referred to JaRon as "Kareem's brother" as the two walked around town. "I have to admit, that felt pretty good," Kareem says, smiling at the recollection. "My mom always said I should have been the older brother."