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On the day before the NBA draft, the coolest guy in the room could barely finish his sentence without chuckling. At himself.
It was likely because the sentence in question was "I tried to mold my game after Michael Jordan, but that didn't work out too good."
Indeed, nobody is going to be confusing Kansas guard Brandon Rush with the man known as His Airness anytime too soon.
But we knew that going in.
What was a lot more striking was the way the soon-to-be draftee carried himself throughout media day on the eve of the night that will officially mark his transition to the next level of basketball livelihood.All of Steve's daily posts can be found in the CelticsBlog: NBA blog. Check him out!
There were just three people at his table when he sat down. The throng ten feet over belonged to one Mr. Beasley, and deservedly so, of course. The next guy to sit at Rush's table probably had as many media members gathered around him for the first question as Brandon Rush had combined for the entirety of the half hour that he sat. That would be O.J. Mayo.
For a few minutes while the former Jayhawk was there, the masses would wander over and turn their bright lights on. Away they would go. Then back again. Through it all, Brandon Rush's laid-back demeanor and look never changed. Quiet, slightly mumbled (but still intelligible) tone, relaxed smile and un-tensed shoulders for the guy with the professional-looking but understated sport coat and white shirt.
He fielded questions about everything from what he needs to work on this summer (getting stronger, continuing to learn the game and ball-handling) to who the first pick should be ("Beasley. Best player I've seen since I've been in college"). He did it all with a smile, a look in the eye for the inquirer and a firm handshake and gracious thank-you for anyone who chose to introduce himself.
He'd tell you it had to do with the fact that he was there to watch his older brother Kareem go through the draft process six years ago and that he went through part of it himself once upon a time: "It ain’t been too bad, cause I already been through it before, I kinda knew what to expect."
But Rush has never been through a year like this one. Thanks to an ACL injury late last year, he didn't shine as brightly as an individual as he had hoped to throughout the first half of his junior season at Kansas. He turned it up in the second half of the season and was an instrumental part in the Jayhawks' capture of the national title. But even though he's a 6-6 guard with a good shooting stroke, explosiveness, unselfishness and a good feel for the game -- coming out of a winning program, no less -- it feels like less than a month ago that Rush was being projected as an early-to-mid second round selection.
Tonight he'll be in the green room with many of the other most highly touted players in the draft.
"Everybody looks calm because they know where they're gonna be," Rush said. "I should be nervous because I don't know where I'm gonna end up yet. They gonna be in this type of range, that type of range. I'm just happy to be here."
He insisted that he'll be sweating bullets this evening while he waits for his name to be called.
But you wouldn't have known it from listening to him chat on a crisp summer afternoon in New York City.
The guy who has wowed scouts with a set of great workouts was more than willing to talk about the so-called serious stuff. The Trail Blazers have impressed him the most of the organizations he has worked out for. Spending three years in college was definitely huge for him. Playing for a big-time Kansas program with such an enormous national following has likely helped ready him for the adjustment to playing on the big market stages of the NBA with regularity.
But Rush wasn't pullling any punches about any other subjects of pertinence either.
When asked about whether or not older brother Kareem had given him any advice on moving into a new tax bracket, the younger Rush smiled gently and deadpanned, "Well, he made some bad decisions when he came into the league, so he wants me to try and learn it myself, I guess." Somehow, it came out perfectly. Not riotously funny, but chuckle-worthy without being a shot at big brother either.
"I love LA. Living in New York would be pretty crazy. I don't think I could handle it," was quickly followed with "I ain't saying don't pick me" to a chorus of laughs from the crowd.
He plays as himself in video games and makes sure his character takes every shot. His brother used to be his role model, "but now we're in the same position, so I gotta 'X' that out." He compares himself to Ray Allen -- but "a young Ray Allen, back in Seattle." He wants to play against the "Black Mamba."
And then it was back to the important stuff. Yes, it's important for Brandon Rush to be a role model. He learned in his Kansas days about what it means to have youngsters looking up to him, and he doesn't want to let those people down.
Yep, from start to finish, there was one word for Brandon Rush: cool. Cool because he was the guy in the room who is entitled to a collegiate championship ring. Cool because he was unfazed by any question that came his way. Cool because he seems at ease with where his odyssey has taken him -- from top talent to injury risk to doubted to right back in the thick of the pack. Cool because while he hasn't dazzled in comparison to some of his colleagues in this draft, he has certainly made it clear that he can play -- and in virtually every area of the game, too.
Somehow, this is a 22-year-old kid who seems to have found his equilibrium right in the eye of the storm.
And it doesn't hurt at all that Brandon Rush is grounded, too: He already has a speech ready for David Stern when he's on the podium tonight, but it's not going to be too wordy: "All I want to say is 'Thank you.'"