KU’s Rush winds up with Indiana at NBA draft
By J. BRADY McCOLLOUGH
NEW YORK | Brandon Rush walked around the TV interview room, feeling a bit lost with a Portland Trail Blazers cap on his head.
“This is pretty weird,” Rush said. “I hope there aren’t any Indiana people around here.”
It just wouldn’t be right for Rush’s draft night to go off without a hitch. When it comes to getting to the NBA, Rush only knows unforeseen twists and turns. On Thursday, the script flipped again when the Portland Trail Blazers picked Rush 13th overall and then traded him to the Indiana Pacers in a package for No. 11 pick Jerryd Bayless.
Ten minutes after the trade was announced, Rush was still looking for a Pacers cap. The trade hadn’t been officially passed by league officials, but Rush didn’t care.
“I might have to switch with Bayless,” Rush said.
All awkwardness aside, Rush’s night couldn’t have gone much better. A year after tearing his ACL and wondering whether he would ever be the same player again, Rush, a Kansas City native, was selected in the draft lottery.
“People doubted I would be the same player,” Rush said.
Yet, here he was on Thursday morning, hanging out with his relatively small entourage in the lobby of the Westin Times Square, looking corporate already with a white dress shirt and black slacks.
“It didn’t really hit me until I woke up this morning, like, today is the day my dream comes true,” Rush said. “It was taking forever for a while.”
When Rush says forever, he means it. Remember, he wanted to turn pro out of high school but eventually decided to go to college. He wanted to go after his sophomore year at Kansas, but the most fortuitous injury in KU history occurred and Rush was forced to hang around for one more year. Rush has no regrets. But it still felt like forever.
“I think it was better I did it this way,” Rush said. “If I would have come out of high school, my freshman year or sophomore year, I don’t think I would have been in the green room. I don’t think I was that type of player that would be in the green room.”
Rush found out that he was invited to the green room on Sunday. That was the first tangible sign that he had moved himself into prime position during his tour of workouts over the last two months, the first sign that he had indeed made it.
On Thursday morning, that made Rush think about all the doubters back in his hometown, like a principal at Westport High School who predicted that the youngest of the three Rush brothers would “amount to nothing,” according to Rush.
“She’s wrong,” Rush said. “Big time.
“I think this will be a nice thing to go back and slap everybody in the face for doubting me.”
Rush was accompanied by his brother, Kareem; his best friend from KC, Tim Blackwell; and an uncle. Blackwell, who played with Rush as a kid and went to UMKC, said he was speechless about being in the Big Apple with his childhood buddy.
“Anytime someone makes it like this that you know, it’s just amazing,” Blackwell said. “I’m just happy for him.”
Kareem Rush knew what it was like for Brandon, growing up in his and JaRon Rush’s shadow.
“People looked at him under a microscope,” Kareem said. “Brandon has accomplished more than me and JaRon both accomplished in our college careers. I’m proud of him.”
Rush arrived in the green room — it is actually not a room, but a closed-off area that everybody in the WaMu Theater at Madison Square Garden could see very clearly — about an hour before the draft. He sat around and sent text messages on his iPhone.
“I just can’t wait for this to be over,” Rush said.
The last few months have been a whirlwind. Rush moved to Chicago and worked out with renowned basketball trainer Tim Grover and a physical therapist. He worked out in front of 10 teams — a very large number — and tried to leave everything he had on the court each time.
“It’s a lot of pressure,” Rush said. “You don’t know what teams are really interested in you. Everything, I did to the extreme. I hustled every time I stepped on the court.”
Rush’s agent, Mark Bartelstein, said Rush impressed the Pacers from the beginning. Actually, he impressed everybody, it seemed.
“Literally, as much as anybody in this draft,” Bartelstein said, “everywhere he’s gone, he’s done extremely well.”
Bartelstein got the news of the planned pick-and-trade deal with Portland and Indiana and relayed it to Rush. It was Rush’s job to field questions as if he knew nothing of the trade, which also included a swap of Indiana’s Ike Diogu and Portland’s Jarrett Jack. Rush handled the task admirably, talking about Portland’s young talent and great organization.
When Rush was picked, he walked through a throng of fans, all trying to give him five or share pounds of the fist. Yells of “Rock Chalk!” were mixed in with pleas for the attention of “B-Rush!”
Before long, Rush would put on a different cap. Rush had already made the connection that being a Pacer meant possibly playing on the same team with Kareem, who is a free agent and could re-sign with Indiana.
“Nothing like a little sibling rivalry,” Kareem said.
Brandon wasn’t too worried about a possible battle with Kareem for playing time. He was thinking bigger. Much bigger.
“Reggie Miller,” Rush said. “I want to try to be the next Reggie Miller. That’s my whole take.”