SAN ANTONIO -- It was the luckiest anterior cruciate ligament tear in history. Lucky, if you consider that neither Brandon Rush nor Kansas would be here if Rush hadn't shredded his right ACL last spring.
|Brandon Rush is smiling -- and has Kansas one win from a national championship berth. (Getty Images)|
The injury came in a pickup game, the kind of thing that can ruin a life and a career. Rush had declared for the draft for the second time since leaving high school. He was a signature away (on a contract with an agent) from having his eligibility ended.
"When I first hurt it, I didn't know it," Rush said. "It was a quick pop. I fell. I popped right back up and ran down the court. Then it started to swell up really big, really quick.
"I struggled with it more mentally than physically because I wasn't sure I could get back to where I could make plays."
Suddenly, Kansas went from steppingstone to safety net for Rush. Another year allowed him to rehab in a team environment, take his time getting back and refine his game.
It was OK that Rush started out the season as a perimeter jump shooter. Then at one point, coach Bill Self called out his star publicly, saying he needed to get over the injury and start playing more aggressive. Six months after the injury, on Nov. 25, Rush played 36 minutes against Arizona. He slowly got back his slashing ability to get to the basket. But it wasn't until February that he dared push up off the right leg for a running dunk. Defensively, he still doesn't have the lateral movement but gets by.
"He had major surgery nine months ago," Self said. "Now he's five months into it. He was chasing (Arizona's) Chase Budinger around for 36 minutes, which just doesn't happen very often. It usually takes a year to come back from that. I think it speaks volumes to his work ethic."
Six-foot-6, sweet jumper, long arms, pedigree. Brother JaRon played at UCLA. Another brother, Kareem, was a star at Missouri. In his first two seasons, Brandon shot almost 45 percent from the arc, averaging less than 14 points. It was obvious he could do a lot more, but in Self's socialist system everyone shared the load.
Only Swiss Army knives are more versatile, though. Rush is listed as a guard and forward, depending on the publication. In the end, he can handle an opponents' point guard, shooting guard or small forward. On Davidson's last possession in the Midwest Region final, it was Rush who locked down on shooting guard Stephen Curry and forced him to give up the ball instead of taking the final shot.
"Whether it's right or wrong, he came in with a reputation as a guy not caring about school, a guy that didn't work hard," Self said. "He's done very well with school and he works his butt off."
"I played with him in AAU," Kansas guard Russell Robinson said of Rush. "I thought he was arrogant and cocky, living off his brothers. I thought that's how he was going to be for us."
Instead, Rush turned out to be quiet, confident with looks that could land him in fashion magazine some day. His wingspan allows Rush to matchup with taller players. His arms and athletic ability also allow him to check guards.