Everyone seems to know Russell Westbrook as an explosively loud player on the court, and a guy who loves really nice cars and dresses like he shops at Good Will off the court. However, he’s actually a very down to earth guy, who’s humbled but confident. He loves the way he dresses, and doesn’t do it for shock value or even a reaction. It’s just his personality.
Westbrook attended Leuzinger High School in Lawndale, California. He was a very late bloomer. The Second Team All-NBA Point Guard was just 5’9″ 140 pounds when he enrolled as a freshman. His height was one reason why he wasn’t in favor with the coaching staff, and didn’t even start until his junior year of high school. Most people didn’t know, Westbrook wore number 4 in high school, signifying how many people in his immediate family.
Because of his size, he didn’t attract many major college offers. It wasn’t until the summer before his senior year when Westbrook topped out at 6’3″. Then a couple of offers came in schools like Loyal Marymount, Kent State and Creighton.
However, when he finally topped off and did well on the AAU, he finally received some major offers, such as Wake Forest, Washington and Arizona State. It wasn’t until Jordan Farmar declared for the NBA Draft as a junior at UCLA that head coach Ben Howland offered Westbrook a scholarship. Being a hometown, Los Angeles kid, Westbrook committed immediately.
Westbrook has always been a hard worker. Most don’t know why he wears two wrist bands. We all know about “Why Not?” However, most don’t know about KB3.” Most don’t know about Khelcy Barr. Barr and Westbrook were child hood best friends. Both were great basketball players. However, it was Barr who was the one who was nationally known and getting the big offers. Both wanted to go play college basketball together. However, one day Barr collapsed while playing a pick up game, and later died due to an enlarged heart.
Westbrook, only 15 at the time, had to grow up. He doubled his effort on the court, at times playing for two players. He also did it off the court. He took over Barr’s chores across the street. Taking out the trash, doing all the things that Khelcy would do.
“I feel like I’m playing for him in a way,” Westbrook said. “We were playing pickup basketball one day and he just stopped and fell and out of nowhere and that was it. I always think about him and his family and I wonder how they’re doing and check on them any chance I get.”
The death of his best friend lit a passion inside. He was always the first to practice, and the last to leave. That work ethic hasn’t changed much since he got to the NBA. Westbrook saw how quickly life could be taken from you. He wanted to become the best point guard on the planet. It seemed like an unlikely goal for a kid who wasn’t even a starter on his high school varsity team until he was a junior, didn’t receive his first college recruiting letter until the summer before his senior year and wasn’t able to dunk until midway through his senior season.
Getting to UCLA, Westbrook had to change his number, teammate Aaron Afflalo already wore number 4, so Westbrook chose 0.
Westbrook said in an article in his rookie year, “I chose this, and it’s not a normal number, so I like it.”
On an already stacked UCLA team, Westbrook was a bench player his first year. He was used for energy and defense due to his size and athleticism. When Darren Collison went down with an injury, Westbrook finally was able to shine. Westbrook saw his minutes increase significantly, and he helped the team advanced to the Final Four each year, losing to Florida in 2007.
His Sophomore year, he led the Bruins back to the NCAA Final four, losing to Memphis. However, he exploded on the national scene and was named Pac-10 Player of the Year. he finished the season playing in 39 games, starting in 34 of them. In the year Westbrook averaged 12.7 points, 3.9 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 1.6 steals.
We all know the story, Westbrook wasn’t highly regarded by NBA scouts the way the Thunder wanted him. He was drafted fourth overall and the “critics” came out of the wood works to criticize this pick made by Sam Presti. Saying he’s not a true point guard. He’s going to have trouble transitioning to the point guard position. However, Westbrook has really just shut everyone up in my opinion. He’s become an All-NBA point guard. He’s an All-Star and he’s a very key component to why the Thunder are in the NBA Finals.
Funny, when Westbrook came to Oklahoma City, there was talk between Nick Collison and Westbrook on possibly getting Westbrook number 4.
“It’s for sale if he wants it,” said Collison, who wore 44 in high school. “But I talked to (equipment manager) Marc St. Ives, and it’s like a two-year process to change it. But for the right price (he can have it). I’m not going to give it away. We’re all businessmen, right? That’s what everybody says. I’m just waiting for an offer. And then I’ll counter. We’ll see. I don’t know if he wants it that bad or not.”
Collison, who has worn the number since his freshman season at Kansas, said he’s not attached to the uniform number and added everything is negotiable.
When the Thunder exploded to onto the NBA playoff scene in 2010, Westbrook was huge in that. Against the Lakers he averaged 25 points 8 assists, in a series lost, but he helped the Thunder make that lead. The next season, Westbrook was an All-Star and help lead the Thunder to the Western Conference Finals.
At times Westbrook can be the goat of all the problems with the Thunder, but he just takes it in stride. He actually uses it for motivation.
“I took everything they were saying” Westbrook said, “it allowed me to be better this season.”
Westbrook was much better this season. There was talk for the most part, that Westbrook would have been a first team All-NBA. He finished second, behind Chris Paul. He’s been in real control of himself for most of the season. He struggled early on, but we can all account that to the lockout. I know I do. At times when the Thunder need a spark plug, there is Westbrook.
It’s been a real pleasure seeing Westbrook in Oklahoma City. He loves this city, even though he loves Los Angeles. Westbrook has family in Oklahoma City too. His brother plays football at the University of Central Oklahoma. I can’t wait to see him around here for, hopefully, the rest of his career.