Four summers ago, Bill Self had assembled quite a roster of young basketball talent, one featuring incoming freshmen Julian Wright, Mario Chalmers and Micah Downs, all veterans of the McDonald’s All-American game.
For most coaches, that trio alone would form a once-in-a-lifetime recruiting class. Yet, Self wanted more because he always wants more. He has the confidence he can turn a room full of talented individuals into a cohesive team, and his teams always have backed it up by showcasing defensive intensity and keeping the ball moving offensively.
So when the chance arose to pursue a long, 6-foot-6 small forward blessed with quick feet, Self went after him, despite concerns from outsiders about whether Brandon Rush would fit well in a Kansas uniform. For one thing, there was the bad history between the Rush family and the KU basketball program. The end of Roy Williams’ recruitment of JaRon Rush left scars. Kareem Rush played for hated Missouri.
Aside from his last name, there were causes for concern. Clearly, Brandon had no interest in becoming a college student. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have gone to the pre-draft camps for evaluation. Plus, he had attended five high schools, and the NCAA Clearinghouse had trouble sorting through his transcript. Such transience portended a problematic attitude. Must be a ball hog who won’t play defense, many feared. Plus, how long would it take him to blend in given that he wasn’t with the team in the summer?
Then Rush was cleared to play at Kansas, shared the ball and developed into the team’s best defender. He had a knack for the game, talent and a terrific attitude. As for concerns adding him to the roster would mess with team chemistry, it did, but only as it related to one player. With Rush on board, there was no playing time for Downs, who blew town under the cover of darkness.
Rush’s two biggest accomplishments will help KU recruiting forever. First, he played a key role for a national championship team. Next, he was a lottery pick.
Here we are four summers later, and a segment of the KU fan base feels a little uneasy about the addition of a long, 6-6 small forward blessed with quick feet. As with Rush in the weeks before he enrolled at Kansas, Xavier Henry does not appear interested in the student portion of student-athlete. The Henry brothers, Xavier and C.J., stayed in Oklahoma City, instead of joining teammates in Lawrence, a legitimate concern. There are family issues, as with Rush, given that Carl Henry, the players’ dad, has talked too much. Face it, once his sons perform well for Kansas, everybody stops caring about the father’s tongue.
Here’s guessing it all will work out fine once the Henry brothers come under the tutelage of the same coach who won a national championship and prepared the players on that team well enough to earn a living playing basketball that five of them were selected in the same NBA Draft. The Henrys will want to become better players to maximize earning potential. They’ll trust that Self knows how to do that for them the way he has done it for so many before them, and they’ll learn how to play winning basketball.