Always on the lookout for recruits, third-year Kansas basketball coach Bill Self learned of a standout high school graduate suddenly becoming available in the summer of 2005.
“I happened to hear at an AAU event … I was sitting in a row behind some guy and he told the guy next to him, ‘I heard Rush qualified.’ I hadn’t even checked on Brandon,” Self said, reflecting on the quick, yet successful pursuit of 6-foot-6 Kansas City native Brandon Rush, who on Wednesday will have his No. 25 KU jersey hung in the south rafters of Allen Fieldhouse in a halftime ceremony at the 6 p.m. KU-TCU game.
“I figured who to talk to and called his grandmother. I basically said, ‘There’s been a lot of water under the bridge. Let’s be open to this.’ Fortunately she was,” Self added.
Self contacted Brandon — brother of former KU recruit JaRon Rush, who chose UCLA after a recruitment that included some hard feelings with former KU coach Roy Williams, and former Missouri standout Kareem Rush, who never considered becoming a Jayhawk.
“Brandon said, ‘Yeah I’ll come visit,’ ” Self said on his Hawk Talk radio show.
“He went to like five high schools (Charter Academy, Hogan Prep and Westport in KC as well as Mount Zion Academy in North Carolina his senior year), but the kid had done it. He pulled it off (academically to qualify).
“We brought him in. As soon as I met him, I knew this kid was rock solid. Now you could say he was maybe the most important signee we’ve had since we’ve been here. We went from no momentum to being loaded.”
The Jayhawks had lost to Bucknell in the first round of the 2005 NCAA Tournament and needed a great recruiting class to replace the likes of Wayne Simien, Keith Langford, Aaron Miles, Michael Lee and transfer J.R. Giddens. That class arrived in Rush, Mario Chalmers, Julian Wright and Micah Downs, who transferred midway through his freshman year.
Rush, who said he felt at home at KU on his late-summer campus visit, chose the Jayhawks over Indiana and Illinois on Sept. 2, 2005, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Rivals.com’s No. 13-rated prospect in the recruiting Class of 2005 led KU in scoring during his freshman season in 2005-06, and again in 2006-07 and 2007-08 as the Jayhawks stormed to a national championship in 2008. He was first-team all-Big 12 all three years and a Wooden Award All-American in 2007 and 2008.
“That team of course went on to do great things,” said Self, who is now in his 14th season at KU. Rush averaged 13.3 points per game on a national title team that included Chalmers, Darrell Arthur, Sherron Collins, Russell Robinson, Sasha Kaun, Darnell Jackson and Cole Aldrich.
“What can you say about Brandon? He was our best defender, too,” Self added. “Mario got credit for stealing the ball. Brandon was our best 1-on-1 defender, probably the most-liked kid we’ve had here. There’s never been a kid in the locker room more liked by his teammates.”
Now 31, Rush on Wednesday will join Chalmers as the second member of the 2008 title team to have his jersey hung in the fieldhouse.
“This is a big, big deal to have your number retired in the rafters of the fieldhouse,” said Rush, who is in his first season with the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves. He won an NBA title with the Golden State Warriors in 2015 and also has played for Utah and Indiana.
“My former teammate, Mario (Chalmers) is up there. It is a good feeling to know you will have your name up there. I still can’t believe it right now,” Rush added. “I came from Kansas City and played down the street from Lawrence. Being able to have my name up there is pretty big in representing my whole family.”
Rush ranks 24th all-time at KU in scoring (1,477 points), fifth in threes made (205) and third in three-point percentage (43.5). He was the No. 13 overall pick in the 2008 NBA Draft. He’ll be the third No. 25 to be retired at KU, joining B.H. Born, who played during 1952-54 and Danny Manning (1985-88).
More honorees in future?
Self was asked Monday on his radio show if additional members of the 2008 title team would have jerseys hung someday.
“We will (retire more), but it probably won’t be from what people view as the national championship team,” he said. “We’ve got a couple of guys who obviously were not starters who had unbelievable careers then really starred after the national championship team. We’ll have some more that are very deserving go up.”
There is no formal criteria for a jersey to be hung in Allen.
“It’s kind of a floating criteria,” Self said. “I think it should vary. With Brandon’s situation, first-team all-league three years in a row, leading scorer, national champion, NBA background, you’ve got a situation where it’s a slam dunk.”
Graham’s thumb OK
KU guard Devonte Graham, who had his right hand and thumb taped at Sunday’s Special Olympics clinic, practiced Monday.
“Devonté’s hand should be fine. He kind of sprained his thumb,” Self said. “He practiced today. He’s fine.”
Self on being Hall finalist
Self on Saturday was named one of 14 finalists to be considered for induction in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2017. Inductees will be revealed at the Final Four.
“I think it’s a little premature to talk about that stuff because there have been so many people who have given so much to the game over a course of a longer period of time than we have,” Self said. “Obviously it’s a nice honor in itself to be a finalist. I am very grateful.
“It’s a reflection of being at a place where you can win. There’s a lot of support from a lot of different people that goes into that. We’ve had four really good jobs (KU, Illinois, Tulsa, Oral Roberts). It’s been a fun journey, but when you start talking about a journey you make it sound like it’s coming to an end. I am hopeful that’s not the case. It’s a reflection of a good staff and obviously more importantly really good players.”
Net clipping/trophy presentation possible?
Self was asked if the Jayhawks will celebrate winning at least a share of a 13th straight Big 12 title Wednesday if they beat TCU.
KU entering Monday’s slate of games held a three-game lead in the standings over Baylor, Iowa State and West Virginia with four games to play.
“We won’t wait if we are able to do it,” Self said. “I am not going to get hung up worrying about that stuff. We need to figure a way to play well Wednesday. Those things take care of themselves if you play well.”
Jackson honored again
Josh Jackson on Monday was chosen Big 12 Newcomer of the Week for the sixth time by a media panel.
Jackson averaged 16.0 points and 6.0 rebounds in wins over West Virginia and Baylor. Jackson’s six newcomer of the week honors tie for the third-most in the 21-year history of the conference. Kansas State’s Michael Beasley was newcomer a league-record eight times in 2007-08.
Jackson has been Big 12 player of the week twice. His eight weekly honors are more than any KU player in the history of the conference, surpassing Nick Collison’s seven times during 2000-03. Collison, by the way, was in Lawrence on Monday. A member of the Oklahoma City Thunder, he’s on the NBA’s all-star break.