OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Those who doubted Russell Westbrook’s potential only served to fuel his drive.
On a wristband, he wears his response to those doubters: Why Not? It’s also the approach he has toward all the challenges ahead of him, just halfway through his third season in the league.
“Why not become the best player? Why not get better?” said Westbrook, who on Thursday will find out if he has been selected as an All-Star reserve.
Westbrook is averaging 22.6 points (13th in the NBA) and 8.5 assists (eighth) per game. Just as important, he has turned into a legitimate second threat alongside NBA scoring leader Kevin Durant as the Thunder have established themselves as a contender for home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
His All-Star competition at the guard spot in the West includes San Antonio’s Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, Phoenix’s Steve Nash, Utah’s Deron Williams, Golden State’s Monta Ellis and Eric Gordon of the Los Angeles Clippers.
“It’s a good accomplishment. It’s a great thing to be named an All-Star,” Westbrook said. “We’ll see what happens. But if not, I’m going to continue to work and continue to get better.”
So far, the 22-year-old has been improving in leaps and bounds.
In an age of high school studs who are pegged for immediate NBA stardom, Westbrook was lightly recruited out of Leuzinger High School near Los Angeles. He envisioned going to UCLA along with Khelcey Barrs, a close friend who was also Leuzinger’s best player.
But one day, Barrs collapsed during a break from a pickup game at a junior college and died. It’s a moment that still today makes Westbrook think that he can’t take anything for granted. He wears a “KB3” band on his other wrist in memory of his friend.
Instead of tagging along with Barrs, Westbrook got noticed after going through a camp at UCLA that the Bruins’ staff wasn’t allowed to watch. Assistant Kerry Keating heard about him as the kid with long arms and big feet who played really hard. He went to check out Westbrook and came away believing he’d found a special player hidden by sometimes reckless play.
“It was like watching Bambi on ice out there,” said Keating, now the head coach at Santa Clara. “You just had to see past that and see where it could go.
“What I was able to figure out was he had a competitiveness and a willingness to get better,” he added.
Keating couldn’t offer a scholarship until Jordan Farmar left early for the NBA as expected, but there wasn’t much competition. Creighton, San Diego and Kent State were among the top schools pursuing Westbrook until Wake Forest, Miami and Arizona State got in on him late.