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Westbrook would stick with his choice at UCLA and start growing into his frame as a high school senior, averaging 25.1 points and 8.7 rebounds and once scoring 51 points for Leuzinger.

Still, he lacked the credentials on a stacked UCLA roster that had just gone to the national championship game behind future NBA talents Arron Afflalo, Darren Collison and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute.

Westbrook came off the bench as a freshman and scored in double figures just three times as UCLA went back to the Final Four, then took another big jump forward as a sophomore. He was the team’s third-leading scorer, behind Kevin Love and Collison, with 12.7 points per game, and averaged a team-best 4.3 assists.

It was still largely on potential that the Seattle SuperSonics drafted him fourth overall in the 2008 draft, just days before it was announced that the franchise would move to Oklahoma City.

Scott Brooks thrust him into the starting lineup shortly after being named the interim head coach, amid an infamous 3-29 start to the season. Westbrook led the NBA in turnovers, leading to calls for Oklahoma City to take Ricky Rubio or some other point guard in the next year’s draft.

Instead, Westbrook has cemented his place and even earned playing time on the U.S. team that won the world championships last summer.

“He’s a really tough cover because not only is he so quick, but he’s so strong. He’s got shoulders like a doggone linebacker, and he’s so quick with the ball that he does a great job,” Suns coach Alvin Gentry said.

A fierce rebounder, Westbrook is the leader of the Thunder’s prolific fast-break offense and has turned what used to be reckless aggression into a powerful asset when he charges toward the hoop.

“If he has room in the open court,” Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said, “he’s virtually unstoppable at getting to the basket and he can really finish.”

Westbrook still has higher aspirations to be an all-around player who can score, pass, rebound, block shots, grab steals and lead his team. It’s all those qualities that Brooks, a former NBA point guard, seeks from Westbrook instead of him finding a single niche.

From the start, Brooks has assessed Westbrook from month to month _ almost always seeing noticeable improvement. Now, it’s coming in intangible areas, too.

“You gradually get the command of your team as the seasons go by,” Brooks said. “He’s in his third year, which is still a young NBA player, especially when he’s only had two years out of college. But our team is built with a lot of young players. They see what Russell is about and he brings it every day.”