The chosen one.
After excelling at Mount Zion (N.C.) Academy in 2004-05, Rush signed with Kansas and wound up becoming the first freshman in Jayhawk history to lead his team in scoring and rebounding. The hype then exploded entering this season. He was selected as a co-preseason Big 12 Player of the Year (along with fellow sophomore Julian Wright) in October, and named an Associated Press preseason first-team All-American on Nov. 8, just three days before KU’s season opener against Northern Arizona.
Rush, though, has struggled to find his groove thus far. The 6-6 forward is averaging 12.3 points per game and shooting just 38.2 percent from the field and 34.1 percent from three-point land. Those numbers are down from last year, when he averaged 13.5 ppg, and shot 47.4 percent from the field and made 47.2 percent of his three-pointers.
Rush, who was held to just three points against DePaul last Saturday, followed that game shooting 3-of-14 vs. USC two days later. So, the question now begs: Has he felt the pressure of all the preseason hype?
“Yeah, I felt a little pressure from the beginning,” Rush candidly replied after the USC game. “But now it’s over, so I just got to go out and play.”
While Rush’s shooting slump is the hot topic on the minds of all Jayhawk fans, KU coach Bill Self isn’t worried.
"The way he needs to get out of it is through repetition, and he's going to (get out of it),” Self said at his press conference on Wednesday. “There are a lot of reasons why we haven't looked as good offensively, and that is the one I'm the least concerned about. ...He's been in a little funk offensively, and that goes without saying; but against USC he was aggressive. He got off 14 shots and they were face-guarding him. I think that was a big step in the right direction. After struggling against DePaul, his being so aggressive against USC was a big positive for him. We need him to be aggressive all the time. He is defending pretty well and rebounding above average, but he just needs to understand that he needs to be a basketball player and not put so much pressure on himself to make shots and be our go-to-guy.”
Like Self, junior guard Russell Robinson is confident Rush will break loose soon offensively.
"I just think he is thinking a little bit too much,” Robinson said. “We want to just keep getting him the ball because we know they will start to fall. There is a lot more of the season to be played, so I'm not worried."
A more aggressive Rush could be poised for a breakout game this Saturday when he returns to his hometown in Kansas City for KU’s battle against Toledo at Kemper Arena. Rush, Self, and the entire squad can’t wait to play in Kemper, a place where KU won the NCAA title in 1988 and beat Michigan State and North Carolina State in 1986 to advance to the Final Four.
"I think our fans enjoy it, as long as the building is warm,” Self said. “We like going over there. We are 80-24 in the building and won a couple of very good games there. Kemper has been great to KU and there are a lot of great memories there. I think the largest crowd they ever had there was not for the Final Four (in 1988), but for the shoot-around on the Friday before a Final Four. They had to squeeze about 18,000 people in that day. I'll also be real honest: I think everyone is excited about the chance to play at the Sprint Center in the coming years. Kemper has been great to Kansas and we certainly hope our last memory there will be positive."
And does playing in Kemper Arena help recruiting?
"I don't think it hurts if we could utilize the game to get players and coaches to the games,” Self answered. “I think it may be easier for city kids and coaches to go to a game there as opposed to coming over here. I think if we take full advantage of it, I think it could be an advantage for us. I'm not sure if it's the same as coaching in Champaign (Ill.) and playing in Chicago because it's a two and a half hour drive, and those (Chicago) kids couldn't get to Champaign. Most of the kids in Kansas City can get over here (Lawrence). So it's probably not a huge advantage. Once we play in the Sprint Center, though, and you can start talking about potentially hosting the NCAA (tournament) and Big 12 (tournament), that can be an even bigger draw for the local kids."
Kansas enters the Toledo game at Kemper Arena on a positive note following a 72-62 win over USC, a very physical game where KU played impressive defense (15 steals) but shot just 38. 1 percent from the field. Self was pleased with his team’s effort after a poor showing against DePaul.
"I thought the starters and bench brought more energy,” Self said. “I also thought (junior forward) Darnell Jackson (11 points and nine rebounds in 22 minutes) played one of his best games since coming here. He was very active and wasn't worried about anything (but) playing and winning. (Junior center) Sasha Kaun is starting to get going, but a lot of that is he worked so hard and came back sooner than expected. He is sore and can only practice every other day. He needs a little more reps to get confidence. He did give us important minutes because we were in foul trouble."
Self certainly needs big minutes from Rush, and hopes the forward will continue his aggressive play he showed vs. USC the rest of the season. Rush played with a purpose offensively that game and actively looked for his shot. While KU has other scoring threats like freshman forward Darrell Arthur and sophomore guard Mario Chalmers, Self realizes Rush needs to catch fire if the Jayhawks are to reach their potential and win a national championship.
And that’s only a matter of time.
“I believe in my heart (he's going to get out of his slump), and when it happens it will happen like it did last year, or even bigger,” Self said. “I definitely think that we need to have Brandon playing to his ability offensively and making shots because he makes us a much better team."
More from Bill Self’s Press Conference:
On Mario Chalmers getting more involved in the offense:
"I think he should be getting three or four more shots a game. Against USC, the way they face-guarded Mario and Brandon, really turned out to be wise move because with Darrell Arthur in foul trouble, it limited the number of options we could get the ball to. I don't know how many shots he's getting a game, but he should be averaging about 12 shots per game. I think a lot of it is us executing a lot better and knowing what we're looking for. We're not a good play-running team. We've run numerous quick-hitters and nobody would know we ran them. When we run our best offense, it's out of whatever we're trying to do. We're not a good execution team yet and weren't last year either. We were the year before that and that is how Wayne (Simien) got all his touches. No teams are great at everything and that is one thing we could get better as a team. The other night we played great offense, we just couldn't make a shot."
On Darrell Arthur's foul troubles early against USC:
"The first foul he had the other night was a bad foul. It was a loose-ball foul and he didn't jump to the lose ball or anticipate his man jumping across his face. The second foul was a play when a Trojan got loose, went to the hole pretty hard and Arthur came over from the weak side to help. To me, that was a good block. I thought there were a couple of fouls that were called on him that could have gone the other way. Certainly I do not think he got the benefit of a few breaks from his foul situation. He is not doing as poor a job as the appearance is, but we have to keep him in the game longer."
On how his defense has played:
"I thought our defense against USC was pretty good for the most part. They shot a good percentage, but they didn't get that many good looks. Lodrick (Stewart) made some hard shots. We're not going to be able to pressure the ball like we did against USC and get as many steals as we did against them. We were fortunate there because we were active with our hands. We certainly can get more sound, but our defense was good against the Trojans. Our advantage over them was our speed."
On Toledo's top three scorers (Keonta Howell, Justin Ingram, and Florentin Valencia)
"I think they are pretty good. They are good because they play with an undersized post, which always creates mismatch problems because he can get you away from the basket. They play with an undersized four man who is a guard and who can really shoot threes. They are a little bit unconventional, but they are a very good offensive team. It's tough because we may end up having to use one of our guards on their bigs and they run a lot of ball screens which makes it hard to guard them the way we might conventionally guard them because they play four guards. We have a serious size advantage, but they have an advantage of having guys who can play away from the basket."
On the strength of the conference thus far:
"I don't know if I would say I am surprised. I knew Oklahoma State was going to be good because they have great pieces. It appears to me that they are playing with a real purpose and are a very experienced team. Texas A&M struggled some last night, but they went to Baton Rouge and Joseph (Jones) and Acie (Law IV) weren't even part of the equation, yet they still played juiced up and playing well. Missouri has been the most pleasant surprise because they are playing well. They were very good against Arkansas. I think there have been some pleasant surprises but I wouldn't say there have been any major disappointments."
On the team's leadership:
"I know it will improve. We have great personnel and great intangibles, but we don't have that one guy who leadership comes natural for. I would like for that guy to be Russell Robinson probably more so than anybody else. He's improved a ton in that area, but to become complete in that area, he still has some things he has to work on and I have to work with him so that he understands it. I am not at all displeased. We need more leadership, but a lot of teams need more leadership. We don't have a senior on the team, so now we are asking guys to step up and be leaders who are trying to be leaders the way they've been taught every day of their life. It is going to take time and maturation, but we will get there. Last year, we were a ship without a sail and we didn't have that leadership until guys got more comfortable. I compare it to quarterbacks because quarterbacks not only have to understand their responsibilities, they have to understand the responsibilities of every person on the field in every situation. We don't have guys with the instinctive trait that are not only comfortable with believing they understand what every person is responsible for on every possession. It will come when they are comfortable with themselves and understand that they have themselves figured out and now they need to worry about everyone else.”