Hawks Loose, Ready

News, notes, and quotes on Kansas basketball while wrapping up KU's two NCAA Tournament victories in Omaha, Neb., over Portland State and UNLV... and looking forward to the Sweet 16 this Friday at 8:40 p.m. (CST) in Detroit at Ford Field, where the No. 1 seed Jayhawks battle No. 12 Villanova.

What A Rush

Junior guard Brandon Rush is coming on strong, averaging 19.3 points in his last four games. Rush averaged 15 points in KU’s two victories over Portland State and UNLV. He is becoming more aggressive, jacking up a season-high 17 field goal attempts against Portland State.

Rush received a lot of national media attention in Omaha, and was asked repeatedly in the locker room about the knee injury he suffered last May and his recovery process from ACL surgery. After the injury, Rush said he spoke to his older brother Jaron, the former UCLA standout who tore his ACL three years ago.

“He told me it was a lot of pain, but I really didn’t suffer any pain,” Rush said. “But the rehab was a beast. That was the hardest part about that was being in rehab every day.”

A national reporter noticed Rush’s long scar on his left arm and asked the junior about it. Rush, as he’s said before, told the reporter he broke his arm as a kid doing a back-flip.

“It hurt way more than the ACL because my bone popped all the way out,” Rush said.

“We don’t want to hear that,” the reporter said with a smile.

Rush said he began feeling like his old self “about a month ago at the beginning of February when I took the brace off. Everything started getting back, my explosiveness. I’m still a little step slow on the defensive end, but other than that, I think I’m about back. I’m attacking the basket more than I did at the beginning of the year, I think the mental part is gone.”

With Rush stepping up his game late this season, his NBA Draft stock is sure to soar. Senior teammate Russell Robinson believes Rush will be a fine pro.

“It’s kind of hard to compare him to anybody, but I think he’ll be in a nice situation where he won’t have to worry about getting contracts,” Robinson said. “I think he’ll be fine in that sense, some teams will pick him up for a long time.

“I can actually see him doing really well for a number of teams. He can get out and run, and he’s athletic and can play a lot of styles. He’s so good now, and I think he’s got another step he can take. Once he takes that step, I think it’s going to be real nice to see the kind of player he becomes.”

Rush was also asked about the NBA. Of course, he strongly considered going pro after high school, then was planning on entering the NBA Draft last June before he suffered his knee injury.

“I’m going to get there sometime,” he said.

Rush added, though, that he doesn’t look back.

“I think I made a good decision (by coming and staying at KU),” he said.

Rush was queried what it would be like to be teammates in the NBA with his older brother Kareem, who currently plays for the Indiana Pacers.

“That would be kind of funny,” Rush said. “I don’t think I would like that. He would try to make me do things, like work out all the time. He works out nonstop all the time. I guess he wouldn’t never (let me) live my life, never let me have fun. He’d still be my older brother.”

Rush even fielded questions in Omaha about Gates Bar-B-Q, his favorite restaurant in Kansas City. He said his favorite dish is the mixed plate.

“I love Gates,” Rush said. “I love the sauce and I love the people. ‘Hi, may I help you?’ I love how they say that. It’s funny. I laugh every time they say it.”

King Kaun

Senior center Sasha Kaun is also getting some national publicity of late. He was featured on Yahoo.com two weeks ago about his hardships growing up in Russia (Kaun’s late father, Oleg, was apparently murdered in Russia when Sasha was just 13), and along with fellow senior Darnell Jackson, was the subject of an AP story in Omaha about overcoming obstacles.

Robinson talked about how far Kaun has come since he first played with him in the Jordan All-American game as seniors in high school.

“I’m amazed at Sash, because I knew Sash in high school,” Robinson said. “Back then, he could barely talk (and speak English). Now, he’s adapted to the American culture in so many ways. Now, he can talk your ear off, and it’s just fun to be around a guy like that.”

KU coach Bill Self spoke about Kaun on March 21, a day before KU played UNLV.

“It is a remarkable story that a mother and son, age 13, find their father possibly murdered, possibly not, in a car garage one night and nervous because of his profession (Oleg Kaun was a computer programmer for one of the largest banks in Russia) what the next move would be. And his mother loved him so much to send him away to a place she’s never seen (Melbourne, Fla., where Kaun attended high school), he’s never seen, he doesn’t speak the language.”

“From a production standpoint, it’s been up and down,” Self added. “But from an effort standpoint, he’s as good a person as you could ever have in your program. Fabulous student. Well-respected by anybody. Hard worker. Never late. Responsible. And everybody loves him. And totally unselfish to a fault, as far as he’s not starting now and he’s totally fine with whatever’s best for the  majority of everyone else. So he’s been a real treat to be around and coach.”

Kansas Pride

Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius attended the games in Omaha. She sat in the K-State section in the fourth row during KSU’s second-round game with Wisconsin on Saturday, sporting a purple blazer and a Wildcats’ pin. She also took time to mingle with former K-State football coach Bill Snyder. After K-State lost, Sebelius moved over to the KU section behind the Jayhawk bench to watch the Kansas-UNLV game, where she wore a blue blazer and sat next to KU Chancellor Robert Hemenway.

Also spotted in the stands during the KU-UNLV game were former Jayhawks Ryan Robertson and Ron Kellogg, who lives in Omaha.  Robertson sat in the fifth row near midcourt wearing a red KU Adidas sweatshirt, while Kellogg sat in the Kansas section behind the Jayhawk bench proudly donning a blue KU hat. Immediately following KU’s 75-56 victory over UNLV, Kellogg hurried down to the floor, where he cheered Self and the Kansas players when they came walking off the court.

Once a Jayhawk, Always a Jayhawk

KU graduate (1982) and TV announcer Kevin Harlan broadcasted the games in Omaha for CBS. Just before the introduction of the starting lineups between KU and UNLV, Harlan gave a huge smile while walking by press row and bumped fists with KU athletics director Lew Perkins and Bob Davis and Chris Piper with the Jayhawk Radio Network. He then visited with Jason Whitlock of the Kansas City Star.

Relaxed And Loose

Self said his team doesn’t feel much pressure in the Big Dance.

“I think if you know our team, there’s not too many things that seem to bother them most of the time,” Self said. “That’s a pretty loose group, too loose. We certainly don’t have to spend a lot of time saying, ‘Relax.’ We have to spend more time saying, ‘Guys, focus.’ You guys (media) may get a different feel, you walk in the locker room and have so many guys putting microphones in front of their face, guys realize, ‘Hey, this is a big deal.’ ... You have to be intense, but you can’t be stressed, and hopefully we have a pretty good balance.”

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