In two NBA seasons, Westbrook has developed into a quality passing point guard; he was eighth in the league in assists this season. But Westbrook’s scoring ability from the point drew Thunder attention.
"You have to be able to score nowadays,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks, an assistant on P.J. Carlesimo’s staff when Westbrook was drafted. "You have to be able to create. Russell had the ability to do that in college.”
The summer between his freshman and sophomore years, Westbrook was a workout mad man, in the weight room and in the gym, where he competed against NBA veterans who descend on Los Angeles in the off-season.
"Unbelievable summer,” said UCLA coach Ben Howland, who called Westbrook’s improvement "huge” and "dramatic. One thing you can’t underestimate is how competitive he is.”
Westbrook grew up in a hardscrabble neighborhood in the LA suburb of Hawthorne, the son of hard-working parents. He got that most valuable of traits: good-raising.
"He was special,” Howland said. "He’s just a good person. Great to his parents and his little brother. Gives back to the boys club he grew up in.”
Here’s the kind of scouting report Weaver gave Presti. After Westbrook declared for the draft in April 2008, he stayed in school and finished the semester. Few high draft picks make that decision.
Last summer, Westbrook went back to UCLA and took a class. "He’s making $4 million a year, and he’s going to class every day,” Howland said. "I told that story just the other day to my guys.”
That kind of commitment sold the Thunder on Westbrook. Could he play point guard? Could he become Durant’s sidekick? Details to be sorted out later.
Presti figured his staff had found a great athlete with the right DNA.
"Where we were at the time, we were continuing to layer our organization with hard workers and self-starters,” Presti said. "Not only would we be able to help him grow, he would also help our organization grow through his work ethic and his approach.”
Presti at that time had a roster and an organization and a plan. Now he’s got a culture, and the Thunder has a date in the playoffs.
405-760-8080; Berry Tramel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1.