Under any other set of circumstances, Russell Westbrook would have returned home from the 2010 FIBA World Championship last week with a heap of hype to accompany his gold medal.
Instead, the Oklahoma City Thunder's point guard remains in the most peculiar of positions, brutally lodged somewhere between Kevin Durant's shadow and a short list of players primed to explode onto the national scene.
Welcome to the life of Westbrook.
Even after making his way from the Team USA bubble, past Rajon Rondo as the final cut and past Derrick Rose into the coveted position of playing crunch-time minutes, to the front of the line as the American's most dependable player after Durant in the FIBA World Championship, Westbrook remains a mystery in the minds of many. Westbrook's 9.1-point average of course was lost in the hoopla surrounding Durant's team-leading and USA record-breaking 22.8-point average. And it's understandable how Durant dwarfed his teammate's sheer hustle with a silky-smooth, hot hand.
But while much of the basketball world zeroes in on what Durant will do next, it's Westbrook — the player who sits just two lockers to the left of Durant inside the Thunder's home dressing room — who just might be on the verge of sending the league the biggest statement from Oklahoma City.
Westbrook will walk into his third season as OKC's floor general next week with a rigid reputation for exciting patrons with explosive plays. But only a few experts have given Westbrook the ultimate show of respect and placed him among the game's best young point guards. Rose and Rondo are at the head of that class, and rightfully so due to their track record for eye-popping playoff exploits. Westbrook, meanwhile, had plenty of moments last season when the national media showed more interest in rookie point guards Tyreke Evans, Stephen Curry, Brandon Jennings and Darren Collison.
That could all change in 2010-11, though, as Westbrook attempts to build on a wildly successful sophomore season. His game-changing athleticism in the world championship evoked memories of his jaw-dropping first-round playoff series against the Lakers and made us wonder, 'What's next?' for the fastest developing player on OKC's roster.
Allow your mind to marinate the question and the answer might become lost in a pulp of limitless possibilities.
"For a young player with his skill level, what he's going to be in the future is unbelievable," said USA Basketball Chairman Jerry Colangelo.
Russell Westbrook's 2009-10 statistics
16.1 points per game
8.0 assists per game
4.9 rebounds per game
1.3 steals per game
3.3 turnovers per game
Compiled by Jason Kersey