Brandon Rush became the second and latest addition to the list of ex-NBA champions who have chosen the Greek League as one of the last stops in their careers.
It may seem like a coincidence, but there’s enough evidence to show that their fate has been intertwined since college. Mario Chalmers and Brandon Rush won together the 2008 NCAA championship with Kansas (and had their jerseys retired), skipped their senior year at college, were selected in the NBA Draft (Rush was a Round 1 Pick at No.13, while Chalmers a Round 2 Pick at No.34), won the NBA title (Chalmers in 2012 and 2013 with the Miami Heat, Rush in 2015 with the Golden State Warriors), stayed out for the most part of the 2018-19 campaign (Chalmers played only ten games with Virtus Bologna) and both responded to the call from Greece at roughly the same time. Mario Chalmers joined AEK Athens in November, Brandon Rush debuted with Larissa BC, a Greek League newcomer, three weeks ago.
The two have had plenty of opportunity to catch up and meet up in Athens, but this Sunday (December, 22) they will face off against each other for the first time in many years, since the 2018 BCL winners are playing in Larissa. Brandon Rush, at the age of 34, is going through his first overseas experience after a nine-year NBA trajectory, during which he played 481 games (163 starts) and averaged 6.8 points, 2.9 rebounds and 1 assist per game on 40.2% three-point shooting.
His crowning achievement is the 2015 championship with the Warriors, but on a more personal note the Kansas-born forward was a top-notch shooter in his prime, boasting one of the best percentages by a player in a single season, an impressive 45.2% in 2011-12. Rush was also a part of the 2015-16 GSW team that set the record for regular season wins with 73, although the title went to Cleveland that year.
Fighting against adversities became second nature to him. He has suffered — and overcome — two torn ACLs, one in each knee. In November 2017, after being waived from the Milwaukee Bucks, he had to deal with a serious viral infection, which led to inflammation in the muscles around his heart. Once he recuperated, he found out that the rush (pun intended) for basketball had not left him. In the summer of 2019, he participated in the BIG3 tournament, a 3-on-3 basketball league that was started by rapper Ice Cube, but that choice couldn’t land him neither an NBA nor a decent overseas contract. At least not until Larissa BC turned up and got him back to action.
TalkBasket.net discussed with Brandon Rush on December, 14, after his second game in the Greek League. It was an away loss to Panionios, a team in which another ex-NBAer, Samardo Samuels, is having a comeback season. This is what he had to say about his first impressions from playing away from home for the first time, his NBA moments and the main differences between American and European basketball.
Q: First of all, what’s the story for you in Larissa? How did you decide to come and play in Greece?
A: Because they offered me the opportunity to play, be around a team, a good coach and teammates again. It’s all about the opportunity. I haven’t played in two years and the guys on the team offered me the chance to figure out what shape I was in. I’m blessful that they gave me a chance. I’m a humble guy and I’ll take what it is. The atmoshpere doesn’t matter to me. Athens is beautiful and I enjoy it. I learned that the team moved from the second division to the first division in the Greek League. I had a good talk with the coach (Vangelis Angelou) and so did my agency with the club.
Q: Before playing in the NBA, not to mention the Warriors, you confessed to having no idea where Golden State was. Did you know where Greece was?
A: (laughs) Yeah, I know where Greece was because I had a couple of buddies that played over here before. One of them played for Panionios, now Mario Chalmers is in Greece and I also know Keith (Langford). I know a lot of guys that have played in Greece and I heard it’s a good league.
Q: Did you have other overseas offers?
A: Yes, I had some last year. A couple of them were from Israel, but I think that Greece is a better competition.
Q: Not from Euroleague teams, though.
A: No. That’s pretty much my goal, to try to get to the Euroleague.
Q: Did you actually play with Maccabi Haifa against NBA teams in the pre-season?
A: Yes, I played with Norris Cole. It was fun and a good opportunity to be around guys that play international ball; and I had a ball with that. That’s what allowed me to come over here since I told myself: “I can do this. I can still play”.
Q: You’ve referred many times to your friendship with Mario Chalmers. Do you keep in touch while in Greece?
A: Yeah, I saw him two weeks ago and I’m going to see him tonight (December, 14) because I’m staying over in Athens. We’re going out to dinner and stuff. We like to hang out.
Q: Larissa is playing his team, AEK Athens, very soon. Have you talked about it?
A: Yes, he’s coming to Larissa. My family and my kids are going to be in town. He knows all of them. It should be a good experience.
Q: Did you know that last summer Chalmers said that he dreams of finding a pro -maybe European- team that will allow him to play again with you?
A: Yes, that would be pretty dope. We’ve played together and we know each other’s game pretty well. We’re really close friends and it would be a thrill.
Q: How was your NBA experience overall?
A: It was not bad. My first four years I was playing some of my best basketball. Then I had a bad injury and it took me 2,5 years trying to get back from it. I tore everything in my knee. Now I’m just having fun playing the game.
Q: What’s up next? Do you envision a return to the NBA?
A: No, whatever is up in the air. I just come here and try to play every day, staying healthy- that’s the main goal for me because I had some terrible injuries. I know I can still play, shoot the ball pretty well; I still can depend on my feet and rebound the ball. My goal is to take it day by day and get better.
Q: Do you believe that in Greece and in Europe you can be more than a “3&D” player?
A: Yes, because the game is a little bit slower than in the NBA and you won’t have those big-name stars just taking all the shots. I’ve been blessed to have a coach (Angelou) like this, who gives me the green light to shoot any ball I want to, as long as I’m playing defence and I look for the right pass and the right shot.
Q: Did you have a view of what European basketball is all about?
A: I started watching it last year because I knew that this was going to be my destiny next. I saw stalled my opportunities to get back in the NBA because of injuries and age. So, I watched some Euroleague games and I also kept up with Mario’s team in Italy (Virtus Bologna). That’s mostly what I saw from European games.
Q: What do you make of it?
A: The main difference I see between the Greek League and the Euroleague is just the pace of the game. In Euroleague they get up and down the court a little bit faster. The game needs to be more physical because they don’t let you get away with minor fouls. There’s a difference between Europe and the NBA. Here, you’re not allowed to touch anybody. It’s crazy! I thought the NBA was bad until I got here. You can’t be physical in Europe. It’s impossible. I guess it just goes with home court.
Q: As a younger player, you seemed to feel an urge to play in the NBA: you withdrew from the 2005 Draft, two years later you had the ACL injury and in 2008 you left Kansas in order to be a pro. What were you thinking back then?
A: In 2005, they said I was going to be roughly a first-round or even a second-round pick. I was blessed to get the opportunity to go to Kansas. I became a starter and received all awards a freshman could get. I had a great freshman year, but I should have left Kansas before my sophomore year, to be honest with you. Then, I tore my ACL in the workout and I was blessed to have been received with open arms. I was able to win a championship. So, it was a blessing in disguise.
Q: I guess that despite winning the NBA title, you enjoyed your second stint with the Warriors less than expected. Is it so?
A: Oh no, I enjoyed every single minute of playing with the Warriors. We were a great team, with great guys and management around us. We were having fun, championship aside. That year (2014-2015), I was still recovering from my ACL and I really didn’t play that much. In the following year, we broke the NBA record for the most wins in the regular season. That was crazy; and then, we lost to Cleveland and that ruined the whole year. We could have won even without Draymond Green, but we weren’t focused enough.
Q: How did Steph Curry become such an incredible shooter?
A: Just his repetition. He works out every single day. After every practice, he works out 30-45 minutes. He’s also a very skilled guy. He’s always been able to shoot the ball and all the work he has put in, it shows on the court.
Q: How did you develop into a good shooter?
A: I wasn’t a good shooter in the beginning. Until my freshman year, I was known as just a dunker. I was able to get the mechanics down and be able to knock down shots.
Q: In one of your interviews, you expressed the intention of becoming a scouter rather than a coach. Why’s that?
A: I’ve tried coaching in the summer and it’s not for me. It’s not my personality. I’m not that kind of guy who can give orders to others. I want to observe people from the background. I like watching players, so I’d rather be a scout to be able to gaze at somebody’s talent and how far they can develop. I could also be a GM, a front-office guy. People always say that I talk pretty good and I should be on TV.
Q: Have you started seeing the end of the tunnel in your career?
A: Yes, I have. The last two years have been really rough, in terms of trying to get on a team and playing with injuries. It will come to an end, eventually. I’m trying to ride this wave for as long as I probably can.
Q: Do you regret anything?
A: My first two years in the league I could have worked a little bit harder. I would have gotten a lot better, coaches would have seen it and they would have put me in a better situation.