When I think of Shea Rush, the first thing that comes to mind is the Luke Maye shot. Not that Shea hasn't done more than enough to merit his own exclusive memory, but because his reaction to that flatfooted jump shot splashing through the net was just too daggum good. The guy jumped about four feet into the air, eyes bugging, total uncontrolled delight bursting out of him. It's pretty much the same reaction I had, if you take Shea's vertical and divide by five.
I like to think that was Shea's reaction on Tuesday as well, when Roy Williams informed him that he would be going on full scholarship for his sophomore year, after being brought onto the team last year as a walk-on. Rare is the student-athlete (or student in general) that can quote Alan Watts offhand when describing his mindset when choosing his alma mater, but that's Shea Rush. Rarer still is the student-athlete who presents his teammates and coaches with 24 custom-made fedoras on the eve of the NCAA tournament. A scholarship is a well-deserved honor for a terrific young man who brings enthusiasm and effort not only on the court but in the classroom as well.
It also brought another twist to a two-decade story featuring Roy Williams, the state of Kansas, and its first family of basketball; the Rushes of Kansas City.
Shea Rush is the son of Jaron Rush, who back in the late 90s was one of the greatest high school players in the nation. He was also the eldest of three brothers, Kareem and Brandon coming next. As born and bred Jayhawkers, it was widely expected that the trio of sons would be bound for Lawrence. Think the Ball brothers without the annoying Dad. And Jaron was their Lonzo. When he verbally committed to KU and Roy in 1998, no one was surprised. Paul Pierce would be leaving for the pros that offseason, and Jaron would take his place at small forward.
What was a surprise however, was when three months later, his letter of intent still unsigned and all of Kansas terrified he'd change his mind, he was asked a question about playing for Ol' Roy and answered it thus:
"Roy substitutes too much for me."
When pressed further, he admitted that while he still might want to attend KU, he wasn't sure anymore. In today's college basketball world, such a comment wouldn't stand out too much, but in the late 90s it was virtually sacrilegious. A teenager publicly criticizing a top coach didn't fly. Two days later, Roy announced that Kansas was no longer interested in Jaron Rush. The Kansas City prodigy would be headed west, to UCLA. Two years later, he'd become the poster child for leaving school too early, when he went undrafted after declaring at the end of his sophomore year.
The second Rush brother, Kareem, wouldn't suit up in Jayhawk colors either. His journey would take him to Columbia, MO and the Jayhawks' nemesis: the Missouri Tigers, coached by one Quin Snyder, a graduate of the University of New Jersey at Durham. Unlike his more highly-recruited elder brother, Rush was a standout college star, leading the Big 12 in scoring his sophomore year, and leading the Tigers to the Elite Eight in 2002. He also led the Tigers to a stunning upset of Roy's Jayhawks in 2001, one of Snyder's greatest wins at Mizzou. He was rewarded with a 1st round selection by the reigning champion Lakers in the 2002 Draft.
One year later, Roy's journey took him away from Kansas as well. We know how that ended up for him. And us as well. Banners, All-Americans, and the like. We don't need to relate all the high points. We know them by heart. A low point however was the 2008 National Semifinal. Yeah, that one was pretty bad. I'd suggest that outside of the Kris Jenkins Game, no tournament loss stung quite as much as that one. (Well, there was the 2012 Elite Eight as well...friggin' Kansas).
Like all of you, I've blocked most of that game out. But one part that I'll never forget was Kansas charging down the floor, up 35-12, and pitching it back to a wide open small forward as Jim Nantz said "Rush...way outside three...OF COURSE!" 38-12. And Wake Forest grad Billy Packer gleefully declaring "This game...is OVA." Lovely. And the funny part? That "Rush" was Brandon. The third brother did become a Jayhawk. Just in time to give Roy and Co. 25 points en route to an 18-point whipping. The Rushes send their regards?
If the story had ended there, it would have been a straightforward family feud tale: Older brother and coach fall out, younger brother goes to play for arch rival, youngest brother exacts terrible vengeance. But Father Time heals many wounds. And some things are just meant to be. You can play up the family drama and the ancient grudge all you want (see the paragraphs above as an example) but at the end of the day, good things happen when good people come together. Roy Williams is a helluva guy. So is Shea Rush.
When Shea committed to Carolina last spring, his father and Roy still hadn't spoken. But when asked about his son going to play for Roy, he spoke only as a father; "I'm just glad my son gets to play for one of the great college basketball coaches out there." He then spoke about the emphasis both he and Shea's mother placed on education first and foremost. He wants to see his son complete the fours years of college that he did not. No need to worry about that (Alan Watts and custom fedoras?!), but this year's on the house. It's taken 18 years, but Roy Williams has finally given a Rush a scholarship.