They were accompanied by their high school head coach, Reggie Morris Jr, who at 24 was only a few years removed from his playing days at the community college.
When Morris asked him to join the varsity squad during the state playoffs, Russ didn’t even expect to practice.
“He didn’t know we would be asking him to practice, so he did not have anything to practice in,” Morris recalls.
But nearly 12 years ago, on May 11, 2004, a day where the duo was running up the win count at L. In a blur of screeching sneakers and ambulance sirens, Khelcey was pronounced dead of an enlarged heart by the time he reached the hospital.
Not one to express his emotional devastation, Russ vowed to never let Khelcey’s memory fade. “Every day, every game, I play for him, through him and his family as well,” says Russ, who used to perform Khelcey’s chores at his fallen friend’s house.
“He worked out in his school shoes, some low-top Nike Air Force 1s.” Leuzinger was led by a future NBA player, senior Dorell Wright, who would be selected in the first round of the 2004 NBA Draft just two months later.
Russ wasn’t intimidated by Wright; he was there to compete.
They played a 2-3 zone the whole game, and Russ exploited it with nearly all of his makes coming off the dribble. You don’t complain and still try to find a way to get it done.” The opportunities were scarce as Russ went off to UCLA during his first collegiate season.
He finished the season with gaudy averages of 25.1 ppg on 57 percent shooting from three, with 8.7 rpg, 3.1 spg and 2.3 apg. He scored in double figures just three times and averaged 9 minutes a game as a backup to Darren Collison.
“It’s something that I [use to] constantly keep an edge and keep my competitive nature.” At the time, Westbrook was still going through growing pains and not even yet on the recruiting radar, but he never backed down and trained with every chance he’d get.
Russ played with the freshman team nearly his entire ninth grade year at Leuzinger High School in Lawndale, CA.
I became better now, but I was a much better shooter in high school. Becoming a five-time All-Star and scoring champion? “He began playing with a chip on his shoulder, but it’s actually Khelcey,” says Beverly. “Still figuring it out, but always fighting for respect and not afraid to demand it.” He adopted the slogan “Why not? “Even to this day, he just thinks he’s better than everybody,” says Beverly.