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New Laker in No Rush to Take Seat on Bench

Pro basketball: Rookie hoping his shooting and defense will earn him meaningful playing time.

July 20, 2002|DAVID CARRILLO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Kareem Rush and Mark Madsen couldn't be more different, but their role with the Lakers might be similar.

Rush, though, is hoping his rookie season will work out differently than Madsen's first two seasons did.

Sitting at the end of the bench, waving a towel and grabbing a drink for Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant aren't at the top of his agenda.

"I haven't talked to Mad Dog about how the bench feels," Rush said of Madsen, who has averaged 10 minutes in 129 NBA games. "I haven't done any bench warming. So if it does happen it's going to be a little uncomfortable at first."

Rush starred as a guard at Missouri and Madsen as a forward at Stanford. But it didn't take Madsen much time to forget his college days and embrace a new role in 2000-01 with the Lakers.

Getting bulldozed trying to defend O'Neal in training camp helped prepare him. So did getting frequent elbows to the face from the 7-foot-1, 330-pound center.

"They didn't teach those kinds of things in the classroom at Stanford," Madsen said. "My first year was an adjustment period because I was on the bench and it was the first time playing with bigger bodies and more talented players."

Rush, a wiry 6 feet 6, will face similar challenges.

Bryant is one of the few superstars in the NBA who treats practices like games. And Rush, who would have been a college senior this upcoming NBA season, says he's ready to learn, especially on the defensive side.

"I'm going to go at Kobe every day [because] I'm trying to get better," Rush said. "I'm going to show them that I'm not a liability. That's been a rap of mine, that I don't play defense and that I'm just a scorer. I'm just looking for ways to earn some playing time."

Rush was a threat in college behind the three-point line, a form of scoring the Lakers couldn't always count on last season. Rush made 44.8% of his three-pointers as a sophomore and 40.5% as a junior.

"People say that this team lacks that other scorer," said Rush, who averaged 18.9 points in 84 college games. "I know we have Kobe and Shaq, but it's kind of inconsistent who scores from there. With Shaq and Kobe getting double-teamed a lot someone is going to be open and I think I can knock down the open shot."

Still, with the Lakers having re-signed Devean George on Wednesday and added veteran shooter Tracy Murray in a June 26 trade with the Toronto Raptors, Rush will have to be patient.

Rush, the Raptors' 20th pick, also was part of the trade that sent Lindsey Hunter and the 27th overall pick, Chris Jefferies, from Los Angeles to Toronto.

"[Rush] not only has to learn the triangle offense, but he has to learn the triangle's toughest position," Laker assistant coach Kurt Rambis said, referring to guard. "But every time I see him shoot, it looks as though it's going to go in the basket."

Rush impressed Rambis and Laker management at the Summer Pro League in Long Beach.

After averaging 13.5 points and making five of nine three-point shots in four games, Rush sprained his left (shooting) wrist by falling awkwardly on it during a game.

Rush sat out the Lakers' final two games, getting a glimpse of what may be coming in the regular season.

"I hope not," said Rush, wearing jeans and a white T-shirt while watching the Lakers warm up for their last game Wednesday. "My wrist is fine and if I go out there and show that I'm capable of grasping this offense at a high level and playing defense, then I'll deserve to play."

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