Beverly looks to best friend and former teammate Russell Westbrook when facing adversity
Published: Thursday, March 3, 2011
Updated: Thursday, March 3, 2011 23:03
On Saturday, a few minutes before the 2 p.m. tipoff against Notre Dame, the only four-year player on the UConn men's basketball team will be honored along with Charles Okwandu and Kemba Walker. Senior co-captain Donnell Beverly will strut across the Gampel Pavilion floor for the final time in his college career.
Beverly, a reserve point guard, has been the epitome of a team player during his tenure with the Huskies. Although Beverly's statistics don't jump out of the box score, he's garnered high praise from coach Jim Calhoun for his defensive performance in wins against Georgetown and Providence. Calhoun said Beverly, along with Okwandu, is an example of good things coming to those who stick it out. Beverly's resilience comes from one of his best friends from his native Los Angeles: Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook.
"Yeah I talk to him pretty much everyday basically," Beverly said. "He's one of my closest friends so I talked to him pretty much all the time."
The two attended Leuzinger High School in Lawndale, Calif. together. The public high school has a great athletics history, with Warriors' Dorell Wright and former Reds' slugger George Foster as alums.
With Westbrook as a senior in 2006, the Olympians went 25-4. Westbrook earned a scholarship to hometown UCLA in the process. After two years and two Final Four appearances with the Bruins, Westbrook declared for the NBA Draft. He was picked fourth overall by the Seattle SuperSonics and accompanied the team in its move to Oklahoma City. In 2009, he made the NBA All-Rookie team and this February, Westbrook earned his first career All-Star appearance in his third NBA season. Westbrook, along with Kevin Durant, has become the faces of the Thunder franchise.
"It's great," Beverly said. "Nobody from our neighborhood knew he was going to blow up like he did. And he worked extremely hard over the summer, I know he did. I was really happy for him. All his hard work paid off with his first All-Star [appearance] this year."
Beverly took the reins from Westbrook at Leuzinger High in 2007, captaining the Olympians and earning team MVP honors, averaging 19 points, eight rebounds and seven assists per game. He was named the Bay League MVP as well. Although the two haven't played with each other for five years, the former teammates still one another advice.
"I mean, if I see something, I'll tell him," Beverly said with a smile. "He always just tells me how ever long I'm in the game, just be aggressive. That's the main thing he always tells me is be aggressive, don't worry if coach pulls me, just be aggressive. That's mainly the advice he gives me."
Beverly has had an adversity-filled career at UConn, finding himself at the end of the bench fighting for minutes in the rotation all four seasons. He played sparingly as a freshman, averaging less than one point, but he gave the shorthanded Huskies 16 minutes off the bench in a win at Indiana. His minutes actually decreased as a sophomore, but he appeared in important games, including the Big East tournament loss to Syracuse and every NCAA tournament game, including the loss to Michigan State in the Final Four. He notched seven points in the first-round win over Chattanooga and scored a career-high nine against Hartford.
As a junior, he appeared in all but one game, averaging 1.6 points per game. This season, he is averaging almost two points per contest, and has made 7-of-13 3-pointers. His best effort was an eight-point, three-assist showing in the overtime win at Texas.
Beverly and Westbrook are on different career paths. While Westbrook continues to tear up the NBA and becomes one of the league's best point guards, Beverly is playing out his UConn career. Westbrook may have the accolades and stardom, but on Saturday, it will be Beverly on center stage. Because no matter how successful Westbrook ends up in the NBA, Beverly will have something Saturday that Westbrook never had: A Senior Day ceremony.