When Russell Westbrook was at UCLA, Sam Cassell already saw something special in the Houston Rockets superstar, as his story of an early encounter shows.
It’s impossible to imagine Russell Westbrook as anything less than incredibly intense, and recently Sam Cassell spoke about how that was true even in his UCLA days. Long before he became the point guard for the Houston Rockets, Russell showed his competitive nature with the three-time NBA champion.
Sam Cassell became an instant legend in Houston when he helped the Rockets win their first NBA title as a rookie with his clutch play. He followed that up by averaging 11.0 points and 4.0 assists per game in Houston’s improbable 1995 playoff run to help seal back-to-back titles for H-Town.
Sam’s influence on the Rockets didn’t end there, as he’s helped coach up some of their players, which Austin Rivers talked about on his podcast Go Off. In the episode, Rivers credits Cassell with helping him become a better defender when he was with the LA Clippers.
Sam Cassell’s Early Encounter with Rockets’ Russell Westbrook
Later in the episode, the topic of Russell Westbrook came up as the two discuss their ideal combo guards — when Sam brought up an old story. “My 12th year, I’m playing for the Clippers and he was in college at UCLA,” began Cassell.
“We used to go to UCLA in the summers. I’m in there one day working him over, I’m just pump-faking and everything. And he just has so much energy. One time Kevin Garnett came over to UCLA and I said, ‘You know that kid, Russell?’ And KG said ‘Who’s that?’ I said, ‘the kid who’s been dunking, running all fast with the ball. He’s gonna be good, man’ .”
After Cassell worked him in their first meeting, he recalls how eager Westbrook was for their rematch. He continued: “We got out of the car and walked to the arena and Russell was at that first door, waiting on me, bouncing the ball and he said, ‘I’m glad you made it. I don’t believe with how slow you are, you’re getting your shot off on me like that.”
Sam then explains to Rivers that he just had more experience and craftiness than Russ at the time, which is why he was able to school the young gun.
“So me and Ticket [Garnett] were walking around the gym and I said, ‘That kid is gonna be awesome one day. That man confronted me.’ At that time I’m a bad boy, and he met me at the door,” said Cassell.
Cassell’s full story can be found at 20:06 of the episode below.
Even as a teenager, Russell was showing the kind of competitive fire that has made him one of the most dynamic superstars in the league.
“His motor was always like that,” said Cassell. “He always wanted to take on a challenge.”