LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP)—He wore a thick brace to support his surgically repaired right knee and his timing was obviously a bit out of kilter.
Nevertheless, the emotional lift Brandon Rush gave No. 4 Kansas with a successful early return from ACL surgery Thursday night was obvious in an otherwise routine 92-60 clobbering of Division II Washburn.
Less than six months removed from major surgery, the 6-foot-6 All-Big 12 guard looked like the best player on the floor, scoring seven points in limited action, all in the first half.
“It felt pretty good. When I started getting up and down the floor I started feeling like my old self,” said Rush, who hadn’t been expected back until Dec. 1.
“I was a little nervous because I haven’t been on the court in a while, not because of my knee. I wasn’t worried about my knee at all.”
Rush had planned to be flashing his moves in the NBA this year, but injured himself in a practice game in May and took himself out of the draft. He was 3-for-5 from the floor and also had three rebounds in 12 minutes.
Perhaps most importantly, he went hard to the floor twice but each time popped right back up. Kansas’ leading scorer of the past two years, he seemed to energize the lethargic Jayhawks (3-0) the minute he came off the bench.
“Brandon was definitely the spark tonight,” said guard Rod Stewart. “It was a real close game until he came in. We got the lead because of him. I’m so glad he’s back.”
So is coach Bill Self. With Rush back and apparently close to his old skill level, Kansas has all but one starter from the team that won 33 games last season, took the Big 12 title and fell one victory short of the Final Four.
“I thought he was probably as good a performer as we had tonight,” Self said. “We didn’t play very well at all, especially in the first half. But Brandon was a big bright spot for us. He got knocked down, and that needed to happen. He went to the goal one time and that needed to happen, in traffic. I thought he did some good things. I was really happy for him. You can tell he’s not quite what he was. But he’ll get there.”
Darrell Arthur had 14 points and Mario Chalmers, Sasha Kaun and Darnell Jackson all had 10 to help the Jayhawks win their 599th game in 52-year-old Allen Fieldhouse.
Angel Santiago didn’t play in the first half but wound up with 11 points in only 13 minutes for the Ichabods (0-1) of Topeka, who are in the midst of playing four games in five days. James Williams also had 11 points, and Mario Scott had 10.
“Once you’re a good player and you have an injury, you still have it,” said Santiago. “You can tell (Rush) still has it, even though he wasn’t going full strength. Brandon Rush is Brandon Rush.”
The Jayhawks were without standout guard Sherron Collins, who had surgery this week for a broken bone in his left foot and is expected to miss about six weeks.
Rush’s first bucket came on a one-handed floater and he also made a nice move on a 12-foot jumper and was 1 of 2 from the 3-point line.
He had been practicing with contact since Nov. 2.
“It felt good. I got chills all through my body,” he said. “I knew it was going to happen, but it still felt real good. I wasn’t expecting to be back until (Dec. 1) but the doctors said everything was fine and my knee was holding up pretty good.”
When he came into the game at the 16:17 mark of the first half, Kansas was not playing well against the outmanned Ichabods, who have several new players and are picked ninth in the 10-team MIAA.
His floater gave them a 10-9 lead, then Stewart missed a free throw, making the Jayhawks only 1-for-9 from the line at that point. But before the half was over, they had hit seven in a row and taken a seven-point lead on Rush’s 3-pointer.
Rush was knocked hard to the floor by Moriba DeCoteau, hushing the big crowd. As Kansas began taking control of the game, he made a layup for a 30-16 lead.
“I’m not at 100 percent. I’m probably about 85 to 80 percent,” he said. “I don’t have my whole explosion back yet. It was very important to just get the flow of the game back and get my timing back.”