Oklahoma City Thunder coach Scott Brooks calls Russell Westbrook the most confident player he's coached. Westbrook knows the reason for that.
"Most of my confidence is because I don't care what nobody else thinks," Westbrook told Yahoo Sports.
Westbrook said his confidence has been shaped because of the challenges he has faced, the most recent being a knee injury that knocked him out of last season's playoffs and kept him sidelined into the start of this season.
After injuring his right knee in Game 2 of the Thunder's first-round series against the Houston Rockets, Westbrook needed surgery to repair torn meniscus. He then needed another procedure on Oct. 1 to alleviate swelling in the same knee. Westbrook was expected to miss the first four to six weeks of this regular-season, including as many as 21 games. He returned after just three games.
"I can go down the list of thanking people who helped me get back to where I was," Westbrook said. "Half was [Thunder] staff and all the rehabbers out there. The other half was just me coming in every day and being smart by listening to people who advised me to do different rehab and taking days off when I needed to."
Westbrook has shown few signs of the injury. He had 21 points and seven assists in his first game back and is averaging 20.9 point, 5.5 assists and 4.4 rebounds for the season.
"It's hard coming off an injury," Kevin Durant said. "But some people forget he had one."
Westbrook's confidence helped him move on from his knee injury.
"Once I felt I was able to play and do what I was able to do, I just go play," Westbrook said. "I don't really think about whether I can make this move or spin or jump. I just do it. Once I figured out my knee was healthy and I was good, I didn't worry about it anymore."
Brooks saw no signs of Westbrook being tentative "from the moment he was cleared."
"He came out swinging toward the fences like he normally does," Brooks said.
Westbrook's confidence first grew after he arrived at Leuzinger High School in Los Angeles as a 5-foot-8, 140-pound freshman. He didn't' receive a recruiting letter from a college basketball program until his senior year. And he didn't get much attention from colleges as a senior despite averaging 25.1 points and scoring 51 points.
Westbrook was expected to sign a scholarship to play at the University of San Diego. But once Jordan Farmar decided to leave UCLA for the NBA, Westbrook accepted a late scholarship offer from the Bruins. Westbrook made the most of the opportunity going from being the Bruins' least heralded recruit in 2006 to the fourth overall pick in the 2008 NBA draft.
"Growing up, the only way I knew was you have to have confidence in yourself, regardless to what happened or what you're doing," Westbrook said.
Westbrook was expected to defer to Durant on the Thunder. Instead, he's had no problem taking tough, big – and, often times, surprising – shots. Criticism came in the process. Westbrook never cared and just kept shooting. Three All-Star appearances, three All-NBA second-team selections and a NBA Finals appearance later, Westbrook has quieted a lot of his skeptics.
"You might miss 10 shots, but as long as you have confidence you can make the next one, you can do whatever you need to do to help your team," Westbrook said.
Brooks says Westbrook's confidence comes from his lack of fear of failure.
"He's fearless in his pursuit of being great and he's not afraid of moments that are down," Brooks said. "Some people are afraid to fail. Not Russell. Failing is not an option with his mindset."
Brooks compares Westbrook's confidence to three Hall of Famers who are former teammates of Brooks: Charles Barkley, Hakeem Olajuwon and Patrick Ewing.
"Russell has as much confidence as all those guys," Brooks said. "He has a strong belief in what he's able to do or what we do. He's as competitive as anybody. His heart is as big as anybody I've been around.
"He's special. That's why he's one of the best players in the league."