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November 25, 2014

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Notebook: Russell Westbrook broke onto the national basketball scene in Las Vegas

Westbrook remembers running around Circus Circus as a teenager and Deron Williams talks about a potential Dwight Howard deal

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Sam Morris

Russell Westbrook dishes off a pass during the USA Olympic basketball team practice Friday, July 6, 2012 at UNLV’s Mendenhall Center.

USA Basketball Announces Team

USA Basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski, left, and USA Basketball Chairman Jerry Colangelo, right, flank the twelve players selected for the 2012 U.S. Olympic mens basketball team during a news conference at the Wynn Las Vegas Saturday, July 7, 2012.  Back row (L-R) Carmelo Anthony, Blake Griffin, Tyson Chandler, Kevin Love, Kevin Durant, and LeBron James. Front row (L-R) Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Deron Williams, James Harden, Andre Iguodala, and Kobe Bryant. Launch slideshow »

Team USA Basketball Begins Practice

Kobe Bryant reaches for a ball while being guarded by Kyrie Irving during the USA Olympic basketball team practice Friday, July 6, 2012 at UNLV's Mendenhall Center. Launch slideshow »

Russell Westbrook is one of the best basketball players in the world. That’s pretty clear to everybody these days.

The Oklahoma City Thunder point guard is one of 12 members of the official Team USA roster in Las Vegas this week for training camp. He’s looking to add Olympic gold to his win at the 2010 FIBA World Championships, and last season he helped the Thunder reach the NBA Finals.

But in 2005, Westbrook came to Las Vegas in the summer before his senior year of high school with an entirely different goal. Playing at the adidas Super 64 AAU basketball tournament, he was just trying to be seen.

“Russell Westbrook played for a team we had never heard of,” tournament director Ron Montoya told the Sun last year. “Nobody had heard of the team and nobody had heard of him.”

Trying to think back to that time on Monday in the Mendenhall Center, Westbrook said he remembers just bits and pieces.

“A lot of scouts came out to our games at the time, and I just happened to play well,” Westbrook said. “It helped me out, let me get myself out there a little more.”

At least one UCLA coach was at that tournament, and it would lead to a scholarship that eventually helped Westbrook become the fourth pick in the 2008 NBA draft after playing two years for the Bruins.

For that reason, and the multiple obvious ones located on the Strip, Westbrook has always enjoyed coming back to Las Vegas. On Saturday night, he attended Team USA teammate LeBron James’ championship celebration at Tao in the Venetian.

That was bittersweet considering James defeated Westbrook’s Thunder in the NBA Finals. Still, the venue alone lets Westbrook know how far he’s come from that 2005 tournament.

“I remember having fun at Circus Circus,” Westbrook said. “That’s what I was able to get away with at the time.”

Rumor mill

Of course, Deron Williams could be holding something back.

There’s no way to know for certain that he’s telling the truth, but to hear the Brooklyn Nets point guard tell it, he finds out the latest NBA trade news — like that Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard will be his teammate, for example — the same way you probably do.

“Rumors, I just hear rumors. Speculation,” Williams said.

New York Knicks center Tyson Chandler, whose team reportedly re-signed guard Steve Novak and brought in center Marcus Camby on Monday, said he’s also following the Howard decision and other moves through rumors. Chandler said he wakes up and checks with his teammates to see what the other teams did while he was asleep.

“Everybody wants to know what they’re going to be competing against,” Chandler said.

Williams and Howard are friends, and Williams said that’s how he’s thinking about the situation. He wants it to be resolved so Howard doesn’t have to worry about it anymore.

However, there’s another side involved, and he can’t entirely ignore that, either. The addition of Howard could make the Nets the second-best team in the Eastern Conference.

“I think we’ll have a good team without him and we’ll have an even better team with him,” Williams said. “The situation is tricky.”

News and notes

• Blake Griffin was absent from Monday’s practice because he had to return to Los Angeles to complete a physical before signing an extension with the Clippers. He was expected to return to Las Vegas late on Monday.

• Williams is expected to fully participate in the final day of practice on Wednesday. He has been sitting out of contact drills until signing his five-year, $100 million deal with the Nets, but that should be completed either late Tuesday or early Wednesday.

• Team USA’s exhibition game against the Dominican Republic on Thursday at the Thomas & Mack Center is sold out. Tickets can be found on Craigslist for $150.

Taylor Bern can be reached at 948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Taylor on Twitter at twitter.com/taylorbern.

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