Job Training

Times Staff Writer

For a guy who always knew how he wanted to make his living, Brandon Roy once seemed closer to collecting welfare than an NBA paycheck.

Though he had been hotly recruited at Seattle Garfield High and even flirted with the idea of bypassing college to turn pro, Roy spent his first few months out of high school working part time at a shipping-container plant.

It was not the type of lifestyle that attracts an entourage.

"I've always seen good players leave high school and you always ask the question, 'Where are they at?' and people say, 'I don't know what happened to them,' " Roy said. "For a minute there in my life, I felt like I was one of those guys. I wasn't in the newspaper, I wasn't playing on a team."

Roy was in limbo after coming to the realization that in order to make it in the NBA he needed to get physically stronger by playing in college. He had committed to Washington but failed to attain a qualifying SAT score on his first three attempts.

So Roy redoubled his academic efforts, studying during the hours when he wasn't lifting containers, organizing files and cleaning. When he finally joined the team in midseason, Washington Coach Lorenzo Romar recalled, Roy proved that he was a quick study by learning the Husky offense in 45 minutes.

"His basketball IQ is at such a high level, he just catches on very quickly," Romar said. "And we went from there."

Three years later, those who have seen the multitalented 6-foot-6 senior guard are stunned that he's still participating in an NCAA tournament instead of preparing for a run in the upcoming NBA playoffs.

"Watching film, I'm wondering why he's still in college, to be honest," said Illinois Coach Bruce Weber, whose fourth-seeded Illini play Roy's fifth-seeded Huskies this afternoon at Cox Arena in a second-round game.

"He's just such a talented player. He has that size and ability and athleticism, plus the ballhandling skills. He can be a point guard, he can be a two, he can be a three. He can get you on the pull-up jumper, he can get you on the three, he can get you to the basket, he can post up.

"He just does so many things, and he's smooth at it."

Especially late in games. Roy made a three-pointer to send a game against Arizona into overtime, then hit another to extend the Wildcats into double overtime. He blocked a shot by UCLA's Jordan Farmar in the final seconds of a Husky victory that completed a season sweep of the Bruins.

Little wonder that Roy, who is averaging 20.2 points, 5.6 rebounds and 4.2 assists, was selected the Pacific 10 Conference's player of the year, though his teammates grouse that he should be garnering a bigger share of the national spotlight.

"You hear everybody talking about J.J. Redick or Adam Morrison," Washington guard Justin Dentmon said. "I think you should be talking about [Roy], because he makes everyone around him better. I feel if you take him away from our team, we'd be struggling a little bit. He's our lethal weapon."

Roy attributes his success to the months he spent on the loading docks.

"Once in a while he would come to practices, and it was difficult for him to come because he wanted to be out there," Romar said. "He would come to our games and sit way at the top to avoid the same question: 'When are you going to be ready to go?' "

When he finally joined the team, Roy said, he was better prepared to handle adversity such as a serious knee injury that sidelined him for part of his junior year and relegated him to a reserve role upon his return.

This season has made Roy's detour seem worthwhile.

"I think winning college games is exciting, going to the NCAA tournament is exciting, so I didn't feel any rush to go to the NBA because I was having fun in college," Roy said.

"I've had some unfortunate things happen to me in the past that put me in the position I'm in today. Looking back at it, I'm happy that things turned out the way they did."

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