LOS ANGELES — Russell Westbrook was only 5-8 and 140 pounds when he was a freshman at Leuzinger High School in Hawthorne.
He didn’t make the varsity team until his junior year. By the time he was a senior, he had sprouted to the 6-3 he is today with the Oklahoma City Thunder and led Leuzinger to a 25-4 record, averaging 25.1 points and 8.7 rebounds a game.
He scored 30 or more points eight times, topped by 51 against Carson on Jan. 6, 2006. Still Westbrook wasn’t highly recruited by the major colleges until Jordan Farmar decided to turn pro after his sophomore year at UCLA and coach Ben Howland offered him a scholarship to replace Farmar.
Still, Westbrook came off the bench his freshman year, playing behind Darren Collison. When Collison got hurt the following season, Westbrook took over and guided the Bruins to a third straight appearance in the Final Four, where they lost to Memphis.
Westbrook then decided to turn pro and was drafted by the Seattle Supersonics fourth overall in the 2008 NBA Draft. The Sonics became the Oklahoma City Thunder shortly after the draft and Westbrook has been a star for the Thunder almost since he arrived.
This year, he finished fourth in voting for most valuable player in the league behind MVP Steph Curry, Kawhi Leonard of the San Antonio Spurs and LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers. He averaged 23.8 points a game, a career-high 10.8 assists a game and a career-high 7.8 rebounds a game.
With forward Kevin Durant, Westbrook provides the best one-two punch in the NBA behind Curry and Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors and, with the 95-91 win over the San Antonio Spurs May 10, the Thunder are one win away from the NBA’s Western Conference finals.
Durant is the star of the 2016 free agent class for the NBA and everyone has been wondering what he will do this summer.
Will he stay in Oklahoma City? Will he go home to Washington, D.C. and play for the Wizards? Will he take a paycut to play for the Spurs or the Warriors and chase a ring?
Westbrook has one more year left on his contract before free agency. Personally, I think he would look great in purple and gold playing half his games in his hometown.
The Lakers might have to unload D’Angelo Russell to make way for Westbrook, who plays with a passion that most of his peers don’t have.
The Lakers front office knows they need a superstar to guide the Lakers back to the playoffs. Westbrook would be a perfect fit a year from now, something I’m sure Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss have already thought about.
The Lakers won’t know until after the NBA Draft Lottery May 17 if they have kept their first round pick this year. There is lots of rebuilding to do. A player like Russell Westbrook would speed up the process considerably.
SO LONG, SPORTS ARENA: The Los Angeles City Council May 6 voted to move forward on the project to replace the Los Angeles Sports Arena with a soccer stadium for a Major League Soccer expansion team that will begin play in 2018.
The $250 million project calls for a 22,000-seat stadium, restaurants, retail stores and a sports museum as well as 143,000 square feet of open space for public use, including wide sidewalks and plazas.
The Los Angeles Sports Arena has been home to many a sporting event in its 57-year history.
A boxing match was held four days after Vice President Richard Nixon attended grand opening ceremonies for the facility on July 4 1959.
At one time or another, the arena served as the home court for the Los Angeles Lakers, the Los Angeles Clippers, the USC Trojans, the UCLA Bruins before Pauley Pavilion was built in 1965, the Los Angeles Stars of the old American Basketball Association, and home ice of the Los Angeles Blades of the Western Hockey League, and the Los Angeles Sharks of the World Hockey Association.
It was the site of the NCAA men’s basketball Final Four in 1968 and 1972, the women’s Final Four in 1992, the NBA All Star Game in 1962 and the boxing competition for the 1984 Olympics.
From 1960 until 2004, it hosted the best track and field athletes in the world at the Los Angeles Invitational (later the Sunkist Invitational) meet.
City Councilman Curren Price, whose district includes the project, said the soccer stadium will “reactivate an often overlooked concrete jungle,” and called the project the largest the city and South Los Angeles “has seen in decades,” but the demolition of the Sports Arena will mark the end of an era for a venue that provided lots of great sports action over 57 years.
REAL WRESTLING: Now mostly a concert venue, The Forum in Inglewood still holds the occasional sporting event and will again next month when the 2016 Men’s Freestyle Wrestling World Cup comes to town June 11 and 12.
Wrestling for the U.S. team will be Aaron Pico, a 19 year old from Whittier, who attended St. John Bosco High School in Bellflower.
“I am super excited to be competing on the World Cup team. Anytime you can represent your country internationally is an honor,” Pico said. “The fact that this will be held in the USA is awesome. I will be part of a great team that will have members of the Olympic Team on it. I am going to focus on getting ready for the World Cup and putting on a great show.”
The World Cup is an international dual meet championship featuring the eight best men’s freestyle teams in the world. The United States team will compete against Azerbaijan, Georgia, India, Iran, Mongolia, Russia and Turkey.
Pico won a state wrestling tile in 2013 for St. John Bosco before he quit competing at the high school level to concentrate full time on international freestyle wrestling. He finished second in the 143-pound weight class at the recent U.S. Olympic Trials.
He currently wrestles for the Titan Mercury Wrestling Club.