Brandon Rush at the Center of Knicks' "Secret Workout" Controversy

Pre-draft workouts are things that all teams do. They bring college and foreign players (and high school kids in the bygone times predating the “one and done” era) and run them up and down the court in a series of drills to assess whether or not their skills might translate to the NBA.

Simple stuff.

The only thing is that there are particular times, durations and other logistical considerations that the teams must abide by prior if they want to work players out. And according to Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Knicks have been running afoul of those restrictions — brazenly so if the facts in this story are accurate.

The reason this is “Pacers news” is because one of the major pieces of the puzzle uncovering the “scandal” is that Brandon Rush tore his ACL during one of these “secret workouts” held by Knick scout Rodney Heard. Rush originally claimed he hurt his knee elsewhere, presumably to do Heard a solid, but now he has admitted that it was during an unofficial Knick workout.

For the past four years, the New York Knicks may have circumvented NBA draft rules by conducting secret workouts of collegiate players throughout gymnasiums in suburban Atlanta, Yahoo! Sports has found.

Knicks director of East Coast scouting Rodney Heard coordinated and conducted the sessions, three players who were involved in some of the workouts told Yahoo! Sports – including one May 2007 session that resulted in a devastating knee injury to Kansas All-American Brandon Rush. A tear of the anterior cruciate ligament in Rush’s right knee forced him to withdraw from the 2007 draft and required surgery plus six months of rehabilitation.

In addition to the Rush session – which was an apparent violation of NBA bylaws forbidding teams from working out players before the annual predraft camp – Heard may have broken more rules by conducting predraft workouts with additional players during restricted time periods in 2007 and for excessive sessions in 2009 and 2010.

Rodney Heard denies that this occurred.

When reached on Monday, Heard denied he was present in suburban Atlanta when Rush suffered the knee injury.

“That’s so far from the truth,” Heard said. “Someone called me and told me he got hurt. I was in Florida at our staff meetings.”

When told that Rush said he was running the workout, Heard responded: “I wasn’t there. That’s a lie.”

Rush’s coach at the time, Bill Self, had the following to say, which Wojnarowski uses as a lead-in to insinuate that Brandon stuck to his initial story due to (likely unfounded) fears that he might lose his eligibility if someone found out where he actually was when he blew out his knee.

When reached on Monday night, Self told Yahoo! Sports: “Brandon initially told us he hurt his knee in Kansas City,” Self said. “And later, he told us that was inaccurate and that it happened the day prior, while he was in North Carolina. We heard about the workouts in Atlanta, and we asked Brandon if he had worked out there and he said, ‘No,’ that he was injured when he got there.”

Rush told Yahoo! Sports that the Knicks never asked him to change his story about the injury happening in Atlanta with Heard, but multiple sources said his family and advisers worried about his college eligibility and believed he needed to keep the story quiet until he left Kansas for the NBA.

The NCAA’s rules extend to a player’s predraft workouts, but sources said any issue with Rush’s eligibility upon his return to Kansas would likely center around whether an agent paid for his travel to Atlanta. The NCAA declined comment on Monday.

Regardless of the he said/she said and whatever punishment may perhaps be handed down against the Knicks and/or Heard, this whole thing honestly isn’t a particularly big deal for the Pacers and Rush.

Sure it involves a guy who has been in the news for the wrong reasons of late, but it was a long time ago and he was just a college student trying to make it into the league. It’s wasn’t his job to care who was conducting the interview or to understand the NBA’s fine-print rules about the whole thing.

The story features Brandon prominently and I’m sure it will continue to be a topic of discussion, but it is more about an NBA team coloring outside the lines and trying to gain an unfair advantage than it is any sort of indictment of any player — and there were many, many others aside from Rush, it sounds like — who received a call to go play hoops somewhere and said “sure” before eagerly lacing up his sneakers and heading off to run some drills with visions of fulfilling his NBA dream.

And for Brandon, while the injury and rehab were undoubtedly horrible experiences and his draft position (read: paycheck) might have suffered since he had to withdraw from that year’s draft, the outcome was him returning to Kansas and winning an NCAA National Championship.

Not the worst thing in the world.

(Pacers fans may also be interested to hear that former Pacers GM Donnie Walsh, who has been manning the ship for New York since April 2008, had denied any knowledge that his scouts were conducted workouts that violate league rules.)

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Tags: Brandon Rush Donnie Walsh New York Knicks Rodney Heard

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