Ex-Illinois star Brandon Paul savors opportunity with Spurs as 26-year-old NBA rookie

Wednesday, 15 November 2017, 06:18:15 AM. The Spurs' Brandon Paul, 26-year-old NBA rookie and former Illinois star, humbled to play at the United Center with lots of friends and family there to support him.

At last month’s home opener, saw familiarity wherever he looked.

From his spot on the bench, he watched an opponent he cheered for while growing up in the north suburbs and winning Illinois’ Mr. Basketball in 2009 at Warren High School. In the stands sat high school and college friends and multiple family members.

And on the court, the game he loved enough to keep him going from 2013, when he went undrafted out of Illinois, to being a 26-year-old rookie remained the same.

“It was very humbling to play in the United Center and see how many people came out to support me,” Paul said.

The surreal moments keep coming for Paul, who has taken advantage of injuries to average five points on 52.3 percent shooting in 15.4 minutes over 13 games for a franchise synonymous with success. That included a brief appearance during the Spurs’ victory in Chicago last month and 15 points, five rebounds and four assists Saturday night as the Spurs throttled Paul’s hometown team again.

“I’ve stayed true to myself,” he said.

The Spurs gave Paul his first workout after he went undrafted. When that didn’t lead to a signing, he bounced from Russia’s Nizhny Novgorod to the Canton (Ohio) Charge of the G-League to Spain’s FIATC Joventut and Turkey’s Anadolu Efes.

Through it all Paul never lost confidence or faith he’d one day reach the .

“I just think my love for the game and not wanting to settle helped me,” he said. “I enjoyed my time overseas and really could’ve made a career over there, but I wanted to continue to get better. And I knew the NBA wasn’t going away, so as long as I focused on myself I knew at some point I’d get an opportunity to play at the highest level.

“A lot of kids have dreams to play at this level. It’s a very tough gig to get, but I always stayed the course and had confidence in myself. I played my game. And now that I’m here, my goal is to stay.”

All NBA teams scout overseas. But the Spurs have had more success than most franchises mining talent and merging it with opportunity.

Paul doesn’t take that reputation for granted.

“I couldn’t ask for a better situation to be put in,” he said. “This environment, playing with one of the greatest coaches () and a lot of Hall of Fame guys, guys who have rings, it’s truly a blessing to be able to learn from these people. We also have a great staff that I get to work with. I’m fortunate.”

And even though Illinois is two coaches removed from Bruce Weber, who recruited Paul, he still follows his alma mater. Paul even has had “a couple conversations” with Brad Underwood since Illinois hired him.

“He’s a great guy,” Paul said. “I’m always going to be Illini through and through. I know they won (Friday) night. I couldn’t watch because (the Spurs) played, but I’ll try to catch as many games as I can as long as it doesn’t conflict with our schedule.

“I’m always going to be a big fan.”

Twitter @kcjhoop

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