Meet Mr. Showtime: Cooper standout Rashad Vaughn balances basketball, pressure

Rashad Vaughn (left) shoots over an Apple Valley High School defender during a 2013 tournament at the Target Center in downtown Minneapolis.
Photo By: Star Tribune, printed with permission
“There's always someone out there to get something from a young man of his caliber."

“Kentucky, Louisville, Syracuse, the (Minnesota) Gophers, Iowa State, Kansas, Tennessee, Florida, Maryland …”

Rashad Vaughn isn’t playing “name that college basketball powerhouse.” Instead, he’s rattling off the schools on his radar as he gets closer to making one of the most important decisions of his life.

In fact, Vaughn, a junior at Robbinsdale Cooper High School, has received so many scholarship offers, he’s stopped opening his mail. He also gets around 10 calls and dozens of text messages daily from some of the premier college programs in the country.

For now, coaches like John Calipari, Jim Boeheim and Tubby Smith will have to wait. The 6’6, 200 lb. shooting guard is busy with practices, schoolwork and the occasional press request from Minneapolis media.

After all, Vaughn isn’t your average 16-year-old. He’s listed as the best shooting guard in the nation and the ninth best overall player in the Class of 2014, according to ESPN’s latest high school basketball rankings.

Vaughn is often grouped with Apple Valley’s Tyus Jones (No. 2 by ESPN) and De La Salle’s Reid Travis (No. 40) as part of Minnesota’s “Big Three” recruits. During his sophomore year, Vaughn was listed as the third best of that trifecta. That he continues to rise in the rankings is a testament to his work ethic, said Cooper coach Steve Burton.

“If he could be in the gym at one or two o’clock in the morning, he would be in the gym. And he has been in the gym at those times in the morning,” said Burton, also the academic liaison of special services at Cooper.

“He loves to work. He wants to get better at his craft, not just on the basketball court but in the classroom. And so he’s really a joy.”

From his sophomore to junior year, Vaughn said he worked on his ball-handling, shot selection, passing, defense and leadership skills as much as possible — “I just kept pushing, working on everything. It’s been fun,” he said.

MEET MR. SHOWTIME

Call it the evolution of “Mr. Showtime,” a nickname and Twitter handle that Vaughn earned after wowing teammates with dunks, including a 360-degree one posted on YouTube.

“In ninth grade, I couldn’t do nothing. I couldn’t dribble, I couldn’t shoot, all I could do is just dunk. I could dunk on people and get fast break dunks,” Vaughn said.

These past two years, he’s been pushed by Burton to maximize his skills and become a complete player. Burton, who played and coached college basketball, baseball and football, said he uses his own athletic background to give Vaughn perspective on high-pressure expectations.

“I’m doing a dual piece — teaching him how to be a student athlete, but also a college student athlete,” Burton said. “So sometimes, it’s trying to make sure that the messages are similar, but at a higher level. Because when you get to college, nobody’s gonna be guiding you through your classes. But in high school, I can see him every day.”

That’s why it’s important to teach him now, so that when Vaughn jumps to a higher level — be it college or the NBA — he’ll be prepared for the spotlight. As standout athletes at all levels learn, “there’s always someone out there to get something from a young man of his caliber,” Burton said. “I try to protect him.”

Jason Gonzalez, a sports reporter at the Star-Tribune who specializes in high school features, said Minnesota “hasn’t seen anything like” the Class of 2014’s talent pool.

The notoriety has created waves, be it daily Twitter recruitment pitches from boosters across the country, or closer to home, Golden Gophers fans chanting Jones or Vaughn’s names in an attempt to keep them nearby. Becoming a “mini celebrity” at such a young age forces prep stars to “grow up quick,” Gonzalez said.

“College coaches have essentially 24-hour access with text messages and phone calls these days. It’s a lot to handle. You’ll hear about kids coming back from these big tournaments and their phones will ring nonstop for two, three days,” he said.

“That becomes an issue because it takes up their entire life. And that’s where parents and coaches need to be involved. To be in the middle and say, ‘No, they still have homework to do. They still need a social life.’ So, often it’s up to an adult to say, ‘Here’s how you handle this. Here’s how you respectfully say no.’”

EYE ON THE FUTURE

So far, Burton thinks that Vaughn has kept his head in the right place.

Not always easy considering that even Burton was a bit awestruck when Roy Williams, the coach of his childhood favorite North Carolina Tar Heels, scouted Vaughn during a January game at the Target Center. Impressed by Vaughn’s recent performances, the school sent him a scholarship offer in mid-February.

“In the game, I just try not to mind it. I tell Coach Burton to not tell me who is in the crowd,” said Vaughn, who cited Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant as basketball role models. “But if it’s going to get to me, then I just know that someone’s going to be watching me and I try to play hard every time.”

Added Burton: “He’s actually been handling it pretty well. Last year he had (college) coaches coming, but this year, they’ve been here from the fall when we were having open gyms and things like that. The attention is always on him.”

As for receiving special treatment or feeling “different” from other teens, Vaughn said his high profile around school has its positives and negatives. While he wouldn’t cite specifics, Vaughn said teachers don’t let him get away with much, even it means keeping his backpack on when he shouldn’t or messing with his phone.

“It’s a lot of pressure … but I have a good core of friends, and we can hang out and do stuff on the weekends,” he said.

Vaughn is also busy making college visits, though he admits, “if I could jump to the NBA right now, I would.” In the meantime, he’ll have to settle for monstrous 51-point games against Maranatha Christian as examples of what’s hopefully to come.

Still, Burton stresses that while the future is bright, Vaughn needs to enjoy his time as a teenager.

“Make sure you embrace this moment. Embrace the attention you’re getting. But don’t let it get your head big,” Burton said.

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