Many a soul has gone to Las Vegas and returned changed forever.
Former Cooper star Rashad Vaughn did so for two basketball seasons on his way to Thursday night’s NBA draft, but in what he considers a good way.
Vaughn left Minnesota and his high school before his senior year for a Vegas prep school and never came home, staying for one collegiate season at UNLV before he declared himself eligible for an NBA draft in which he probably has played his way into its first round.
Ranked 11th nationally in his recruiting class, he looks back down and says his two-year stop in the desert was where he was meant to be.
“It was just destined,” he said. “I’d be here regardless, but it helped me mature faster. It enhanced my intelligence of the game. It helped me get better overall. … It was definitely a tough decision to leave because you don’t get the same things as being home. At night or after games, your parents are not there. At Christmas or holidays, you can’t go back home. But I was willing to do whatever I had to do to get here.”
He averaged nearly 18 points a game at UNLV before his season ended abruptly because of a February knee injury (torn meniscus) that he says healed fully and convinced him now is the time to chase that NBA dream.
At 6-5, he already has an NBA-made body and his scoring ability — from distance, at the rim, on the free-throw line — has moved him into the first round. An impressive shooting exhibition before more than 100 NBA scouts in California last week just might have moved him into the mid-teens.
He has taken parts of NBA players’ games — Bradley Beal, Dwyane Wade, DeMar DeRozan, even a little old school with Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant — and made himself into a player who can “shoot it deep” as well, he says, as do more than that.
“A lot of people just look at me as a shooter,” Vaughn said. “I can do a lot of things. I can score the ball from all three levels. I can play on and off the ball. I can make plays for my teammates.”
And he says he is driven to succeed in a league where scouts praise his offense and question his defense.
“Rashad’s a very competitive guy,” UNLV teammate Christian Wood said. “If you push Rashad, he is going to compete. Those guys do well in the NBA. He’s going to do very well.”
He is entering the NBA on Thursday night along with Apple Valley’s Tyus Jones, with whom he played since he was in grade school.
“For us to be here, chasing the same dream, we’re definitely blessed,” Vaughn said. “We were just kids and now we’re here. It shows time goes by.”
“We’ve been friends growing up,” Jones said. “To see each other’s growth, it has been a lot of fun and we’re happy for one another. Coming from Minnesota, you never truly think you’ll be drafted one day. Obviously, it’s every kid’s dream, but to actually have it right in front of you is truly amazing.”
Jones, too, is projected as a mid-first round pick. The Wolves own two picks early in Thursday’s second round that they will try to package, perhaps with another asset or two, to move back into the first round, possibly with the chance to draft Vaughn or Jones if they can get high enough.
“It would be crazy to come back home,” Vaughn said. “That would be very, very exciting to come back home and play for the city I was born and raised in. I used to go to a lot of Timberwolves games when I was younger, when KG [Kevin Garnett] was there. But I haven’t been to one in a long time.”
Vaughn won’t turn 19 until August.
“I think I’m ahead of my time,” he said. “I think I’m very mature for my age. I think I’m ready. I think I’m as ready as anybody in the draft is. I’m ready 100 percent.”