Rockets' Beverley returns to defensive roots

Patrick Beverley worked his way from the west side of Chicago to the Houston Rockets. Thomas Campbell/USA TODAY Sports

CHICAGO -- Lamont Bryant recently loved watching Houston Rockets guard Patrick Beverley harass Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook defensively up and the down the court.

What Beverley did against Westbrook, getting up his face and making him earn every inch with the basketball, was what Beverley did for three years under Bryant at Marshall High School on Chicago’s West Side.

“This is basketball,” Bryant said by phone Thursday. “I’m just saying this is a business. It’s not personal. He has to put food on his table. It’s a dog-eat-dog world.

“The stuff he does is crazy. He’s a junkyard dog. He takes pride in defense first and offense second. When he played for me, he never took a breather. We pressed the entire game. We were able to play that way the whole game. It was crazy. He just ran and ran.”

Before Beverley bothered the likes of Westbrook with his relentless defense, he was causing similar problems for guards throughout Chicago. The players who ended up on the losing end against Beverley and Marshall during his senior season in 2005-06 were a who’s-who of Chicago basketball.

Marshall defeated Simeon with Derrick Rose, Crane with Sherron Collins, Farragut with Chris Singletary, Washington with DeAndre Liggins, Lincoln Park with Michael “Juice” Thompson and Phillips with Osiris Eldridge. Rose did end up getting the last laugh and defeating Beverley in the state semifinals.

Former Crane coach Anthony Longstreet still can’t shake the memories of what Beverley did to his team. Beverley-versus-Collins packed gyms their senior seasons. Both got theirs when they squared up, but it was Beverley who came away with the victories. Marshall defeated Crane in all of their Chicago Public League Red-West matchups and again in the playoffs.

“He was just all over the place,” Longstreet said. “You had to be aware at all times where he was at. There’s no question about it, he was a typical Red-West player. The Red-West is known for the aggressive play of guards. It just so happens he got a double dose of aggressiveness.”

Those roots aren’t forgotten by Beverley. Returning to Chicago to play the Bulls on Thursday, Beverley credited his experiences in the Public League for shaping who he is as a player today.

“The Public League, the Red-West, the toughness that goes in that league, the amount of competition that’s in that league, helps you get that grit,” Beverley said after the team’s shootaround on Thursday. “I’m a similar defender I was in high school to I am now. The Chicago Public League has helped me a lot in my transition to the NBA.”

Beverley hasn’t had a NBA game like the one where he had seven steals against Rose’s Simeon in January 2006, but he has come close. He swiped the ball a career-high five times against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Feb. 1 and has had three or more steals in 11 of his 46 games this season. He’s had 12 steals, including two against the Thunder, over his past five games.

Rockets center Dwight Howard even created a nickname for Beverley based on his defensive ability.

“We call him the little gnat, because he’s like a gnat always in your ear,” said Howard, who joined Beverley as he visited friends and family in Chicago’s K-Town neighborhood on Wednesday. “You can’t get him out. He’s the same way. You try to swat him out of the way or move, and he just goes and comes right back. You’re like what is this noise in my ear? That’s like Patrick. That noise in your ear -- zzzzz. That noise. That’s Patrick.”

Without the use of gnat, Bryant described Beverley’s game in high school nearly the same way.

“He frustrates you,” Bryant said. “You think you get past him, and he gets right back. He never gives up.”

The way Beverley plays has a certain effect on coaches. Bryant called Beverley the best player he ever coached. Longstreet said he wished he coached Beverley.

Rockets coach Kevin McHale didn’t hold back his praise, either.

“Patrick’s played great,” McHale said. “He’s a tough, hard-nosed kid. He gets after it every single night. I love that kid. He just goes out and competes.

“You know no matter what happened on the last possession he’s on the next possession. Those are the type of guys you love coaching, love being around, just next-possession guys. Good or bad, the last possession is over, and he knows that. So many guys live in the last possession. He’s just on to the next one and ready to fight for the next ball.”

Beverley isn’t likely to abandon that approach either. From being in the same Illinois high school class as McDonald’s All Americans Jon Scheyer and Collins to having to begin his professional career overseas to having to earn consistent minutes in the NBA, Beverley has embraced playing the underdog role.

“Most people play with a chip on their shoulder,” Beverley said. “I play with more like a mountain. Every night I go out there, I have something to prove. Every night I play within my team and within my teammates and try to win basketball games.”