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Originally published Wednesday, October 11, 2006 at 12:00 AM

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Steve Kelley

Roy is just the player to help the Blazers make a turnaround

Forty-eight hours before his NBA debut, Brandon Roy, like any good son, was on the phone to his mother, Gina, in Seattle. "Oh, my God, my...

Seattle Times staff columnist

TUALATIN, Ore. — Forty-eight hours before his NBA debut, Brandon Roy, like any good son, was on the phone to his mother, Gina, in Seattle.

"Oh, my God, my son's about to play in an NBA game," Gina proudly gushed to Brandon.

But at that moment, her son was looking for a calming influence and Gina Roy sounded even more amped up than the Rose Garden PA system.

So close to his first NBA game, the Portland Trail Blazers' first-round draft pick was looking for something like herbal tea. His mother was all Red Bull.

"Mom, I'm going to have to call you back," Brandon told her. "You're not making it easier. I'll call you back and we can talk about something else. Right now, I'm trying to keep my mind off the game."

Nobody can blame Gina Roy, who with her husband Tony has been with Brandon since the first day he fell in love with the game.

They were there for the roller-coaster rides at Garfield. They were there when Roy tested his NBA readiness after graduating from high school.

They were there for him when he had to sit for half his freshman season. There through the coaching change at Washington, through the knee injury in his junior year and through the remarkable rise of the Washington basketball program and its consecutive appearances in the NCAA's Sweet 16.

And, of course, they are going to be in Portland almost every night, autumn, winter and into the spring as their 22-year-old son begins his NBA career.

"I made sure I had a big enough house [in West Linn, Ore.] that they could stay there any time they wanted," Roy said on the eve of Portland's exhibition opener against the Sonics tonight. "I don't think they're going to miss many games. It's cool to know they're excited about it.

"I give them something, when I'm playing basketball, that they just enjoy. So any time they want to be around I got to make sure they have a place to stay. I'm a momma's boy and a daddy's boy, and I like having them around."

In a city that got real tired, real fast of a franchise known more for its police reports, drug busts and general bad behavior than its playoff appearance, for a city desperate for a winner and for a next-generation player to embrace, 6-foot-6 Brandon Roy is just what Portland needs.

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"He's quiet. He doesn't say much. I haven't said much to him, and if I'm not saying much to you, you're usually in the right spots," said Blazers coach Nate McMillan, starting his second season in Portland. "Defensively, he's picking up our reads, our assignments. It's just nice to have that.

"You can get more accomplished when you have those guys who understand the game and just play, and he seems like one of those guys who just goes out and plays, with the ball, off the ball, with a fast team, with a slow team. He's very versatile."

Already, Roy probably is Portland's second-best player, behind Zach Randolph. McMillan has been so impressed so quickly that he expects to give Roy, a shooting guard, some minutes at point guard, a remarkable show of trust.

"I don't want to get ahead of myself," McMillan said. "I don't want to rush him into anything. I want to put him out there and let him play and kind of build around what he is comfortable doing. Playing him at point, right now, is an experiment. What I really want is to have him at the off-guard, but handling the ball."

After dealing with so much immaturity last season, McMillan has, in Roy, a grownup he can coach.

"I liked [Gonzaga's] Adam Morrison in the draft," McMillan said. "But Brandon is solid. He really is. He's the kind of guy who grows on you because he doesn't do anything flashy. He just gets it done. I think he's going to be able to do a lot for us.

"I've probably said this, seems like a thousand times this training camp, but his basketball IQ, his understanding of the game, he just has a good feel for the game. Basketball is really reacting to situations, and he does a good job of reacting on both ends of the floor. It's not about just running and shooting and jumping. You have to know how to play the game, and he normally is in the right position."

In short order, this can be Brandon Roy's town and B-Roy's team.

"I'm not saying, 'I'm here. Embrace me,' " Roy said. "I'm saying that I'm going to work hard and try to improve every day, and I think if I do that I think the fans will definitely try to grow with us as a team."

Roy is used to being part of a resurrection.

When he came to Washington, basketball was sunk at the bottom of the Pac-10. Coach Bob Bender was on his way out, and the program was caught in some loser's limbo.

Roy changed a paradigm.

Now in Portland, where the Blazers won 21 games last season, he has a chance to do it again. A cautious hope is re-emerging in Portland.

"It's one thing to go to the Spurs or the Lakers and those powerhouse places," Roy said. "That's a great feeling to be part of those winning teams, but to be part of a team that has a chance to have the fans grow as you grow, that's an incredible feeling.

"That was something I got to experience at Washington. The better we got, the better the fans got. Now I think the Washington fans are some of the top fans in the nation. It was great to be a part of that, and to know that I can do it again here, that's exciting."

And to know he can do it again, this close to home, has the whole Roy family excited and ready to make the drive down I-5, over and over again, as a new generation of Trail Blazers begins slowly regaining a city's trust.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com.

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About Steve Kelley

Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
skelley@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2176

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