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Tuesday, February 27, 2007 - Page updated at 07:55 PM

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Information in this article, originally published February 25, 2007, was corrected February 27, 2007. A previous version of this story contained an editing error. A quote from Maurice Lucas, a Portland Trail Blazers assistant coach, comparing Blazers rookie Brandon Roy to former NBA great Walt Frazier, whose nickname is Clyde (after Clyde Barrow of "Bonnie and Clyde" fame). An editing error inserted (Drexler) after Clyde, creating the erroneous impression that Lucas also was comparing Roy to another NBA great, Clyde Drexler.

Steve Kelley

Roy rapidly becoming the prince of Portland

Seattle Times staff columnist

PORTLAND — Before he was a player, Brandon Roy was a fan. An enormous fan. He watched games until he was so tired the uniforms blurred on the television screen.

Growing up in Seattle, Roy watched them all — Ray Allen, LeBron James, Tracy McGrady, Carmelo Anthony, Kobe Bryant — and tried to match his game to theirs. He watched and was wowed.

Early this season, his first in the NBA, Roy fought that wow factor. Fought the thought he needed to be pinched, that he was in the NBA, that he was making a move on McGrady.

Wow.

"It finally capped off playing against Kobe the other night," said Roy, a Portland Trail Blazers guard. "That was the last superstar that I hadn't played against.

"But actually, it sort of began wearing off after I played each one of them once. Actually even when I stepped on the court against them and I saw they weren't smiling at me. They were coming for business."

Now Roy has survived the shock and awe. Now he's fast becoming one of them.

"I think I've been through all the shock now," Roy said. "The biggest surprise for me has been the amount of games. Sometimes you think, 'Man, I just can't get up for another game.' You're in Denver, then you're in Utah, and you have to play four games in five nights.

"I've asked the veterans, 'When do you get used to this? Your second year. Your third?' You hope you get used to this soon. I see now why they have an All-Star break.' I feel rejuvenated. Coach is putting me out on the floor, so I have to be ready. I don't have the luxury of some other rookies who can sit on the bench."

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Portland assistant coach Dean Demopoulos said the 6-foot-6 Roy is a longer Dennis Johnson.

"A bigger Walt Frazier," fellow assistant Maurice Lucas said. "He'll mess with your head and then — boom! — explode, twist, hang and use either hand. A big Clyde [Barrow]."

In his rookie season, Roy has become a leader. He is the player the Trail Blazers are marketing in their efforts to fix their team's tarnished record. He is leading a legitimate late-season playoff run.

"I really didn't know what I was getting in June," Blazers coach Nate McMillan said. "I saw him as a player who allows the game to come to him. He doesn't force the game. But I've put him in a position where we're forcing him to be more aggressive to make plays and to handle the ball a lot more.

"He is a much better ballhandler than I expected. He's really strong. He can create his own shot without a screen. He finishes well. He's more athletic than I thought he was."

Roy is a perfect fit for McMillan's system, a shooting guard whom McMillan trusts with the ball.

"I'm a rookie that he allows to play," Roy said. "Nate allowed me to come in from preseason to play my game and get better at it, where other coaches may not have let me do that. He's given me minutes, and maybe I'm a lot better now than if I had been under another coach.

"I still think my game is better suited for the NBA than college. The floor is more spread out. In college they can box-and-one you. You can play a zone where you can just set a big man in the key. There are a lot more things they can do to stop guys. In the NBA, it just seems like the court is so much more open for me."

Roy might be the best story of the NBA season. A charismatic kid who stayed in school, listened to his coaches, learned the game and grew up to become the leading candidate for Rookie of the Year.

"He's mature," McMillan said. "I haven't seen those kind of mature-type guys come into the league, where they come in and you can give them the ball and they seem to have an understanding about the NBA.

"He doesn't show nervous energy or anything like that. I'll be screaming at him and he'll just be, 'OK, coach.' When you give him the ball late in games he never really changes. If he makes a mistake, he isn't affected by it. He's just, 'Give it to me again.' "

The Blazers, who play in Seattle on Monday night, are 2-1 since the All-Star Game. Last season, they finished 3-27 after the break.

Roy, who missed 19 games early in the season because of a bone spur, is averaging 15.8 points in 34.2 minutes.

"Sometimes I still sit back and remember back a couple of years ago and think about how far I've come," Roy said. "I was a guy who wasn't even on people's radar screens. And now some people are talking about me for Rookie of the Year and I sit back and just think, 'Wow.' It's a blessing to think how hard I've worked and to eventually get the rewards I'm getting now."

Just as it was last season at the University of Washington, it seems the ball always is in Roy's hands. And at the end of games, McMillan is asking him to win games.

"For us, Brandon has been the difference in about 10 to 15 games," McMillan said. "His play for this team has been big. He's been a difference-maker."

Brandon Roy is fast becoming a wow.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists

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