Twin Cities’ fun-loving scoring guard Vaughn excited to fulfill NBA dream

Rashad Vaughn is a 6-foot-5 scoring guard who played three years of high-school ball at Robbinsdale Cooper, one year at a Las Vegas prep school and one season at UNLV. Now, the 18-year-old said, he's "decided to take that next step" to the NBA.

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MINNEAPOLIS — Steve Burton couldn’t believe the most talented player he’d ever coached could do something so careless.

It was game day during Rashad Vaughn’s junior year, and the Robbinsdale Cooper star was limping down the hallway, shaking his head and staring at the floor. "I ain’t going to be able to play tonight," Vaughn told Burton, Cooper’s head boys basketball coach. "I was playing in open gym last night and I pulled something."

Burton says he moved past the "What the hell was he doing at open gym?" questions in his head quickly enough to notify school officials he was taking Vaughn to the doctor. The charade lasted until the pair of them reached the parking lot, when Vaughn busted out laughing and told his coach he was fine, just playing the kind of practical joke he became famous for during three years at Cooper.

"It’s hard for him to keep a straight face, and this particular time, he kept a straight face," Burton said, laughing as he recalled that day. "I told him, ‘Boy, I’m going to put you across my knee.’"

There’s a lot the world knows about Rashad Vaughn, the young, spry, 6-foot-5, 199-pound scoring extraordinaire from the Twin Cities — Golden Valley, specifically — who went on to play at Las Vegas’ Findlay Prep for a year and then UNLV. His shooting touch, attacking style and 18.3 points per game with the Runnin’ Rebels are no secret. Neither is his draft stock: mid-to-low first round, to a team looking for an NBA-ready scorer who has room to grow in other parts of his game.

But there’s a lot of which the outside world might not be aware. Like the playful shenanigans Vaughn used to pull before he headed west for what he deemed better collegiate exposure. How he wore jersey No. 1 to honor a childhood friend who died. How Burton used to call Vaughn "Slim" because he reminded folks at Cooper of former Hawk and Golden Gopher Rodney Williams Jr., who went by the same moniker. And that when he was in high school, Vaughn used to attend every interscholastic athletic event he could to show gratitude for the droves of students who watched him play.

"He’s just a fun young man to be around," said Burton, a former member of the Chicago Cubs’ farm system and Southwest Minnesota State basketball and baseball player, who used to challenge Vaughn to shooting contests after practices. "He tests the limits, but he tests the limits for the right reasons."

Also Cooper’s dean of students, Burton says he never had any issues with Vaughn during his three years in Robbinsdale. Instead, Vaughn developed into a top-10 national prospect and averaged 28 points and nine rebounds per game.

But he always knew his talents would take him outside Minnesota’s borders. After teaming up with fellow blue-chip recruits Tyus Jones (Apple Valley) and Reid Travis (DeLaSalle) for years, Vaughn played for a Wisconsin AAU club the summer before his senior season. That same offseason, he transferred to Findlay Prep, a Shattuck-St. Mary’s of basketball talent that serves as a pseudo-feeder school to UNLV.

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They were tough moves to make after being born and raised in the urban Minneapolis area, but Vaughn felt like he had no choice if he wanted to amplify his national reputation. To him, that meant getting out of Jones and Travis’ shadows.

(Jones, you might’ve heard, won a national championship with Duke this past season and is another projected first-round pick. Travis is entering his sophomore season at Stanford.)

"He was torn whether to stay or go because he wanted to be able to lead us to a state tournament," Burton said. "But in the end, he decided going to a prep school would give him an opportunity to do some things at the time he thought he might not have been able to do here."

A torn meniscus in his left knee cut Vaughn’s one season at UNLV short in mid-February, but he managed to shoot 44.7 percent from the field and make 38.4 percent of his 3-point tries, averaging 32.7 minutes in 22 games. The Rebels went 10-12 and didn’t qualify for any postseason competition, and shortly after the season, Vaughn declared for the NBA Draft.

"Since being a kid, my dream has always been to play in the NBA and I have decided to take that next step," Vaughn said then.

The scoring prowess is there. Vaughn’s range, scoring ability and average size and length for his shooting-guard position — 6-5 in shoes with a 6-7 wingspan — all made him a handful during high school and college. He’s equally adept from catch-and-shoot situations and letting fly off the bounce, and he’s able to get to the rim and finish.

But he’s sometimes considered a ball stopper and isn’t yet a consistent defender. He’s not the most creative player ever, either, which could get him into trouble against NBA defenses.

According to reports, Vaughn worked out Monday for the Timberwolves — who have the 31st and 36th overall picks in addition to No. 1 overall, meaning they’d likely have to trade back into the first round to procure Vaughn’s services — and was slated to perform for Brooklyn (29th overall pick) and Boston (16th, 28th, 33rd, 45th) later in the week. In addition to attending last month’s NBA Draft Combine, Vaughn has worked out for the Hawks (15th), Heat (10th) and Wizards (19th).

"You never know what can happen on draft night," Vaughn, at 18 the draft’s second-youngest player, recently told the Associated Press during a Minneapolis Ronald McDonald House visit. "So you have to keep working and try to solidify yourself in the first round."

Burton has no doubt his former protege will continue to flourish.

"He’s not too interested in where he’s going to end up," said Burton, who still converses with Vaughn periodically. "He wants to know how he’s going to fare in that process, yeah, but he really just wants to be able to be in the gym playing basketball and competing."

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