Durant acts like star only on court

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Kevin Durant, not unlike all those whom he'll playing with and against this weekend at the NBA All-Star Game in Dallas, is rich.

Filthy rich.

The 21-year-old Oklahoma City Thunder star has a salary that pays him nearly $5 million this season and a Nike deal worth about $10 million per year.

Yet Durant buys his shirts at Wal-Mart, drives a conversion van so his cousins are comfortable and spent more than a month sleeping on an air mattress this past summer.

``Ten shirts for eighty dollars," Durant said with a chuckle of the deal he was able to get at Wal-Mart. ``You can't beat that."

He'd rather hang out and play video games than hit the clubs, and you won't find Durant dropping F-bombs on the court a la Kevin Garnett.

``He hasn't changed one bit," Texas strength coach Todd Wright said. ``And he won't."

``That's how he's always been and how he always will be," said Longhorns assistant Russell Springmann, who began recruiting Durant as a sophomore in high school. ``He's got a pure heart."

Durant, 6 feet 10, 225 pounds, has become a bona fide NBA superstar this season. Maybe not on par with Kobe and LeBron, but give him time.

Durant is second in the NBA in scoring at 29.7 per game, trailing only MVP front-runner LeBron James and his 29.9.

Durant also arrived in Dallas with a streak of 25 consecutive games in which he has scored at least 25 points. However, that's not the number that could put him in the same conversation as Kobe and LeBron one day.

Durant and the Thunder are 30-21 and would be in the playoffs if the season ended today. This is the same franchise that won just 23 games last season and is among the youngest teams in the league.

In the offseason, Durant returns to Austin, Texas, where he left a strong legacy despite spending just one season with the Longhorns before winning National Player of the Year honors and becoming the No. 2 overall pick in the 2007 NBA Draft.

This past summer Durant came back and spent a month hanging with his former college buddies, working out and also taking a class.

Wright would walk into the gym about 6 each morning and Durant would be the only one in the building – already in the middle of a workout.

Soon, he had Damion James coming with him. Then, Gary Johnson joined, and before Wright knew it, the entire Texas team was in each morning at 6.

``He's taken the torch here and turned it into a barbecue pit," Wright said.

Durant would start his day with a workout, then head to class, go to study hall and play pickup. He'd grab some food and relax for a little while before heading back to work on a jump shot that is as pretty as just about any other in the NBA.

Then he'd go back to former teammate Justin Mason's apartment and sleep on an air mattress in the living room.

``I tried to get him to put a bed in the living room," Mason said. ``But he told me he wasn't about to pay that much money."

There was the time when, shortly after being drafted, he was back in Austin and went to lunch with his former college coach, Rick Barnes.

``He was wearing this hat, and he didn't even know what it was," Barnes said. ``It was a Minnesota hat, and he wound up leaving it at the restaurant.

``We were all the way back on campus when I asked him where it was," Barnes said. ``He went back for it."

Durant's unselfish, endearing quality has always been a trademark – dating back to his childhood growing up in Maryland.

His mother, Wanda Pratt, recalled a time when he was playing football and put on the line because of his height.

``The coach was trying to toughen up another kid, so he told him, `If you don't tackle Kevin, everyone's going to jump on you.'''

Next thing you know, Durant was on the ground.

``He told me he let the boy knock him down because he didn't want everyone to jump on (the boy)," his mother said. ``He's always been like that."

Now, Durant, who wears No. 35 in honor of his childhood AAU coach, Charles Craig, who was murdered at the age of 35, has taken his million-dollar smile and long frame to Oklahoma City - where he has made Thunder general manager Sam Presti look like a genius in just his third season as a pro.

``He's got great instincts when it comes to team and family," Presti said.

Such as the time this past September when he flew a bunch of his teammates back to Maryland to celebrate his 21st birthday. Rookie Serge Ibaka, who was a newcomer to the team and hails from Congo, had celebrated his birthday about a week prior.

``Kevin co-branded the night with Serge," Presti said. ``That's what I mean by great instincts."

His instincts, both on and off the court, have quickly allowed Durant to join the ranks of the elite.

``I still think I need to prove myself in this league," he said.

Not if you ask around.