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Saints not distracted by Bush findings

METAIRIE, La. (AP) — Unopened boxes were piled in Reggie Bush’s locker. A football commemorating the New Orleans Saints’ NFC title game triumph rested on a top shelf.

One shelf below, obscured behind bottles of body wash and sports drink, was a white cap with red trim on the bill and ‘‘Trojans’’ written in gold across the front.

That is where the Saints expect Bush’s USC controversy to stay — in the background.

‘‘A lot of it for us is, I don’t want to say old news … but that news for him has really been kind of existent already,’’ Saints coach Sean Payton said, alluding to how the NCAA probe of Bush’s relationships with marketing agents while he was at Southern Cal has loomed over the star running back since his first pro season.

‘‘It’s something that has really taken place for us and for him, years ago,’’ Payton continued. ‘‘He’s going into his fifth year now and his focus is squarely on us being successful and him being the best player he can be. I don’t see it being a big distraction.’’

Payton spoke after a voluntary offseason practice on Monday that would have offered Bush a chance to finally discuss an NCAA report that has sullied his reputation and resulted in sanctions for USC.

Bush didn’t show, but Payton said he notified the team he’d be absent and hoped to return for practices scheduled later this week. The Saints also are having a championship ring ceremony in a downtown New Orleans hotel on Wednesday night.

Bush is bound to be hurt in several ways by NCAA findings that he and his family took improper benefits while he was helping USC win the 2004 national championship. His popularity in the city where he became a star and still makes his offseason home is likely to drop, along with his endorsement opportunities.

It is not yet clear whether Bush will lose his 2005 Heisman Trophy, but USC has been stripped of victories from late 2004 through the 2005 season — a period that included a national championship victory over Oklahoma in the January 2005 Orange Bowl.

The Trojans also will lose a total of 30 football scholarships — 10 per year for the next three years — and be banned from postseason play for two seasons.

‘‘Of course, it’s an unfortunate situation. It’s upsetting that it had to happen,’’ said Saints defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis, who also was Bush’s teammate at USC. ‘‘But it’s all said and done and we give Reggie and USC all the support through that whole process. And hopefully everything will turn out better. There’s still a chance for an appeal.’’

Teammates said Bush also did not attend an offseason training session last Thursday when the NCAA released its findings and that they hadn’t had a chance to speak to him about it.

‘‘I’m sure he’s just trying to go through his due diligence and make sure he’s doing everything possible to help the school and help himself,’’ Ellis said.

While Ellis intends to support Bush, he said he was upset about what the probe meant for USC.

‘‘That’s my school. We all worked hard to get that program where it’s at. Of course I’m disappointed and upset. I think it’d be kind of awkward if I wasn’t,’’ Ellis said. ‘‘At the same time, that’s the way these things go. You just have to deal with the process. … There’s nothing you can really do at this point.’’

Since Bush arrived in New Orleans as the second overall pick in the 2006 NFL draft, his celebrity status has not been a distraction for the Saints.

He is among few players on the club to be followed regularly by paparazzi because of his much publicized on-again, off-again relationship with reality TV star Kim Kardashian. He has been in music videos and commercials with international soccer star David Beckham. And yet, Bush’s four seasons in New Orleans have coincided with the Saints’ first two NFC championship game appearances and their first Super Bowl title.

‘‘Everybody knows Reggie is pretty much a superstar on and off the field as far as what he does,’’ offensive lineman Carl Nicks said. ‘‘Even when his personal life stuff was going on (with Kardashian), he never showed it on the field. So he handles stuff great.’’

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