Vaught's Views: Rondo's play says plenty

November 21, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - Since he's no longer allowed to talk to the media, Kentucky freshman guard Rajon Rondo let his play speak for him.

In his collegiate debut, Rondo was all over Rupp Arena Saturday. He was deflecting passes that led to fast break points. He was finishing breaks with ferocious dunks or nifty passes.

By the time the game ended, Rondo had nine points on 4-for-8 shooting, three assists, three turnovers and five steals in 21 minutes of play and left Coppin State realizing he was as good as advertised after the Wildcats' 77-46 win.

"I got a scouting report on him at a Cracker Barrel yesterday," Coppin State coach Ron "Fang" Mitchell said. "I heard he was really quick and he was going to create problems for us with his penetration and by kicking it out.


"And the guy was correct. He did a tremendous job. I guess I should have listened a little more because he did tell me he is a tremendous player and is as quick as he could be. I can see that he is gong to be great just by the things that he can do."

Now if he could only tell us what he thought of his first game. However, Kentucky coach Tubby Smith has decided to put Rondo and fellow freshmen Joe Crawford (five points, three rebounds), Randolph Morris (seven points, three rebounds) and Ramel Bradley (seven points, team-high six assists and four rebounds) off limits to the media.

Why do that? Did the freshmen say or do something wrong?

"Because that's what I want to do," Smith said. "Because I like it. Until they are able to handle themselves, that's what I'm doing."

Actually, Rondo and the other freshmen handle themselves just fine now. They make mistakes, but they also make plays.

Already a crowd favorite

Rondo is already a crowd favorite. He's constant motion and has shown he's as capable of making a pass as he is finishing a play. His ability to disrupt opponents with his defense may turn out to be his biggest asset to this year's team.

"He's pretty disruptive," Smith grudgingly admitted. "He's athletic, long and has great hands and quickness. A couple of times he took chances. He took some good gambles, but with good players you've got to be careful. You can get in bad habits doing that thinking you can do it all the time and you can't."

Smith also wasn't pleased with some of the decisions Rondo, Bradley and Patrick Sparks made when they were able to penetrate Coppin State's zone defense. He cited the lack of passes to open players and UK's inability to finish plays as shown by its 14-for-36 shooting inside the 3-point arc.

But there's no denying Rondo has the capabilities of igniting Kentucky on both ends of the court and becoming a far better player than Cliff Hawkins, UK's point guard the last two years.

"I think it is a big deal for a freshman to come in and have success like he did in his first game," said UK junior Kelenna Azubuike, who struggled through a 2-for-8 shooting game. "Not only does it help him, but it helps the rest of the team believe in him even more."

Sparks, a starting point guard two years at Western Kentucky before transferring to UK, likes being on the court with Rondo. He says the two "feel like we are on the same page when we play even though we are both point guards."

What would he have said?

So if Rondo had been allowed to evaluate his play in Saturday's season-opening win, what would he have said?

"That's a hard question for me to answer," said Sparks, who had 12 points in his first UK start. "From what I saw, he did a lot of good things. He made plays defensively and did good things on offense. I think he did fine. All I know is I like playing with him."

He should. Everyone at Kentucky should. Rondo forces a pace Kentucky fans love and Kentucky opponents are going to hate. He makes the Cats run and Smith seems content to let him push the pace, something he would never do with Hawkins early in his career.

Why is that? Since Rondo isn't allowed to answer, let's pretend he could:

"It's just a connection coach Smith and I have. He trusts me to make good decisions. I know I still have a lot to learn and that I am making mistakes, but I believe I can make plays and cause problems for opponents. I don't have to score, either. I can pass and play defense. Whatever coach Smith wants, that's fine with me."

But since those really aren't Rondo's words, just let his steals, assists and overall play tell you that he's going to be just what the Cats need this year.

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