We talked a little about this last week after all four of Kentucky’s players heard their names called during the NBA draft, but Dana O’Neil works to cement the point today with her collection of ‘draft surprises.’ Before Calipari got here, Kentucky players were consistently being over looked when it came time for draft day. They were talented, but they weren’t getting the respect they deserved, often found their stock slipping, and were forced to work their way in to the NBA. Rajon Rondo didn’t fall all that much – he went 21st in the 2006 draft – but that puts him after JJ Reddick, Adam Morrison, Andrea Bargnani (1st pick,) and even Renaldo Balkman. I feel confident in saying there isn’t a team out there that wouldn’t trade any of those players one-for-one with Rondo tonight, if they had the chance.
Still, Rondo came as a surprise to many that didn’t follow Kentucky closely. Here’s what O’Neil had to say:
Rajon Rondo: If this list had a poster child, it would be Rondo. From 21st pick to elite player, from embattled college player to NBA champion, Rondo’s rise has been as meteoric as it’s been unpredictable… But before all this Boston glory, there were considerable doubts. At Kentucky, Rondo was a savant of a player, blessed with big hands and nimble feet but cursed with a stubborn streak. He was headstrong, a kid who liked to play by feel tethered to a coach, Tubby Smith, who liked to dictate play. The relationship destined for disaster failed to produce a UK Final Four and, in the end, probably cost Rondo more than a few draft spots. Among the players drafted ahead of him: Rutgers’ Quincy Douby and Memphis’ Rodney Carney. Neither is in the league now. In the meantime, Rondo — after some serious growing pains as a rookie — is a two-time All-Star with a championship ring.
Those of us that followed Kentucky can attest to what O’Neil was saying. Rondo and Tubby never seemed to be on the same page, and that lead to both of theirs early departure in one way or another. But from day one you could tell Rondo would be a super star – he was too much of an Athletic Freak of Nature not to be. It just took the league a little longer to notice.