As we enter the New Year, there is a great deal for which Kentucky fans should be thankful. In the arena of basketball, the victory over Ohio should loom large, as the Bobcats seemed poised to steal a victory in Cincy on Friday night. A characteristic of Tubby Smith teams in recent years has been an ability to pull out an abnormal amount of close wins at the end of games. However this particular squad has had chances in its losses to Iowa and North Carolina to steal a win and came up short on both occasions. With four minutes to go against Ohio, the Cats were down three and were one or two plays away from throwing away the game.
And then along came “Smooth.” Much has been made of Ramel Bradley’s improbable bank shot from the top of the key that cut the game to one and ignited a rally that ultimately ended in a Kentucky victory. However even the biggest fan of Smooth, and I count myself as one, would have to admit that this shot was pure luck. What was much more impressive to me about the Bradley performance however was the way he showed poise and leadership during the final few minutes, characteristics that were notoriously lacking at the end of the Iowa game.
When Ramel Bradley was coming out of high school, former Kentucky player and current agent Bret Bearup said that he would be the most important UK recruit in the class. Bearup reasoned that Bradley would play four years and would end up being the most valued contributor of the top-ranked group. Slowly, I am beginning to agree. When Rondo leaves next year for the draft (which is all but assured), Bradley will become the new point guard and will assume a starting role. What many people dont realize is that Bradley is the de facto leader of the team now, but when Rondo leaves, he will be the obvious leader and the emotions of the team will revolve around him. When that happens, a leader must be level-headed and a top-notch decision maker. I have always worried about whether Bradley could be all of these things and how he would transition from sparkplug to the motor of the team. The Ohio game was a good sign in this regard and is one of the reasons that I continue to maintain that next year’s team, even without Rondo, will be better than this incarnation.