VAUGHT: Rondo honored to compete for spot on USA

He's played in the NCAA Tournament and high school all-star games, but Kentucky sophomore guard Rajon Rondo says nothing could compare to playing for the USA men's under 21 national team.

"Obviously, getting a chance to represent our country with the best players in the world and playing against the best players in the world would be a great honor," he said. "This is bigger than a high school all-star game. It's bigger than traveling and playing with Oak Hill. It's probably bigger than the NCAA Tournament. This is playing with USA across your chest and would really mean a lot to me."

He's one of 20 players participating in tryouts in Dallas for a spot on the 12-man team that will play in the under 21 World Championship in Mar de Plate, Argentina Aug. 5-14. Trial invitations were issued by the USA Basketball men's collegiate committee that included coaches Tubby Smith of Kentucky, Tom Izzo of Michigan State, Bill Self of Kansas and Jim Boeheim of Syracuse.

Saint Joseph's coach Phil Martelli is the team's head coach and it is obvious he already likes Rondo, who averaged 8.1 points, 3.5 assists, 2.9 rebounds and 2.6 steals per game last year for Kentucky. "I really like his defensive pressure. He is a presence defensively on every play. He has long arms. He's been quick to pick up how I want to pressure full-court defensively to take time off the 24-second shot clock and take some offensive options away from our opponents. He's probably picked up that concept quicker than anyone. We've just put in a few wrinkles offensively, but there's no reason to think he won't pick that up just as quick, too."

Rondo likes playing for Martelli because he favors the same on-ball pressure that Smith uses at Kentucky. "I pride myself on my ability to play defense and guard people full court," Rondo said. "He likes a guard who can go full court, and I can do that. The offensive sets he has are great for me, too. He has had some really good guards playing for him lately and I know he can teach me a lot."

Rondo is counting on this experience to help him for next year. "Playing against and with good competition always helps you get better," Rondo, who says he has been working on his shooting daily since the season ended, said. "Everybody here is an all-star. There are no slackers. Each position has the best player on his team here. Everybody is good and that makes you better."

The roster will be trimmed to 16 players Sunday before Martelli and the selection committee eventually gets the team to 12 players.

"I feel good about my chances. I am confident in myself and my game. I am going to keep doing what I do best, but I really think I have a great chance to make the team. It's fun just being here, and I want to stay," he said.

And is it nice to be away from Lexington where he can at least partially escape the daily Randolph Morris saga?

"I really don't think about that much at all. I just try to focus on my skills. It's the same with the other players. It has been fine. His situation has not been that big a distraction for any of us. We're just all focused on next season and we'll see what happens then," Rondo said.


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