Smith got to see only his second collegiate game of the season — the first one was UK's home game with Liberty — Wednesday in Knoxville when the Wildcats beat Tennessee 80-78. Before the game he got to visit briefly with Rondo, who was almost unstoppable the second half and finished the game with 16 points on 8-for-9 shooting and eight assists.
"I talked to him a little bit before the game. I was just trying to keep his spirits up. He is having a tough time. He is not playing as well as he hoped he would. Hopefully, he play well tonight when he gets his number called because this is a game he thinks he can be a factor," Smith said minutes before the game started.
Obviously, Rondo was right because Tennessee had no one that could come close to guarding him when UK went to its spread offense in the second half.
Rondo also values Smith's input because he knows how much Smith helped his game during his one year at Oak Hill, one of the nation's top prep school program. "I just had him a year, but he went from a top 100 player to a McDonald's All-American. He is grateful for the experience and exposure he got and is always very gracious when he talks about Oak Hill," Smith said. "He had a great year last year for Kentucky. He has just has to step up here at the end if they are going to do any damage down the stretch.
"He is very capable of doing that. He needs to get in there and just play and not worry about anything else. He can't let the outside things bother him. I told him not to worry about starting or the minutes played. I told him, 'If you get out there and play your rear end off, coach (Tubby) Smith is going to play you. You are one of the best players on the team talent-wise. He has to play you if you do the things you are capable of doing.' But I told him he has to go do those things that coach Smith wants from him."
Obviously, Rondo listened because he played one of his best games of the season and helped UK get a win that could possibly be the start of a surprising March for the Wildcats.
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