VAUGHT: Rondo climbing draft rankings

Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that Rajon Rondo has impressed NBA scouts with his overall play leading up to the draft later this month. After all, many of his teammates tried to tell us that Rondo might be getting way too much blame for UK's 13-loss season.

Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that Rajon Rondo has impressed NBA scouts with his overall play leading up to the draft later this month. After all, many of his teammates tried to tell us that Rondo might be getting way too much blame for UK's 13-loss season.

When Rondo decided to leave UK after his sophomore season for the NBA, most of us thought his suspect outside shot would make him a huge liability in the pro ranks. Instead, he's shown an improved shot in workouts and his ability to push the ball in transition, find open teammates and play suffocating defense have him climbing the draft rankings.

Recently The Sporting News projected him to be one of the top 15 picks in the draft and other draft analysts have him solidly in the first round. There's even talk now of him going in the lottery, something that seemed impossible when he seemed disoriented in UK's slow style of play.

"I think he got blamed too much for our problems last year," former teammate Brandon Stockton said. "He did so much for us. In big games, his name was usually at the top of the list for doing great things. When the team doesn't do well, everyone wanted to put the blame on him because they thought he should do great things all the time. But guys have ups and downs. That's basketball."

"The expectations were high for him, but for the most part he came through. He was just a sophomore still learning the game," Ravi Moss, another former UK teammate, said. "People see different things and pick up on different things. There's a lot of bias in some people. They see something and say that is great. Other people see the same thing as a problem.

"He is great on defense at getting in the passing lanes and making spectacular plays. What he does best does involve some individual things. That's what he does and when you do that, people notice you more often. When you don't make the play, they want you to do more and forget what you did do well."

But what about the prevalent theory last year that Rondo was not a team player or good teammate?

"I liked his personality. He's a fun guy to be around. We joked around all the time. He's great," Stockton said. "On the court he may not seem like the same person, but he is all about winning and having fun. He doesn't show that side to the media and fans. But when we were just together and not on the court, he really liked to have fun.

"He is definitely a witty guy. He was always cracking jokes. He is a nice guy to be around," Moss said. "I just think you have to play with him to appreciate him. You don't know how quick he is until you try to guard him. The guy is super quick and he changes directions so fast that trying to guard him is almost impossible when he's at full speed."

Maybe that's what the NBA scouts and coaches are seeing when Rondo works out for them. Maybe his game just didn't suit Tubby Smith's style and he'll flourish in the NBA while a more methodical point guard will run Smith's offense better.

"Rondo can play. Don't doubt that," Stockton said. "He is going to do the right things. I practiced against him every day. He's hard to guard. No one can stay in front of him. He's so much better than most people realize."

Or at least maybe he will be in the NBA where he'll have more talented teammates around him than he did at UK and he'll be able to play a faster game that will showcase the talents that often seemed stifled at Kentucky the last two years.


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