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Tubby Smith says Rondo did everything we asked him to do at Kentucky


With Kentucky product Rajon Rondo doing his best to keep Boston alive in the NBA playoffs, there is a great read by Daniel Solzman at wildcatbluenation.com.

It’s an in-depth story with comments from noted Boston columnist Bob Ryan to Cats Pause founder Oscar Combs to UK play by play announcer Tom Leach and many more. It also has some insights from former UK coach Tubby Smith, who recruited Rondo and never quite unleashed him like the Celtics have.

With Solzman’s permission, here is what Smith had to say:

“Like any other coach that’s had the good fortune to be around young men like Rajon, you’re fortunate to coach him,” former Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said in a phone interview.  “You’re just so proud of what he’s able to accomplish, reach his dreams, his goals, take care of his family, and those are things you talk about when you recruit young men.  You tell them—Hey, look, if you do certain things, do the right things, then guess what, stay true to your commitment.  Rajon’s always had a passion for the game.  He did everything we asked him to do at Kentucky.  I know that even when he decided to leave early, he finished up the right way with his mom right by his side, academically left here in good standing, and those things are, that’s critical, because I appreciate that about Rajon.”

“Rajon is good of an athlete, pound for pound, side for side, he’s as good of an athlete as I’ve ever been around,” Smith said, echoing the comments made by other coaches about the Celtics point guard.

“I’ve had the good fortune to work with guys with the Olympics, whether it’s Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Jason Kidd,” Smith added.  “I don’t think I’ve coached someone, a better athlete, in my coaching career than Rajon Rondo so you knew he was gonna be great.”

Read the complete story at http://wildcatbluenation.com/2012/05/21/rajon-rondo-theres-nobody-like-him/

Permanent link to this article: http://vaughtsviews.com/tubby-smith-says-rondo-did-everything-we-asked-him-to-do-at-kentucky/


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  1. TrueBlueJohn

    Great article on wildcatbluenation about Rondo. The thought came to mind about Michael Jordan when he played at UNC. The saying was that the only person who could hold Jordan under 20 ppg was Dean Smith. It was similarly true with Rondo and Tubby. It was a square peg/round hole situation. Tubby had his system that didn’t match Rondo’s skill. I agree that if Rondo had played for either Pitino or Calipari, he would have been a lottery pick.

    1. Daniel


  2. grant

    Man what a special player, he is just so fun to watch. Yeah its hard telling what Calipari could’ve done with him, no one can keep him out of the lane in the pros’ hard telling what he could have accomplished with the dribble drive. yowzers! Tubby had the ability to take great players and make them not great.

    1. larryvaught

      Wow. With Calipari, one could only have imagined what he would have been like in college

  3. King Ghidora

    If Smith would have had a clue how to get Sparks and Rondo to play together the Cats would have been extremely good. But unfortunately that wasn’t the case. Some coaches just don’t have the touch to handle the big egos that go along with the big talent. Smith had things he could do and things he couldn’t do and the Rondo / Sparks situation proved it. Both players wanted to play pg it seemed (I really wasn’t there but I heard the rumors like everyone else) and there can only be one. Sparks should have been talked into being the 2g because he would have been the better player at that position and as we all see now, no one is better than Rondo at the point. He is amazing what he can do to break down a defense. He can put 2-3 players on their heels wondering what he’s going to do next. And trying to force a guy with that kind of talent to play the kind of stagnant offense Smith teaches was a crime against nature IMO. They had Randolph Morris on that team too BTW. How a team with that much talent could lose 13 games is beyond me. Yes Morris sat out half the season but 9 of their losses came after Morris came back from the suspension. And they didn’t just lost. They were beaten badly by teams that weren’t that good. The loss to Kansas is still one of the worst performances I’ve ever seen from a UK team and that includes the sanction team that lost more than they won.

    I’m sorry to go on a rant here about Smith but he nearly destroyed the UK tradtion IMO. For him to act like he did anything at all to help Rondo now is just classic Smith. The only thing Smith did for Rondo was hold him back. They had four 7′ players on that team (Morris was 6′ 11″ actually) plus Sparks and Crawford in addition to one of the greatest pg’s ever and they managed to lose 13 times. That was a sick season to watch. The Cats nearly lost to Central Florida at home for example. They won by 2 points. I’m just so glad those days are over. I never want to go back.

    Cal runs UK like it’s actually UK. Smith never got that. I’m not saying Cal will keep up what he’s been doing from now on. That would be incredible. But at least we don’t see the Cats go half the season being unranked. The Cats were unranked after Jan. 7th when Rondo played his last year in Lexington. That’s just sick. Rondo is a one man team for Boston a lot of the time. He plays with a bunch of guys that are way past their prime. Yet Boston is still in the thick of a title chase. And Rondo is the reason. Yet he led UK to 13 losses. That really, really makes me sick to think about it. Rondo deserved better. MUCH better. He could have made anyone look good if Smith had control over the other players even slightly. But of course he didn’t. Yet here he is talking about how Rondo did what he asked. Yeah. That was the problem.

    1. larryvaught

      I can still remember Tubby getting so mad at Rondo a few times that he took Sparks out. Or that’s how it seemed. Never really on the same page together

      1. TrueBlueJohn

        Larry, I have always considered Tubby as a good coach, and a fine gentleman. However, I think that it has been well documented that he had a really difficult time handling 5 star talent. And I believe that it had gotten to the point that he only recruited 2 and 3 star players. The last few years, I don’t remember any of the 5 star kids that had UK as 1st or 2nd on their lists. Aa I said before, he is a good coach, but I believe that the Cats should only settle for a great coach such as Cal or Rick Pitino.

  4. Anonymous

    Tubby was a good coach & one of the best at making adjustments at halftime. Tubby did not like to recruit and was far too loyal to his assistants. Rondo has worked very hard on his shooting and benefited from the extra step he gets in the pros. At UK he was lucky to hit the backboard with his jump shot so teams just backed off and let him shoot.

    1. King Ghidora

      Sorry but I don’t think Smith is a good coach or even an ok coach. He couldn’t control his players. He couldn’t get them to work together or to work hard. His offense bored players to tears and his defense was geared toward keeping the score down like it was some badge of honor to play the “old fashioned way” or some such nonsense. It was a terrible fit for UK.

      Then there’s Smith’s record after UK. He managed to sign some talent because of his name and because. I’m sure, too many bought the baloney that UK fans didn’t like him because of his race. But what has he done with those players? He’s won 60% of his games and made the NCAA tournament twice in five years. That’s not a good coach IMO. He’s coaching in an inferior conference, he wins a lot of games against cupcakes which pads his percentages, and he’s done nothing as far as advancing in the tournament goes. What’s good in that?

      IMO coaches are judged by winning percentages. Smith did ok at Georgia when he had players that didn’t expect to be stars. He won 70% of his games there. But at UK, when he inherited a great team, he did ok the first year but he didn’t need to teach a system and he didn’t monkey with the one in place. He did make some adjustments in games that first year but after that he fell apart IMO. Yes he had some decent years but not really by UK standards. If we judge him by Morehead standards he would be considered great. But for a UK team to not even be ranked for half a season with a superstar like Rondo as pg and players like Sparks, Morris and Crawford to pass the ball to, that’s just crazy bad IMO.

      BTW Rondo shot 49% from the field. That’s very good for a guard even if they aren’t taking a lot of outside shots. He shot less than 100 3’s in 2 years. Sparks shot nearly 400 (397) in his two UK years. And just for the record Rondo shoots 48% in the pros (career number). He still doesn’t shoot treys either. He shoots just over 24% from behind the line. That’s not good. He only shoots about 200 3 attempts a year. That’s not very many for a pro PG. Rondo’s game is the same now as it was at UK. He’s a slasher and a passer. And he can shoot the pull up jump shot and the driving layup very well. His hands are too big to shoot outside IMO. Very few great outside shooters have hands that are big like Rondo’s.

      Recently UK great Frank Ramsey compared Rondo to Celtic great Bob Cousy. If you’re old or know something of basketball history you’ll know that’s extremely high praise. Cousy helped Boston win a whole string of titles and IMO was much more the reason they won than the guy who usually gets the credit, Bill Russell.

      Rondo is a great player with great court vision. He knows how to set defenders up and make them pay for their mistakes. He makes good defensive plays look like mistakes. Rondo is a fantastic basketball player.

      I have one more thing to say about Smith. People are always passing him off as a good person. The guy bought tv commercials on local stations throughout the south where he bashed UK fans and claimed they hated him for his race. I have the video. I know what he said about UK fans. He did that because UK fans were tired of being a mid-major team and they were pressuring the administration for a new coach. Heck UK fans wanted to fire Rupp. Was that racial? Accusing your own fan base of racism and doing it behind their backs (he didn’t buy any commercials in any of the UK markets) is not what a good person does. Smith could never accept that he had failed. It was always someone else’s fault. Compare that to Cal who claims every failure was his. There are other things I’ve heard about Smith too. But I’ll leave that for another post. I’ll just continue to think he was far from a good person no matter how many times people told us he was one. I saw what he did.

      1. King Ghidora

        Here’s the key statement from that commercial Smith bought 9with his own money) to air around the south no doubt intended to hurt UK recruiting.

      2. Rodney

        That is bull you know what. Tubby did a great job. When he won the National Championship that team overacheived. Kentucky was suppose to be down after losing the key pieces off of a Final 4 team that lossed to Michigan and the Fab 5 the year before. Tubby schooled coach K in the regional final and lead the team to a National Championship. Tubby’s teams make the elite 8 a total of 5 times. He won the SEC 5 times and the SEC tourney 5 times. And he made the NCAA every year and never failed to loss in the first round any of his 10 years. A lot of big name coaches have lossed in the first round but not Kentucky. In fact the very first year he left Kentucky lossed in the first round. The second year after he left the Cats were in the NIT. Now Tubby is no Cal, who is, but he was a hell of a coach.
        As for Rondo let’s not forget Rondo was on an elite 8 team as a true Freshman and loss in double overtime to Michigan State to go to the Final 4. So don’t act like his time at Kentucky was a total failure under Tubby.

      3. jason

        thats funny because the minnesota gophers will beat u this year lead by tubby smith

    2. jason

      I am from minneapolis and thank you guys for tubby. i find it ammusing that in kentuky most people here feels he could not handle players. he recruted great talent here the stars of minneapolis he picked up commited crimes on campus and he let go right away. example minnapolis native Royce White who minneapolis native Kevin Mchale drafted in the first round and found out he wont play for the rockets. Smith showing leadership made him leave the University of Minnesota becouse of the crimes he kept commiting. also Rondo was not a star his first several years in boston this happens sometime even Michael Jordan in north carolina was not as good as jordon with the bulls. but thank you guys for Tubby the gophers are great this year and the big ten is right now the best basketball conference i wish you could respect him, right now you would lose to tubbys gophers anthony davis is in the nba your overated.

  5. Tom

    The one thing I heard from a reliable person observing practices was that Rondo and some others in that highly rated recruiting class often “dogged it” in practice, and that really disappointed me to hear.

  6. grant

    king , i think you might be stretching that one a little bit. need to hear the whole commercial or interview. nothing wrong the way i see it with what he said or how he felt or feels.

  7. grant

    not having much effect on recruiting lately ehh?

  8. Tana

    Anonymous, yours is a most fair post, in my opinion. Further, I’ve always wondered how Rondo’s career at Kentucky would have been perceived if only Kelenna Azibuike had not left for the draft — and Randolph Morris had been on the roster for an entire season (and I remember reading how Rondo, dreaming of a national championship almost immediately after the double-overtime loss to the Spartans in the Elite Eight Rondo’s freshman year) had not smiled upon Morris’ move). Having said that, like others here, I think Rondo would have really shined in Coach Calipari system — I would have loved to have seen that (and I suspect Calipari would have better handled Rondo’s infamous stubbornness that has been noted by Smith, Coach Rivers, and his even his high school coach and current mentor and friend Coach Bibby)!

    In regard to the discussion of Coach Smith the person and coach, I’ll just defer to a couple of folks who had known him quite well. When asked to describe all of the Kentucky coaches for whom he had worked, for Tubby Smith Mr. Wildcat Bill Keightley said that he was “the finest human being to have ever walked the face of the earth (and, yes, I’m assuming Keightley had not been counting Jesus Christ as a regular human being). Asked a question about his career at Kentucky, Celtic Rajon Rondo — and I heard it with my own ears — said that he had “played for a great coach at Kentucky, Coach Tubby Smith.” I’ll just let those guys’ words speak for themselves and leave the Tubby Smith discussion.

    Most of all, the piece is about Rajon Rondo. I have always been a HUGE Rajon Rondo fan (and, yes, I would have liked to have seen Rondo have more freedom at Kentucky). I had expected him to be successful in the NBA (and, yes, Anonymous, no longer a student-athlete, Rondo worked endless hours on that shot). I have always LOVED watching his game. Rondo, always a Wildcat, deserves all the praise he is receiving. Too, remembering back to his intense desire to win a championship at Kentucky, I’m at least glad he’s already won an NBA championship (and that competitiveness and putting the TEAM above himself, as Coach Doc Rivers calls it within the linked piece) has been a big part of it, in addition to his unique athleticism and intelligence). Rondo makes this Kentucky Wildcat fan proud. GO CELTICS! GO RONDO!

  9. Tana

    Tom, your post is interesting. Actually, I myself heard some negativity about some of the practices back then (and from a source with a lot of credibility on this one). Too, we all surely remember that Coach Smith eventually benched four of the five starters, including Rondo, prior to the team’s improving its previously disappointing play and almost upsetting the number one-seeded Huskies. Someone mentioned here that Coach Smith seemed to fare better with the less heralded players, more the blue-collared ones (and even though Chuck Hayes had been rather highly ranked, he still firmly fits the mold of a Tubby Smith player, in my opinion), and I tend to agree.

    Back to Rondo himself, though, perhaps his stubbornness and lack of maturity at that stage in his career were not the best combination. While I would have personally liked to have seen Rondo have more freedom on the floor, I can also see that Coach Smith had to take the reins and control that team. When Smith did so late, his firmly establishing himself as the boss, the team actually performed better. From listening to Rondo a few times since that disappointing season, I think Smith eventually won his respect, perhaps partly by that benching. Probably others who have dealt a lot with adolescents tend to believe the same — or at least those of us who tend to believe in the importance of discipline, paired with love. Regardless, Rajon Rondo was, indeed, one of the most uniquely talented to have ever played as a Kentucky Wildcat — and he had BADLY wanted a national championship at Kentucky, as I previously noted.

    1. jason

      rondo was too childish but blame the adult coach. LOTS of crime in minneapolis and to coach smiths credit, he doesnt deal with it. even in the nba rondos bad attitude comes out. your playing a game Smith gets that i guess In kentucky poor attitude and no class rules. i am embarressed for you guys and your lack of respect to a coach that won you a title. but the south is always behind

  10. LindaS

    Rondo is probably my all time favorite player at UK who never got to show his stuff. It use to break my heart when Tubby would take Rondo out because Rondo was not playing the slow ball he wanted. If he had let Rondo play his game this past banner would have been #9 or #10 depending how how long Rondo was there and allowed to play his game. I know it is not a one player game, but Rondo plays a team game. Look how many triple doubles he has had this year with assists being one of the doubles. I remember a couple times Rondo did play his game and Tubby took him out and made him sit on the bench. The few times I did get to see THE Rondo it was like watching poetry in motion, like I use to watch when Maravich was playing.
    Not too long ago Cal made some comment about how it fabulous it would have been to coach Rondo. Can you even imagine? Cal wanted this job for 20 years and he possibly could have coached him. Tana, you mention Rondo was possibly immature when he was at UK, that is true, but a good coach would have known how to exploit his talent and not waste it. He was a very unique player and still is. I will turn on a Celtics game just to see him like I use to do with Bird and LA to see Magic. What great memories of some all time great players.

  11. Dee. W.

    You just keep spreading that falsehood about Tubby Smith everywhere, don’t you King Ghidora? He never purchased any ads with his own money, let alone one accusing Kentucky of being racist. He doesn’t call Kentucky racist in that video nor even implies it. It is clearly taken out of context to make someone think otherwise, and the ad is clearly run by AT & T (not Tubby Smith himself) as part of their “Head Coach” series of ads which you can clearly see at the start of the clip – and they certainly wouldn’t produce and pay or ads calling a basketball program racist – that would be absurd. You mean to tell us, King Ghidora, that you did not see the “Head Coach presented by AT & T” intro on that video you posted before you claimed it was an ad paid for and produced by Tubby Smith calling Kentucky racist?

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