Sophomore point guard Rajon Rondo led the University of Kentucky in rebounds, steals, assists and minutes played last season, and also finished second in scoring. He tied a school record for rebounds by a guard in a game (19, vs. Iowa), scored in double-figures 14 times, hit a game-winning three pointer against South Carolina, and was chosen in the first round of the NBA Draft.
Yet the general consensus around Lexington is that the team will be better off without him. It appears that Rondo will go down with Saul Smith and Cliff Hawkins as point guards and floor leaders who never seemed to be able to escape criticism from UK fans, no matter what they did or didn’t do while at UK. Perceived selfish attitudes and inconsistent team play is the legacy that they’ve left behind, rather than the 241 wins, and over 1,100 assists.
The question now begs to be asked – is Ramel Bradley next?
Bradley is undoubtedly a talented player. He is a great athlete with good height and strength for a point guard. He has not only the skills to be a top-level SEC player, but also the confidence and swagger. You need only to look at the 2005 tape of a true-freshman Bradley getting in the face of National Player of the Year (and seven-footer) Andrew Bogut in the NCAA Tournament to see the fearless nature he takes onto the court.
Yet, despite his talent and experience, he is still a question mark entering the season. Throughout his first two years, he has been used primarily as a scorer off the bench. He hasn’t been asked to be a distributor, or to run the offense without looking for his own shot. Nobody knows how he’ll react when his 17 minutes per game last year approaches 30 this year.
To his credit, Bradley isn’t shying away from the pressure he will face. Never known to be quiet, he knows his play may hold the key to UK’s season, as the depth in the backcourt includes three true freshmen.
“It’s my time, and I’m going to do the best job I can do,” said Bradley at UK’s Media Day. “I think I’m ready to step up to the challenge, and I’m willing to do whatever it takes to get this team back to where it needs to be.”
However, Bradley knows as well as anyone that UK fans demand excellence from their players, especially the point guard. And with last season’s up-and-down play, the Big Blue Nation is going to be less forgiving than ever with a point guard who is anything less than perfect.
With a non-conference schedule that includes trips to North Carolina and Louisville, as well as an SEC slate that features Florida, LSU, Tennessee and Alabama, the margin for error will be slim. If the team struggles, Bradley knows much of the criticism will rest on his shoulders, fair or not.
But he also knows that he can’t worry too much about the headlines or the (relatively) low expectations facing the Cats this season. Instead, he’s focusing on doing what he does best- playing and talking- and letting everything else slide right off his shoulders. It might be the best decision he makes all season.
“I don’t like a lot of quiet,” he said. “You’re not going to have too much fun if you are tight. I just want to go out and make [the fans] proud. Sometimes, you have to just let loose and go out and have fun.”
Spoken like a true leader.