Wildcat World Champion: Rajon Rondo
Part one of a six-part series.
Over the next six weeks UKathletics.com will be showcasing five former Kentucky athletes who have gone on to win major championships in their respective sports throughout the past year. Each Thursday a new player will be profiled.
Never before has Kentucky athletes reined as world champions in football, baseball, basketball, golf, soccer and Olympics concurrently until now. Being a Kentucky Wildcat has become synonymous with being a champion more so now than perhaps ever. The list of former Wildcats who have won a championship this year is simply staggering; gold medal winner in the Summer 2008 Olympics Tayshaun Prince, game-four starter for the World Series Champion Philadelphia Phillies Joe Blanton, U.S. member of the 2008 winning Ryder Cup team J.B. Holmes, starting point-guard for the world-champion Boston Celtics Rajon Rondo, goalie for the Major League Soccer champion Columbus Crew’s Andy Gruenebaum and quarterback for the 2008 NFL world-champion New York Giants Jared Lorenzen.
When Kentucky native Rajon Rondo stepped onto the University of Kentucky campus in the fall of 2004, the Wildcat faithful were excited about what the McDonald's All-American could bring to Kentucky basketball. But no one could have anticipated the immediate impact he would have with the Wildcats.
Standing at only 6-foot-1, Rondo has a massive wing span with some of the quickest hands in the game. Rondo, a native of Louisville, Ky., quickly made a name for himself with his tenacious defense and his uncanny ability to get to the basket. In February of 2005, Rondo showcased what has become his trademark on all stat lines, swiping eight balls from Mississippi State, tying Wayne Turner for most steals by a Kentucky player in a single game. In only two seasons at Kentucky, Rondo made an indelible impression on the Wildcat nation setting a single-season record in steals with 87 and being named to the Southeastern Conference All-Freshman team his first year.
With an unparalleled competitive spirit and first-class talent, Rondo had many memorable moments on the hardwood including clutch game-winning shots against South Carolina and UCF. However, UK lore will have him best be remembered for his performance in the 2005 game against in-state rival Louisville in front of the third-largest crowd in Rupp Arena history at 24,432 fans. Louisville walked into Rupp that day ranked fourth in the nation and Rondo, playing against his hometown team, opened up the game scoring the first four points of the game including feeding Lukasz Obrzut for a wide-open dunk in Kentucky's opening 8-0 run over the Cardinals. Rondo never looked back after the tip-off en route to his team-leading 25-point performance that afternoon which included seven assists.
"I can tell you unequivocally that I don't think I've ever coached a better athlete or a more talented basketball player in my entire life," former coach of the Wildcats Tubby Smith said.
Rondo became the 91st Wildcat to enter the NBA after being selected in the first round of the 2006 NBA Draft. He transferred his experience as a Kentucky Wildcat in the professional ranks, making an immediate impact in the NBA, starting 25 games as point guard for the Boston Celtics. After his rookie year, Rondo was selected to the NBA All-Rookie second team but it was his sophomore season in the NBA that proved to be his breakout year. He started all 77 games and finished 13th in the league in steals, 1.7 pg, while leading the Celtics to their 17th world championship and first since the 1985-86 season.
Rondo unleashed a flurry of offense and defense in the finals, beginning with a career-high 16 assists in Game Two. With the Celtics up three games to two and over 16 million viewers tuned in on the television, Rondo stared at running the point and mesmerized the world with his unbelievable athleticism. His final stat line read -- 21 points, seven rebounds, six steals and eight assists clinching game six. His six steals marked the second highest steal total in NBA finals history.