The crowd from the outset was electric. For those who have never been to legendary Rupp Arena in Lexington, KY, it can be a terrifying place for opposing teams. And tonight was no exception. Twenty-five thousand fans gathered into an arena to cheer on eight former players in a meaningless exhibition game. Rajon Rondo among them.
It was a see of blue as always. Except tonight there was speckles of unfamiliar colors. None of the Kentucky Pros had played for the university in at least a year. For Nazr Mohammed, it had been over a decade. For Rondo, five years away in Boston. There were few Wizards jerseys floating around for John Wall. One purple Kings jersey for Big Cuz. And a singular Tayshaun Prince Pistons jersey from my observations. But of the foreign colors, the most popular undoubtedly was Celtic green, and Rondo's #9 on the back. This came as no surprise to me, as the University of Kentucky and the Boston Celtics have always had a strong connection, going all the way back to former Wildcat and Celtic great, Frank Ramsey.
The Dominican National team was introduced first. Charlie Villanueva was first, and in street clothes. No chance of being "a cancer to your team and our league" tonight. Just Kidding, of course! Most of the team was introduced without peep, the big exceptions being current UK player Eloy Vargas and former Florida big man Al Horford. The stadium then went dark. One by one, the Kentucky pros were introduced. First the bench, then the starters. Perhaps it was just because he was the first starter announced, or maybe it was a large number of Celtic fans in the crowd, but to my ears, Rondo received the loudest and longest cheer of all the former Cats.
As the game went on, Rondo was being Rondo. Spectacular no-look passes, awe-inspiring over the shoulder dimes, gambling on defense that led to fantastic steals, stupid TOs because he was going for the assist instead of the easy layup, bullet passes that only Superman could catch. Oh, and a botched dunk. As for his shooting, well... it hasn't gotten any worse.
You can see from the get go that this was Rondo's team to run. Even though he started next to John Wall, it was Rondo calling the plays and making the big passes. There was definitely a power struggle between the two. When Rondo had the ball, he wouldn't pass it to Wall, and when Wall had the ball he wouldn't pass it to Rondo. It was something you'd expect from two dominant, take charge point guards. Oh, and Eric Bledsoe played some PG, too.
In the end, the Dominicans won. Disappointing as a Cats fan, but not unexpected. The important thing I took from the game was Rondo's play. Since their exit from the playoffs and his terrible injury, Rondo hasn't played much basketball. I'm not sure about Perk's charity game over the weekend, I haven't heard any news other Perk's arrest. But Rondo played nearly the entire game tonight. More than Wall, and much more then Bledsoe. And he did so without hesitation. He was rusty for sure, and still a little banged up. But he did what we all love to see to him do. So while his shooting hasn't improved to the point we fans would like it to, we can at least breathe a sigh of relief that Rondo will return to form and be that ball-dominant guy we have come to expect. And it's gonna be a long lockout, so he'll have plenty of time to practice his shooting.