Past Imperfect: Rodrick Rhodes — Untouchable Cats’ Unwanted Man

Posted by JWeill on February 22nd, 2012

Past Imperfect is a series focusing on the history of the game. Every two weeks, RTC contributor Joshua Lars Weill (@AgonicaBoss|Email) highlights some piece of historical arcana that may (or may not) be relevant to today’s college basketball landscape. This week: the dominance of Kentucky’s 1996 ‘Untouchables,’ and the banishment of Rodrick Rhodes.

Rodrick Rhodes was a very good college basketball player. He was versatile, athletic, long and skilled. He was good enough as a teenager that most folks who knew of him figured he wouldn’t be in college very long, that one or maybe two seasons at Kentucky, his college choice, would be all that was necessary for Rhodes to showcase the game that would make him an instant NBA millionaire. A month into his freshman season, it looked like those lofty expectations were spot on. The Jersey City, NJ, native wowed national audiences, had ESPN’s Dick Vitale preaching his impending stardom and was set up neatly to slide in as the Wildcats’ next mega-star, following in the imposing footsteps of another former New York City-area prep star, Jamal Mashburn.

But Rhodes wasn’t Mashburn, either in internal strength or in shooting touch, and somewhere along the way to getting his name in the rafters, something changed. Rhodes showed some flaws, and by the end of his sophomore season, Kentucky coach Rick Pitino seemed to sour on Rhodes and on dealing with Rhodes’ older brother, Reggie, who Pitino felt was whispering NBA dreams nonstop into his brother’s ear.

Before Kentucky's run to the title, Pitino parted ways with Rod Rhodes.

Finally, following a series of disappointing showings by Rhodes in his junior season, including a miserable game in UK’s Elite Eight loss to North Carolina, Pitino had had enough. After the enigmatic junior forward opted to enter his name into the NBA Draft pool, Pitino moved on. When Rhodes bombed an audition for pro scouts and decided he wanted to return for his final season at Kentucky, Pitino reportedly told Rhodes he could redshirt if he wanted to return, but whether out of pride or exhaustion with his situation, Rhodes demurred and instead asked for his release to transfer. Pitino obliged and Rhodes the next great Kentucky star became the Rhodes the ex-great Kentucky recruit.

Pitino’s replaced Rhodes with Ron Mercer, a five-star small forward from Nashville who arrived in Lexington as the anti-Rhodes, preaching a willingness to play whatever role the team needed, never gripe about playing time and learn from his more seasoned teammates. The addition of Mercer and fellow recruit Wayne Turner completed Kentucky’s 1995-96 roster, which was built around senior All-America candidates Tony Delk and Walter McCarty, junior Derek Anderson and sophomore Antoine Walker.

Mercer’s attitude was just what Pitino needed for this, his best chance to win a national championship. Always an ace recruiter and at the time arguably the best cultivator of professional-grade basketball talent in the college game, Pitino had assembled a team for the ages, one whose dominance would be matched only by its remarkable cohesion, especially on the defensive end. The Wildcats would work with a rotation of about 10 players, most nearly interchangeable in their ability to shoot, run and press their opponent and in their unmistakable talent.

“I’ve never had 10 players so close in ability,” Pitino said at the time.

The result of all that ability was an onslaught of skill and length that observers and pundits touted before the season as among the best ever assembled at a college program. There appeared to be no flaws. The Cats had shooters and big men and length and coaching. How fascinating, then, when just two weeks into Kentucky’s season this supposedly unbeatable basketball machine in blue would go down in defeat at the hands of a Massachusetts squad in many ways Kentucky’s mirror opposite: slow where UK was fast, frontcourt heavy where UK was not, reliant on a short rotation where Kentucky featured depth. It was an unlikely rivalry that would continue the entire season to college hoops fans’ delight.

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ATB: Weekend Review

Posted by rtmsf on December 22nd, 2008


What a Saturday! We hope you had as much on Saturday as we did, sitting around in our sweats in front of a family member’s HD flatscreen while the wind pushed thermometers to nearly zero outside.  If there was ever a day for lazing around and watching nothing but college hoops, this was it.  And the games did not let us down.  From Minnesota to Gonzaga/Arizona St. to Xavier to Steph Curry, there were upsets, great finishes, shocking blowouts and a struggling all-american for good measure.

Game of the Year (to date). Connecticut 88, Gonzaga 83 (OT). For our money, the Connecticut-Gonzaga game in Seattle was the game of the year thus far.  Each team brought NBA-level talent and NCAA Tournament intensity to this one, and it took an extra period to finish it off.  We really felt as if we were watching a March game in December.  Both teams ran out to leads where they appeared the far superior team, and both teams made huge plays to get back into the game, capped off by a simply astounding three to send the game into OT by AJ Price (where he was floating left and had a man right in his face upon the release).  For large portions of this game, Gonzaga looked like a F4 team, with Austin Daye’s captivating talent (13/5) all over the court, Josh Heytvelt’s steady interior play (15/3) and Jeremy Pargo’s timely forays (16/4 assts) into the paint (not to mention Steven Gray’s 23/7/4 assts off the bench).   The Zag D held UConn to 43% shooting, while hitting half of its own shots, and yet, UConn showed a resolve and toughness that we haven’t seen out of a Calhoun team since Emeka Okafor left campus.  The Huskies really had no business pulling this game off, especially since big man Hasheem Thabeet spent the last fifth of the game on the bench in foul trouble, but team leader AJ Price (24/10 assts) kept finding penetration into the lane for easy looks and trips for his teammates to the foul line.  This was a take-notice game – we’ve been down on UConn until now because we still weren’t sure they had the chemistry and resolve to win six tough games in March.  Now we’ve taken notice.  UConn will go as far as Price takes them, and that could be all the way.  It wouldn’t surprise us at all to see a rematch of this game in Detroit in April.

Upset of the Weekend. Minnesota 70, Louisville 64. Ok, Louisville is officially the most disappointing team in America right now.  We sensed something was wrong with them the last couple of times we watched them play (and that’s not even including the WKU loss), but the Minnesota game proved to us that this is a team without a soul right now.  The Cards have enough pure talent to compete with any team in college basketball, but they don’t seem to want to give the effort that it takes to do so.  And the Edgar Sosa situation has every hallmark of another exceptional talent crawling into a hole and dying under Pitino’s tutelage (we’re channelling Rodrick Rhodes here) – it’s amazing just how ineffective he has become.  As for Minnesota, they’re now 11-0 and this was the signature win the Gophers needed to announce that Tubby Smith is once again building a competitive program.  The Gophers played hard, held Louisville to 38% shooting, and made all the right plays down the stretch to secure the win (when UL crept back within four pts).  Tubby has now won his last four games against his mentor, and suddenly the Big 10 is looking a lot stronger than it did a month ago.

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