With the possible exception of those who have (a) stolen things, (b) cheated or (c) smoked their way out of town, one of the great things about the Kentucky program has been its marker as a Wildcat for life.
This has been the case for walk-ons, All-Americans, pro jumpers and scrubs alike. Some have gone on to be real estate moguls, car dealers, insurance adjusters, bums, NBA power forwards, milk pushers or basketball coaches. The love has been the same throughout; that is, unconditional.
That's why I hope a new and somewhat less forgiving brand of Kentucky fan -- one that has endured the premature loss of NBA talent or the feeling that some players had one foot out the door -- will continue in this tradition.
Case in point, the news today that Kentucky will know more within two weeks about the future in Blue of star guard Rajon Rondo.
Bibby, who coached Rondo at Louisville Eastern High, said the player would then talk to his mother, Amber, and Bibby before announcing a decision. Smith said on his weekly radio show last night that Rondo will "probably" enter the draft.
"A lot of things look good," Bibby said of Rondo's NBA aspirations. "We're going to comb through all possibilities. Once he does that, he'll make the best decision that's there."
This is hardly surprising, given that Rondo has been a marked man since his days at Oak Hill Academy, and given his many basketball gifts. While the kid has some weaknesses, many professionals at all things do. For every CEO who starts a career with a Harvard MBA, there's one who starts it with one from Ball State. And once "pro," weaknesses are either corrected or glaring and tend to determine the life span of a career -- be it basketball, business or plumbing.
That is why it is important that UK fans not take personally the mature ambitions of players. It's the Catch-22 of being Kentucky. If you recruit NBA talent, you must accept the realities of the game. If you don't, you must as fans stop complaining about "talent gaps." It can't work both ways.
Rondo will be drafted. He has something Randolph Morris did not have in his arsenal during his ill-fated professional dalliance: work ethic. By all accounts a gym rat, Rondo will continue to develop, and his myriad gifts already bestowed make him an attractive prospect.
And too few college fans seem to realize that the NBA draft is no longer about quick fixes. There are maybe 4-8 in each draft, and no guarantees about which players those will be. To wit, Kentucky's own Tayshaun Prince was picked at #23. You think many pro scouts thought he would start for the two-time defending Eastern Conference champs? Not even most UK die-hards expected it so early.
Rondo's shot is a problem for him. And that's why he'll test the waters. But it's not Rondo's fault he has pro scouts' interest, and it's not his fault in any negative way that he wants to be a professional at what he does best. Not only are some of his best friends in the NBA (Josh Smith), but it's every blue chipper's dream -- whether that's a big white kid from Wisconsin or a small hispanic shooter from Miami or a rangy black forward from Southern California. It's what drives them; it's their ambition.
So sit back and let the process run its course. If he goes, he goes. And we'll hopefully root him on, buy his NBA jersey and remember his defensive wizardry. And if he sees a landscape that is unkind and he returns, like others before him we'll welcome him back and enjoy his development.
He is, after all, a Wildcat for life.