All season long (several seasons long, actually), Kentucky's most vociferous and antagonistic Tubby Smith detractors have bemoaned the lack of NBA talent on the UK roster. It was, to many, the primary reason that the Wildcats struggled so mightily this year. And despite some overblown rhetoric, these fans aren't completely wrong. In fact, they are in some ways right.
The problem for Tubby Smith has become that he cannot straddle the middle ground at Kentucky the way he could at Georgia. Smith's teams have traditionally succeeded most with a blend of upperclassmen and surprise freshmen -- think Tayshaun Prince with Chuck Hayes -- and bouyed by diamond-in-the-rough recruits who play bigger or better than they were ranked coming out of high school.
The problem comes when these underranked players don't develop beyond their rankings. If Gerald Fitch doesn't become an NBA-caliber talent, the 2003 and 2004 teams are brutal. Such is the problem with the stagnated development of Shagari Alleyne, Sheray Thomas and Woo Obrzut. A lack of quality bigs did the Cats in this year, and those are three big scholarship holes.
It's also what makes the recruiting misses on Tyler Hansbrough and Brandan Wright so flummoxing. Apparently, the UK staff was not able to capably convince either of those two (or Thad Young) that their chances of making the NBA and having a superb college experience would increase by attending school in Lexington. Some of this is probably a result of outside factors -- in Young's case, Atlanta vs. Lexington, in Wright's case, the UNC title-winning mystique. But these kids also pay attention to who is producing NBA players, and while Tubby's track record overall is still pretty good (several recent recruits have noted his NBA credentials), it is glaring in its recent lack of draft picks.
That's why Big Blue fans should cheer on Rajon Rondo as he tries to garner a top draft slot. However galling it may seem, schools are judged by recruits as much for the guys leaving as the guys still there.
Rondo has a high ceiling as a player, something that many UK fans are wont to admit, since they feel he did not maximize his potential in the blue and white. A few too many take this personally, for some reason. Regardless, it would be a big plus for Kentucky's recruiting fortunes if Rondo could move up after some tryouts into the mid-lottery.
Tubby Smith, in addition to wishing any of his players well, knows this. Witness his clear exuberance at Rondo's NBA press conference last week. His giddiness can't be solely in gaining a much-needed scholarship, and isn't likely at sending Rondo on his way. However much Tubby and Rajon might have had miscommunications, it's not Smith's style to hold grudges.
Kentucky hasn't had a first-round pick since Prince in 2002, a fact UK fans and non-fans alike are aware of. In that time, however, the Cats have also had two Elite Eight finishes, a 26-game win streak, three SEC titles, in addition to this past single downright pitiful year.
Subsequently, for the future of both Tubby's UK career and the program in general, it would behoove fans to subvert any hurt feelings or schadenfreude for Rondo and hope for a good draft for him. Right or wrong, it holds more weight than many folks think.