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Sports

October 19, 2006

Where's Rondo? Celtics fans can't miss him

BOSTON - In these October days of the Patriots' yawn-inducing consistency and Red Sox offseason over-analysis, a surprise guest has emerged on the local sports scene.

For at least the time being, a 20-year-old Louisville, Ky., native named Rajon Rondo has become all the rage.

But how exactly did the man of the moment sneak up on the Boston sports world, giving New England basketball fans instant optimism without nary a warning?

"I don't know," said Danny Ainge, Celtics executive director of basketball operations, referring to how Rondo managed to arrive at his immediate celebrity status when few expected such an introduction. "The only thing I know is how we evaluate him. I don't know how everybody else does."

No question the main reason for Rondo arriving without the fanfare befitting most first-round picks revolves around two up-and-down seasons at the University of Kentucky. After a sophomore year of butting heads with Wildcats coach Tubby Smith, the 6-foot-1 point guard's luster had dimmed enough for him to last until the 21st pick of last June's draft.

A few folks, however, were aware of what the vast majority of NBA observers have come to realize through the first half of Boston's preseason schedule - Rondo has been the real deal for some time.

"I had one of Boston's personnel people call me and say, 'Danny (Ainge) wants a reason to pick Rajon over Marcus (Williams, who was ultimately selected by New Jersey with the 22nd pick)," said Rondo's high school coach at Oak Hill (Va.) Academy, Steve Smith, who also coached Williams the season before Rondo arrived.

"I said that I didn't want to say anything bad about Marcus, but I also said after both had played for me that Rajon was the best guard who ever played here."

To get an idea about what kind of lofty evaluation Smith heaped upon Rondo, one has to understand the talent that has filtered through Oak Hill. NBA players Ron Mercer, Steve Blake, Jerry Stackhouse, Stephen Jackson and Carmelo Anthony have all been part of the legendary prep school program.

But perhaps most the significant part of the coach's analysis was that Josh Smith, a player who was drafted straight out of high school as the No. 17 pick in the 2004 draft, played on the same Oak Hill team as Rondo. Yet it was the current Celtic - the kid with a perceived mediocre jumpshot and not enough size to warrant a lottery selection - who stood out the most.

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