Bruins

Rondo uncut: Why the C's point guard is the way he is

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Rondo uncut: Why the C's point guard is the way he is

Rajon Rondo was never looking for attention.

It wasn’t there for him anyways, not at first.

Rondo was an unconventional selection for Oak Hill Academy’s point guard. Many wrote him off because of his offensive limitations. But head coach Steve Smith was drawn to Rondo’s court vision and defensive prowess, and even if he didn’t light up the scoreboard, he knew he could count on the senior if he needed a basket.

Scoring in big numbers wasn’t Rondo’s role. That was more of Josh Smith’s game. The current Atlanta Hawks forward was the standout on the team, the hot prospect with sights set on going straight to the NBA. He dunked, he blocked shots, he wowed spectators with his athleticism. In turn, he attracted the attention.

“Josh got most of the limelight,” Oak Hill Academy head coach Steve Smith told CSNNE.com in a telephone interview. “When people would come to do stories on Oak Hill that year, they would always talk to Josh because he was this high-profile guy and Rajon would always take a backseat. It didn’t seem to bother him at all. He would just go out and play. He didn’t care what people said, what they wrote. If they highlighted another player, that was fine with him. He just wanted to win. He’s the main reason we won that year. He’s the guy that made us go.”

That season Rondo let his game do the talking as Oak Hill Academy finished the season a perfect 38-0. He was named to the 2004 McDonalds All-American Team along with players including Smith, Dwight Howard, Rudy Gay, and future NBA teammates Glen Davis, Al Jefferson, and Sebastian Telfair.

Even as Rondo was on the stage of the nation’s top high school basketball players, he never gravitated any more toward the media spotlight.

“He was a confident player,” said Smith. “He thought he was as good as anybody else, maybe he thought he was underrated, especially back when he was in high school. But he wouldn’t go around tooting his horn about it. He kept to himself and he’s not that type of guy. He’s not going to open up to a lot of people but if he gets to know you, he does.”

Smith continued, “He’s always been the type of guy who kind of keeps things close to his vest, doesn’t say much about his past, doesn’t say much about where he came from. To the guy off the street or the people that don’t know him, I think a lot of people might think he’s standoffish or maybe a shy guy. But once you know him, he’s a great guy to be around. I’ve noticed with his friends and with his teammates, he always opened up to those guys a lot more. But he was kind of a quiet guy even at a young age.”

Rondo went on to play two seasons at the University of Kentucky before entering the NBA Draft in 2006. 21 picks into the evening, the Phoenix Suns selected the 20-year-old point guard and traded him to the Boston Celtics.
Rondo’s first role was playing back up to Sebastian Telfair, whom the Celtics had acquired from the Portland Trail Blazers on the same night they traded for Rondo. But when Telfair got injured, the rookie started 25 of his 78 games that season.

That summer Telfair was sent to the Minnesota Timberwolves as part of the Kevin Garnett trade and combo guard Delonte West was dealt to the Seattle SuperSonics in the Ray Allen deal. That left Rondo at the point.

In only his second NBA season (2007-08), Rondo was running the floor for a trio of future Hall of Famers. And if he didn't want to be in the spotlight, he didn't have a choice anymore.

With the formation of the new Big Three, Paul Pierce, Garnett, and Allen, the Celtics became the hottest team in the NBA and an instant title contender. The influx of media attention was a complete 180 from the previous year in which the Celtics went 24-58 and made headlines for an 18-game losing streak. In just one season, they won a championship.

This sudden change forced Rondo to grow up in front of a larger audience than he had expected.

“I didn’t have that option,” Rondo, now 26, told CSNNE.com. “It was difficult. I didn’t want it, but I guess my play asked for it or grabbed that type of attention. So I’ve tried to embrace it.”

Rondo has established himself as one of the league’s top point guards during his six-year career. He is a three-time All-Star, led all players in steals during the 2010 season, and currently ranks second in assists per game. On Sunday he recorded a jaw-dropping 18-point, 17-rebound, and 20-assist triple-double against the New York Knicks.
Yet over the years, Rondo’s impressive plays on the court have been contrasted with reports of his frustrating behaviors. Talk surrounding personality issues have become nearly as prevalent as discussions about his game and often come up when his name is mentioned in trade rumors.

“I try to keep it even keel on the court, even demeanor, never too high, never too low. But off the court, I think I’m a fun guy to be around, especially if I like you,” he said with a laugh. “I’m pretty much like a go-with-the-flow guy. I’m laidback, I’m very competitive. I pretty much think I can do anything if you put the challenge to me, so I just try to have fun while I’m doing it.”

“Actually, my sister, she calls me Oscar like the grouch because I work her a little bit,” Rondo continued. They get on me, call me a divo. Doc (Rivers), KG, they get on me, say I’m high maintenance. I just try to fly under the radar. I just tell them they’re the same, obviously I’ve learned from guys that’s in front of me (laughs). My coach is a leader, Kevin’s my vet, so if I get it, it’s from them (smiles).”

Said Rivers, “He’s just trying to be a better leader. He’s being consistent at it, he’s doing a great job. I think he’s trying to be more outward. People forget about how young he is. It just takes him some time. We call Kevin that (a divo), we kid around with that. But he has a chance to be better than just a great player. He can be a great leader too. If he can do both, that’s big for our team.”

Rondo didn’t become a basketball player because he wanted to hold press conferences for throngs of reporters. There are the days like February 12 when he posted 32 points, 15 assists and 10 rebounds against the Chicago Bulls and did not to speak to reporters after the Celtics win. His lack of a postgame appearance became a topic of discussion in the media.

“It’s about the team,” Rondo explained. “The main thing is that we won, simple as that. Triple-double or not, we got the win. That’s their opinion. I don’t have anything to say to that.”

The reality of the situation, though, is working with the media is part of the gig, especially in a big market such as Boston. While it hasn’t always been easy for Rondo to embrace that side of the job, he knows it is something he has to become accustomed to.

Take a game in January as an example. Ray Allen, one of the league’s most accessible players who addresses the media at his locker before every game, was out of the lineup. Instead, Rondo sat in a chair in the middle of the Celtics locker room. He fielded questions from a circle of reporters for nearly half-an-hour and said he was taking Allen’s place for the night. He was following the advice of his veteran teammate.

“I just told him that he had to seize these opportunities more than let them go by,” Allen told CSNNE.com. “When you’re an athlete and people are curious about what you say, how you think, how you work out, you have to give people that access. At some point, people want to support you more, whether it’s more people coming to games, more people are fans of yours, and you become more likeable. It always has long-term implications. You might make an All-Star Team one year when maybe you’re on the cusp of not making it. All those things have an implication on how your career pans out and how people view you.”

There are times, though, when Rondo would prefer not to let the cameras and microphones in. His community outreach is very personal to him.

Along with the Boston's Got Wings program with Red Bull (in partnership with Boston Parks and Recreation Department) in which he helps refurbish basketball courts around Boston, Rondo also spends time with the MSPCC (Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children) and other organizations in the area.

He hopes to start an educational community program to offer children a place to go with access to computers and tutors. The building would also include a gym to stress the importance of fitness and give them a fun reward for completing their work.

Rondo prefers the focus to be placed on the cause rather than himself. But just as he has been advised to be more accessible with the media before and after games, he understands spreading the word about his community service can benefit those he is trying to help.

“I try to do a lot of things in the community,” he said. “I don’t want to get a lot of media attention, but at the same time, I want to bring awareness to what things I’m trying to do.”

There is yet another side to Rondo. In addition to the team player who doesn’t seek out individual accolades and the community advocate who doesn’t want to draw attention to himself for helping others, there is a public figure who enjoys being seen in a different kind of light.

As in, lights, camera, action.

Rondo has been featured on magazine covers, is a Red Bull athlete, has a sneaker campaign with Nike, and made a cameo appearance in the movie Just Wright.

“I just turn into a different person,” Rondo said. “I don’t like taking photos in public, but a photo shoot I don’t mind. Something just clicks and I get into a mode. I love clothes and I love to dress up and I just feel different when I have on those clothes.”

He is currently featured as part of Foot Locker's Advantage Academy with Blake Griffin, Amar'e Stoudemire, Russell Westbrook, and Deron Williams. With a beret and glasses, "Mr. Rondo" teaches the "drama of quickness."

“It’s humbling,” he said. “In my house, I have so many different magazines around the house with me on the cover. It’s a blessing, for one. But at the same time, I just try to keep doing what I’m doing best. If I try to keep a clean image, do the right thing on and off the court, then I think those things will continue to come.”

In less than 10 years Rondo has transformed from a high school student who was overshadowed by his teammate to a young NBA champion thrust into the spotlight to one of the league’s most recognizable faces who plays it up for the camera.

And underneath it all remains a fiery point guard who just wants to win.

“It’s very unusual for a guy who is high-profile like he is now,” said Smith. “He’s had a lot personal accolades that I don’t think he really cares about, he just wants to win. I know in Boston he’s like, all I want to do is win again. He wants to win, that’s more important to him than any individual goals.”

Said Rondo, “I just don’t like the attention. I don’t need the attention. I’m fine with who I am. I don’t want to grab the attention and seek attention. As long as the people I’m affecting, as long as I’m touching their lives and they know it’s coming from a good place, I don’t have to have the attention.”

Somebody else can have it.

Morning Skate: No place for Gudas’ slash on Perreault

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Morning Skate: No place for Gudas’ slash on Perreault

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while enjoying the new Brown Sugar Cinnamon coffee flavor at Dunkin’ Donuts. It’s not Cookie Dough, but what is after all?

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) and PHT writer James O’Brien has the details on Radko Gudas getting ejected for an ugly, reckless and dangerous slash to Mathieu Perreault’s head last night. Gudas should be facing a long suspension for a play that has no place in the NHL. It’s time for Flyers fans to stop making excuses for a player who’s no better than a cheap-shot artist and hatchet man. He has to face the music for consistently trying to hurt his fellow players.  

*Frank Seravalli has some of the details for a historic GM meeting in Montreal where NHL hockey was born in the first place.

*You always need to link to a service dog being part of the pregame face-off ceremonies. That’s like a rule here at the morning skate?

*Cam Atkinson and the Columbus Blue Jackets have agreed to a seven-year contract extension, according to reports from the Athletic.

*It’s been quite an eventful year for Arizona Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet and some of it has been to the extreme both good and bad just a month into his first year as bench boss.

*For something completely different: Chris Mannix is all-in on the Celtics being the front-runners in the Eastern Conference after their big win over the Golden State Warriors.


 

Belichick getting the most out of his veteran safeties

Belichick getting the most out of his veteran safeties

AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. - Bill Belichick’s never been shy about getting the players who play the best on the field as much as possible. 

So, when he looked at a crowded secondary this summer, the Patriots’ coach didn’t view every spot as a defined position. Instead, he analyzed the skill set of his players and decided that the Pats needed their top three safeties - Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon and Pat Chung - on the field as much as possible. Just past the midway point of the season, Belichick and his defensive coaching staff have managed to do that quite a bit.

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McCourty missed one defensive snap all season, the last play of the opener (590). Harmon has often times found himself as that single-high safety (479) while - as illustrated earlier - Chung has played 83 percent of the snaps, although about a third of those designated as a cornerback (494 total/333 as safety). There are only two other teams in the NFL that play three safeties as often as the Patriots: the Chiefs (Ron Parker, Daniel Sorensen and Eric Murray) and Broncos (Justin Simmons, Darian Stewart and Will Parks). 

When I asked Belichick about all that the responsibilities he puts on that safety trio, the coach wouldn’t single out just those three. He also highlighted veterans Nate Ebner and Jordan Richards.

“That’s good group really with Pat, Devin, Duron, Jordan, Nate gives us a lot in the kicking game. That’s five guys that all help us in a lot of different ways…they all are pretty versatile,” said Belichick. 

Versatility is a critical element to the Patriots being able to put those players on the field and keep them there, no matter what the opposition throws New England’s way.

“You see Jordan play strong safety, you see Jordan come in in multiple defensive back sets. You see Chung play a corner type of role sometimes. I play a corner type of role. I  think it allows us to say ‘if they come out in this personnel, we’ll be ok’” said Devin McCourty. “We’ll just match up these guys in whatever different role in the defense and it’ll work.”

Of course, sometimes that’s easier said than done when you consider what personnel the opposing team can employ. In the opener against Kansas City, the Pats tried and failed to match up with an explosive grouping that including Tyreek Hill and DeAnthony Thomas, wide receivers who can line up in the backfield and take a handoff as well. 

The opponent Sunday, Oakland, doesn’t have those kinds of pieces, but the Raiders still have players in place that can keep defensive coordinators up at night. The suspicion here though is that Matt Patricia sleeps better than most, in part because of his secondary.

“A team like Oakland will come in what we call ‘oh 1’ personnel where they have four receivers and [tight end Jared] Cook on the field, which is kind of like a fifth receiver,” noted McCourty. “We can easily stay in different groups and say ‘all right, this is how we want to match that.’ Where if we didn’t have that versatility we’d have to start to run corners on and then they keep [Marshawn] Lynch on the field in place of Cook and run the ball. There’s so many different things that the offense can do to mismatch personnel. Having the versatility and players who understand different roles allows players to stay calm and match up.”

There’s also an unseen element to what this safety group brings to the field every week. That’s their experience, not just in the NFL, but together. There’s comfort in knowing the guy next to you has seen the same things you have and can go through their mental Rolodex to recall and adjust to personnel groupings and formation changes that maybe weren’t prepared for during the week (yes, even with Belichick as the coach that happens).

“I’ve been playing with Pat and Dev - all of us being together - this has been four years and you don’t catch that too often, especially three safeties,” said Harmon. “I just think us being able to be in a whole bunch of different positions, being able to learn from each other and playing together has allowed us to even been more versatile with each other and be able to run more things, have a better feel for the defense and put ourselves in maybe different positions that you wouldn’t put anyone else in.”

“We don’t have many groups like us that have been together for the last four or five years,” said McCourty. “We don’t always break things down as the strong safety, free safety, the money back, like a lot of things we did, it’s just a position, a spot on the field. I think we all understand that all three of us or all four of us on the field at any time can play at any of those positions. I think that allows us to say, ‘Remember last time we did this, in this game, you were here and you were there’ but this time because this is what they like you go here and I’ll go there. This that allows us to understand what we do defensively but also match it to whatever the offense does. Obviously, that’s what the coaches want to do. When the players can do that, it always helps.”

Belichick knows this and it’s pretty clear this trait - the ability to adjust on the fly - is something he appreciates a great deal. That’s why over the past five games, you haven’t noticed nearly as much movement and - let’s face it - confusion as there was in that first month. The players have shared history to fall back on and it’s smoothed out the communication and led to a much higher level of play.

“We can definitely go back to things that maybe we haven’t done in a while, talk about how we used this against Tampa or we used this against Buffalo or somebody and there’s good recall and good application of it,” Belichick said. “Yeah, there’s times where that definitely helps. Same thing on the offense, with guys like Tom [Brady], James White, Rob [Gronkowski], Danny [Amendola]  - guys that have done things together for multiple years. You got a situation that’s similar to a situation you had awhile back, you can go back and refer to that. You’re not going to be able to do that with Deatrich Wise or [Jacob] Hollister. They just haven’t had that kind of experience. But with experienced players, sure, that comes up from time to time. That’s a good reference.”

So, don’t be surprised Sunday in Mexico City if you see Harmon shaded over the top of Amari Cooper, or McCourty in the box providing an extra run fit, or Chung playing slot corner or linebacker. It’s old hat for a group that is asked to do more and routinely responds well to those challenges.