Rick Pitino, seeing that Rod Rhodes was a huge flop at Kentucky tried to convince the kid that he was good enough for the NBA and pushed him out the door. (Pitino needed the room because he was desperately wanting to sign the next great phenom, Ron Mercer, but he was at the scholarship limit.) Once Rod announced his intention to enter the draft, Pitino signed Mercer. When Rod found out he wasn't ready for the big leagues and withdrew his name, Pitino informed him he had already given away his scholarship, and good riddance.
Rodrick Rhodes was a lightening quick small forward out of St. Anthony's in New Jersey. He was the first genuine "blue chip" recruit by Rick Pitino as Kentucky began to reap benefits due to their surprising success on the court and appearances on television after probation. Rod was expected to be a team leader with Jamal Mashburn. He showed flashes of brilliance his freshman year, winning the MVP in the ECAC Holiday Tournament in Madison Square Garden but was often inconsistent. His sophomore and junior years were also up and down. He could be a tenacious defender and showed excellent quickness but often settled for a sub-par jump shot rather than go to his strength of beating his man off the dribble. When he did drive, Rod often did not have the strength to finish the play.
Rod also had differences of opinion with Rick Pitino. Pitino wanted Rod to be a more unselfish player, work on his rebounding and be a team leader. At times, Rod followed his coach and had some excellent games. When he concentrated on defense, Rod could be a one man wrecking machine for the other team's offensive sets. But all too often, Rod would try to play to the cameras or NBA scouts, forgetting the team play that makes Kentucky basketball so special.
It was no secret Rod's ultimate goal was to make the NBA. He seemed to be biding his time at Kentucky waiting for the chance to leave. That time came in the spring of 1995. Rod announced his intention to enter the draft. Rick accompanied Rod to the pre-draft trials in Chicago where it became apparent Rod may not even be drafted. After this sobering event, Rod decided to make a fresh start and transfer schools to Southern Cal.
Pitino was disappointed in the play of Rod Rhodes but he never closed the door on him. In fact, Rod has always publically maintained that he has a good relationship with Pitino. During his junior season, when it became apparent that Rhodes was thinking of leaving, Pitino, knowing he wasn't ready, tried to caution him, mentioning that he would be better off staying in school and concentrating on improving his jump shot. The only people talking about the NBA were Rod and his brother.
"He was always looking to be a pro before he even enjoyed college," Pitino said. "I read those things about how we didn't get along and I didn't even respond to them. We've always gotten along." - by Peter May, Boston Globe, "Hill Backs Pistons on Collins Move," February 8, 1998.
When it became apparent Rod was not going to take Pitino's advice. Rick, rather than giving up on the kid, advised him to make sure he finished his spring classes so he would keep his options open. He tried to help him in his dream, writing a letter to NBA teams recommending Rhodes. Meanwhile, since Rhodes had abandoned his scholarship, Rick did go ahead and sign Ron Mercer who Rick had recruited perhaps harder than any other player while at Kentucky. To not sign the number one player out of high school when a scholarship was available, out of respect for someone who just spurned the school, is asking too much. Some other key advice Pitino gave Rhodes was to not sign with an agent and to let Pitino represent him so he could receive an honest evaluation of his skills from the pro scouts. When it became apparent Rod wasn't ready for the NBA, Pitino offered Rod the chance to come back to Lexington and walk-on or to take the year off and put his academic and personal life along with his jump shot back in order. Since Rod had taken Pitino's advice about not signing with an agent, he was able to retain his eligibility to play in the NCAAs, something that Scotty Thurman of Arkansas could not do.
"It doesn't look like Rodrick's going to be drafted in the 1st round," Pitino said in a WTVQ-TV interview. "It's been unanimous among the pro scouts that they don't think his outside shot is good enough or he takes it at the right time. So that's something he needs to work on, and maybe a red-shirt year would be the right time for him to spend doing just that - becoming an outside shooter, because he does have all the other skills to be a pro." - Lexington Herald Leader, June 18, 1995.
Rod asked for and received a release from the University in the summer of 1995. He decided it was better to transfer to Southern Cal where he could sit out a year and make a fresh start in his dream to enter the NBA. He left on good terms.
At Southern Cal, Rod had a good but not great senior year. He showed flashes of being the best athlete on the court at times but continued to take ill-advised jump shots and had problems finishing. Despite this, Rod was chosen in the first round by the Houston Rockets in the 1997 NBA draft, a pick that was a shock to the analysts. The Rockets consulted Pitino (who himself was making the change from college to the NBA as he had just accepted the head coaching job with the Boston Celtics) before making the pick.
"I think they were expecting me to say bad things, but I told them the truth: He's 6-7; he can defend; he's active; he can play multiple positions. They were thinking of taking him in the second round. After our conversation, they decided not to take a chance and took him in the first." - by Peter May, Boston Globe, "Hill Backs Pistons on Collins Move," February 8, 1998.
In fact, Pitino acknowledged that he was prepared to take Rhodes with his own second round pick.
With Rhodes in the NBA, he seemed content.
In the fall of 1999, Rhodes was cut from the Philadelphia 76ers after being injured for most of the preseason. To rehabilitate and work himself back into shape, Rhodes chose Lexington to return to.
"I'm just trying to stay in shape and wait for another chance," said Rhodes, who is working out daily at Memorial Coliseum. "I'm just trying to stay in shape and waiting until some guys start getting injured or until teams are ready to make some changes." Rhodes said Lexington is the perfect spot for him to keep his skills sharp. "The facilities are great. I can lift weights, shoot and even get treatment (for an injury) if I need it," Rhodes said. "The living is reasonable and I can't get into too much [trouble] here." - by Larry Vaught, Danville Advocate-Messenger, "Back in Lexington, Rhodes Working to Get Back in NBA," November 28, 1999.
As for his feelings about the program,
Rhodes, though, has no ill feelings toward Kentucky. During the NBA lockout last year, he came back for Midnight Madness. He attended teammate Scott Padgett's wedding. "I like it here," Rhodes said. "When it is all said and done, I'll probably get a home here. I love Lexington. What happened here wasn't personal. It just was best for both sides for me to move on. But I have a lot of friends here and a lot of great memories." - by Larry Vaught, Danville Advocate-Messenger, "Back in Lexington, Rhodes Working to Get Back in NBA," November 28, 1999.
Return to Kentucky Wildcat Basketball Page.Jon Scott