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Rajon Rondo: ‘I still am’ hard to coach

06.11.13 at 10:02 am ET


Long silent since tearing his right ACL in February, Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo has begun popping up across the country as he is wont to do in the summertime. Prior to Game 2 of the NBA finals on Sunday, we saw him along with several other stars reading mean tweets from their Twitter timelines.

Rondo’s line: “Is it me or does Rajon Rondo look like that turtle named Franklin on Nick Jr.?”

Then, Rondo discussed everything from Celtics coach Doc Rivers to Connect Four and algebra with Red Bull Signature Series host Sal Masekela and Sheridan Hoops contributor Brian Kamenetzky on a series of videos promoting the energy drink (h/t NBC Sports). Before we get into Rondo’s dominance of Milton Bradley products and mathematics, let’s deal with the basketball-related discussion centered around Rondo’s coachability.

Rajon Rondo: “I always try to be on the same page as Doc, so I’m always looking at him and reading his mouth, but I pretty much know what he’s going to say. I’ve been playing for him for seven years, and we’ve always pretty much been on the same page, especially now. Each year, we’re growing and communicating better and learning each other more and more.”

Sal Masekela: “A lot of times, you see people who are potentially great players come in the league, and the main problem is coachability. How much of that is on the coach? And how much is it on the player?”

RR: “As a young player, you always think the coach is pretty hard on you, which he should be. If he’s not, that means he doesn’t care. They always say, ‘When I stop talking to you, then you should worry.’

“My first year was pretty rough, but I had great mentors in my life that I could call, and they’d be like, ‘You know what? Just hang in there. You’ve got to listen to your coach.’ So, I was able to make it through that.

“It wasn’t a big deal. We were struggling the first year. We lost 18 in a row that year, so I felt like I could help the team, and you’ve got to look at it a different way. I look at Doc differently now. You don’t look at your coach as trying to hurt you. Obviously, we all want the same thing — to win — so whatever he’s telling me or telling the team, it’s for the betterment of the team, and you have to take yourself out of it and look at it from a team aspect.”

Brian Kamenetzky: “Do you think you were hard to coach earlier in your career?”

RR: “I still am. It’s not that I’m hard to coach; it’s just that I may challenge what you say. I know the game myself. I’m out there playing, so I may have seen something different versus what you saw from the sidelines. I’m going to be respectable. I’m going to let the coach talk. Me and Doc talk all the time; it’s just different dialogue. We’ve built to that relationship, and I’ve been fortunate to play for Doc for seven years. If I have any questions, he’s pretty much got all the answers. And if he doesn’t, he’s always honest with me. I wouldn’t rather play for any other coach.”

There you have it. Rondo isn’t the easiest player to coach, and yet he and Rivers have built a working relationship. All the more reason the Celtics must be weary of Doc’s strange comments about his future in Boston.

Enough about basketball. Let’s get to Rondo’s true passion: Connect Four. In a “Bobby Fischer style” game between Rondo and his two interviewers, we’re treated to this amazing exchange with the four-time NBA All-Star.

Brian Kamenetzky: “How quickly could you take out me and Sal playing two guys at once?”
Rajon Rondo: “It depends on how long you guys take to play.”
BK: “We’ll play speed Connect Four.”
RR: “Then, less than a minute.”
BK: “How do we decide who goes first?”
RR: “Well, you guys heard I was the champ, so I think the champ goes first.”
Sal Masekela: “Is there any etiquette as far as how long you’re supposed to take between moves?”
RR: “I’d say 15 seconds.”
SM: “Fifteen seconds? That’s gentlemanly.”
RR: “If you go any faster against me, then you’ll probably lose quicker than normal, so I would say take your time.”
SM: “Is playing Connect Four anything like visualizing what you need to see on the court?”
RR: “In a way. I try to see the game two steps ahead before I make my play or make the pass. And most likely, my teammate is on the same page, so I guess in Connect Four I try to think two or three steps ahead of you.”
SM: “So, you already know what I’m going to do?”
RR: “I mean, for the most part.”
BK: “So, you’re in trouble.”
RR: “I’ve got two counters to whatever you do.”
SM: “Is it a wrap for me already?”
RR: “Not yet, but it can be. See how long you’re taking. We’ve got that rule.”
SM: “You’ve got me stressed out.”
RR: “You’ve got nowhere to go.”
BK: “He already beat me, and he was right. The faster you go, the faster you lose.”
RR: “Yeah.”
SM: “Oh, you already lost?”
RR: “Yeah, he’s done over here.”
BK: “How long have you been playing this?”
RR: “I started playing a long time ago, when I had to be home before the streetlights came on. I’d invite friends over on the porch, and we’d play Connect Four until it’s time to go in. I’m pretty competitive, so I got pretty good.”
SM: “In the unlikely position that I would win this game …”
RR: “The game is over already. You have already lost.”

Genius. Speaking of which, remember when Rondo taught algebra to a high school math class last year? Well, so did the folks at Red Bull, and naturally they asked him about it. From Bobby Fischer to Will Hunting. No biggie.

“One day, I was in Boston, and I just wanted to drive by a middle school and a high school in the same day — just to pop up on some kids and mess with them — and I actually went to a math class,” said Rondo. “They were teaching algebra, the teacher wrote a problem on the board and I finished it before everybody. I did it actually in my head. In high school, they want you to write the entire problem out on paper. It took too long for me to do that, so I just broke the numbers down in my head, and I explained it to her on the board. And she loved it.”

Obviously. So, how exactly does this translate to the court? Simple. It’s all about being obtuse, in a good way.

“I think it helps me the way I see the court,” he added. “I’m able to beat guys to certain angles — as far as when I’m trying to get to the ball, as far as defensively or cutting guys off. It’s a game of angles as well, and you try to make the best of it, especially using my speed and quickness to get to those angles.”

Which is why Rondo is the best rebounding point guard in the NBA despite his 6-foot-1 frame.

“I try to get to that position before the bigs or any other guards. A lot of guys have it. Guys like Tim Duncan. He’s not a great athletic guy, but he always finds a way to get 15, 16 rebounds. It’s not about the guy who can jump the most. It’s about having a knack for the ball. Jared Sullinger is a prime example as well. He’s not an athletic guy, but he knows how to use his body. He puts his mind and body in the way, and he gets rebounds.”

Just another reminder of why losing the NBA’s most unique player for half a season was the worst.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Doc Rivers, NBA, Rajon Rondo
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