|Bradley, Crawford all that remains of UK's ballyhooed 2004 recruiting class|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 06 March 2008 10:17|
But four years later, the Wildcats still haven't been to a Final Four since 1998, Smith is gone to Minnesota, and just two members of that star-studded class remain to play their Rupp Arena finale Sunday against Florida.
``Everybody has left us,'' guard Ramel Bradley said.
Rajon Rondo was first to go after his sophomore year. He was taken in the first round of the NBA draft and now is the starting point guard for the first-place Boston Celtics.
Center Randolph Morris had flirted with going that early too, but he returned to Kentucky for a third year. After last season ended, he signed a free-agent contract with the New York Knicks.
With Rondo and Morris gone, the only classmates remaining are Bradley and fellow guard Joe Crawford, who capped his Kentucky career Wednesday with a career-high 35 points in a victory over South Carolina.
That win and another one over the Gators could be sending the Wildcats (17-11, 11-4) back to the NCAA tournament, a prospect that seemed dim earlier this season after a 7-9 start under new coach Billy Gillispie.
But, even should Kentucky sneak into the tournament, the expectations were so much higher for this class. Bradley acknowledges that every now and then, he wonders whether the team could have won a national championship had it stayed intact.
``I've thought about it a little bit, but I really try not to because that's not the case,'' he said. ``I just have to focus on the team we have now, see how far we can play.''
For most of this season, Bradley and Crawford were key supporting players to Kentucky's latest freshman phenom, Patrick Patterson. But last week, Patterson was diagnosed with a stress fracture in his ankle and will be out for the rest of the season.
Nobody gave Kentucky much of a chance to beat then-No. 1 Tennessee, but Bradley carried the Wildcats in a three-point loss on Sunday. Then, Crawford was the one to step up against the Gamecocks.
``They compete on every single possession,'' coach Billy Gillispie said. ``It's great when you have guys like that because you know what you're going to get all the time.''
Early on, it seemed that Crawford would be the first to leave Kentucky. In fact, he did leave briefly as a freshman, upset with his lack of playing time.
Not only did Crawford stay all four years, but when freshman Alex Legion was considering leaving earlier this season, Crawford gave him a pep talk. Legion ultimately decided to leave anyway.
``I think I have more patience now,'' Crawford said. ``When I came here as a freshman, I was extremely impatient. I just wanted to accomplish everything, and I forgot all the steps you have to take before you accomplish those goals.''
``I've grown to love coach a whole lot,'' Bradley said. ``He took me from a place where I was looked on as kind of an average player and couldn't get over that hump and elevate his team from a top contender. We made the transition from not being so good to really being a good team this year.''
The two are roommates. They both come from big cities - Bradley from New York, Crawford from Detroit. But that's largely where the similarities end.
Bradley is the vocal leader, whose career ambitions include starting a clothing line, running for mayor of New York and forming a rap band. Crawford is more of an introvert, but the two have helped push each other for four years.
``We stayed through the toughest times,'' Crawford said. ``That made us have to be closer. We had to depend on each other when nobody else believed in us.''
Coming from New York, Bradley says he didn't know what to think of Kentucky. His knowledge base was largely what he'd seen on TV, such as the Dukes of Hazzard. However, the appreciation in Lexington for college basketball can't be overstated, he said.
``There's so many celebrities that walk the streets of New York, nobody knows who you are,'' Bradley said. ``Here, everybody knows who you are.''
As is customary for a player's final home game at Kentucky, the seniors will stand with their families at center court while the Rupp Arena crowd sings ``My Old Kentucky Home.'' Bradley jokes he wishes that would be substituted with a Frank Sinatra tune but insists he won't be the one to break into tears.
``Joe will probably cry,'' Bradley said.
Not so, Crawford insists.
``I think Ramel's going to cry for the cameras,'' he said.