Rondo and Russell Share One Connection in Coach Bibby

Sacramento Kings guard Rajon Rondo (9) goes to the basket against Los Angeles Lakers guard D’Angelo Russell (1) on Friday, Oct. 30, 2015 at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento. (Photos by Randy Whetstone Jr. and Hector Amezcua)

Although Rajon Rondo and D’Angelo Russell are opposed to one another when their teams play each other in the NBA, they still share a common connection – Doug Bibby. As many know, Coach Bibby of Central High School coached both Rondo and Russell when they were in high school. What some may not know is the relationship he had with both players and his perspective on their trajectory to where they are today.

So I had a one-on-one with Bibby to see what it was like to coach two teenagers who would one day go on to the most coveted basketball league in the world.

Rondo, who is an NBA Champion and four-time NBA All-Star recently finished a one year stint with the Chicago Bulls. Russell on the other hand has found a new home with the Brooklyn Nets after playing for the Los Angeles Lakers his first couple of years in the league. When Bibby sits back and watches them throughout the regular season, he recollects what it took for them to get there and how much of their game reflects what he taught them.

“They both have an incredible basketball IQ and can see the floor well,” says Bibby who coached Rondo at Eastern and Russell at Central. “They pass very similarly. They see the floor and that is the top attribute of a point guard; finding the best shot on the court whether that be for him or for other teammates. They make a pass that leads to a score, or they make a pass that leads to another pass that leads to a score. They have an ability to see two or three passes ahead in a play.”

But what’s different is the role he played in both players’ lives in high school. When Rajon Rondo went to open gym as an eighth grader, it didn’t take long before Bibby knew he had a special talent and that soon the two would build a personal bond. So while the young eighth grader embarrassed the varsity guys, Rondo’s mother, Amber, gave Bibby her consent to “coach and discipline him” as he saw fit.

Couch Doug Bibby.

With ups and downs, Bibby says, “After a couple years, he understood what I was trying to do. He kept blossoming and blossoming in maturity, and he became the best player in the state by his junior year.”

Bibby would send Rajon to play at Oak Hill Academy after coaching him for three years at Eastern, playing a key role in his life as he navigated his way through his senior year of high school, Kentucky and finally the NBA.

Rondo’s mother was the number one person in his life, and if he didn’t see her trusting his coach, Bibby says, “I don’t think he would have trusted me.”

The relationship was a bit different between Bibby and Russell. He called it a “coach-player relationship,” suggesting that it was less personal, but nonetheless was a “great relationship.” It was Russell’s dad who was more instrumental in his decisions as to where he would play high school and college ball. He played under Bibby at Central for close to two years before transferring to Montverde and then going on to play at Ohio State, and finally being drafted by the L.A. Lakers.

What I found to be most intriguing are the obstacles a high school coach may face when coaching elite high school talent that has professional potential.

“A lot of times Rajon and D’Angelo didn’t have to do all of the fundamental things on the court,” says Bibby. “They were so gifted and talented. The biggest obstacle was since they were so good, their heads were above the rest in practices and also in games.

“The things I tried to instill in them were how to take care of your body, how to break down film, and how to be fundamentally sound because at the next level there would be talent all across the board,” he explains. “So what you try to instill in those players is the discipline in the fundamentals of the game, and that is the toughest thing to do for a great athlete and a great player. With Rajon being the triple-double machine that he is, filling up the stat sheets with rebounds and assists – hopefully he got that from me. With D’Angelo being the great point guard that he is, playing the game the right way, hopefully they got those attributes from me. I tell my players, combine your game with my game, and let’s make a great game.”

While it’s true Rondo and Russell go head-to-head when their teams play each other, I’m sure Louisville natives wouldn’t mind seeing a one-on-one game at Shawnee Park in both players’ own hometown. If it happens, at this point, Bibby would give the edge to Rondo.

“They both are great players and gifted and incredibly smart,” he says. “Right now, you have to give the edge to Rajon. He has been in the league longer, he has an NBA Championship and is an NBA All-Star. But I think D’Angelo is going to be a future All-Star, get an NBA Championship and follow in Rajon’s footsteps.” VT