Pro-Bound Mercer’s Numbers Not Winners


This was not the way it was supposed to end.

Not for one of Kentucky’s most adored blue-and-white clad heroes, not for someone so determined. But all stories don’t have happy endings, which Ron Mercer certainly knows.

The lights went out on Mercer’s Kentucky career Monday night, just short of his final goal. With the NBA-bound sophomore struggling, Arizona defeated defending national champion Kentucky in overtime, 84-79, in the NCAA final at the RCA Dome.

Mercer didn’t figure on this type of sendoff--losing in the championship game with a subpar performance of 13 points--five below his average--and five turnovers.


“I wanted to win one more [national championship] for our school and all of our fans,” said Mercer. “I wanted to win one more for all of my teammates, so we would be remembered for doing something a lot of people never even get a chance to do. I wish we could have done that. We didn’t do it, but we got close.”

You can’t get any closer. Led by Mercer, Kentucky overwhelmed opponents, overcame injuries and even overachieved to reach the final.

At the center of everything good for Kentucky was Mercer, who never allowed his teammates to use the team’s numerous injuries as excuses to fail, never allowed himself to let up--despite a sore lower back--and never let Coach Rick Pitino down.

“I’m going to miss him a great deal,” said Pitino of his sophomore forward, who declared himself eligible for the NBA draft Feb. 26. “But I was very, very lucky to have Ron Mercer for two years. He’s an incredible player and an even better person.”

Even on Monday, as Mercer fought through his troubles, he was still Kentucky’s rock at a key moment. Mercer’s three-point basket with 51 seconds left in regulation cut an Arizona lead to 72-71. Before that shot, Mercer went nearly 10 minutes without a basket.

Arizona did a stellar job containing Mercer, who took only nine shots and made five. Arizona’s Michael Dickerson and Jason Terry were draped on Mercer throughout the game.


“Every time I came around a screen, they were waiting for me,” said Mercer, a member of the Final Four all-tournament team. “Everywhere I went, they were waiting for me. I guess you could say they made it very difficult for me to score.”

That wasn’t the case in last year’s championship game when Mercer--then a valuable sixth man on a team that had three first-round NBA draft picks--scored 20 points to lead Kentucky to a 76-67 victory over Syracuse. His teammates knew what was coming next.

“We knew Ron wouldn’t be here long,” swingman Allen Edwards said. “You could see from the beginning how good Ron is.

“I know this is what’s probably best for Ron, and I’m happy for him, but I guess it’s kind of sad because it’s also the end of an era.”

So Mercer speeds off to his future as an probable NBA lottery selection with Kentucky in his rearview mirror.

“It’s been a great ride,” Mercer said. “I have a lot to feel good about, and I’m always going to feel good about Kentucky.”