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Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Julius Randle ready to be Kentucky’s
‘alpha beast,’ challenge for Player of the Year

In a freshman class full of potential stars, UK forward Julius Randle may stand alone.

 

Randle, who was ranked as the No. 2 recruit in the class of 2013 by Rivals.com, 247Sports and Scout.com, earned the moniker “alpha beast” from his new head coach this summer.

 

As several former Wildcats and current NBA stars played pick-up games with the new Cats, they repeatedly heaped praise on Randle and his abilities.

 

What has the Texas native done to impress?

 

“I’m just playing the game of basketball how I know how to play, doing the things that they’ve told me to do and running with it,” he said in a one-on-one interview with KyForward in September. “I don’t really know what else to say. There’s a lot of stuff I’ve got to improve on, so that’s all I can really think of. But I appreciate the comments.”

 

Julius Randle. (Photo by Jon Hale)

Julius Randle. (Photo by Jon Hale)

Randle missed most of his senior season of high school with a foot injury, but he returned in time to help Prestonwood Christian Academy to a Texas state championship.

 

In the 2013 McDonald’s All-American game, Randle scored 11 points and grabbed seven rebounds in 22 minutes. He followed that performance by being named the co-MVP of the Jordan Brand Classic, scoring 19 points on 8-of-11 shooting and grabbing seven rebounds in 20 minutes.

 

ESPN draft expert Chad Ford has already ranked Randle as the No. 2 prospect for the 2014 NBA draft before he has ever played in a college game. According to Ford, scouts view Randle as the most serious threat to consensus No. 1 prospect Andrew Wiggins being selected first in the draft.

 

Randle is not satisfied being No. 2. Asked if it’s his goal to be the best player in the country, he did not shy away from that pressure.

 

“Whenever I step on the court, I want to be the best player regardless, no matter who’s on the court or who I’m playing against,” Randle said. “So yeah, why not?”

 

UK head coach John Calipari thinks he has three players on the roster he would describe as “pit bull dogs,” that can carry the team on their backs: Randle and the freshmen Harrison twins, Aaron and Andrew.

 

Calipari goes as far as to hand Randle one of the biggest compliments in his repertoire:

 

“Has a little bit of Michael (Kidd-Gilchrist) in him, in a different way,” Calipari said. “In my mind, there are good players out there, and he’s as good as any of them.”

 

Kidd-Gilchrist was the driving force behind the 2012 national championship team’s extra workouts and gym time. He founded the much-talked-about “breakfast club” that involved players getting together for early-morning workouts in the months leading to their tournament run.

 

Calipari hopes Randle can push his teammates this season in the same way Kidd-Gilchrist did a few seasons ago.

 

“That’s a skill,” Calipari said. “Michael Kidd-Gilchrist got drafted No. 2 on that skill. Wasn’t any other skill, it was that skill.”

 

On the court, Calipari has a diverse role in mind for Randle in the offense.

 

Randle frequently played with the ball in his hands in high school and was able to serve as a distributor. Calipari thinks his dribble-drive offense will allow the big man to continue in that role.

 

Calipari thinks Randle occasionally “wants to settle on the perimeter, be like a guard,” so he is working on making him attack in drills. He also is forcing Randle to use his right hand more to prevent opponents from keying in on his left side.

 

Randle lists his shooting and defensive skills as areas he’s still working to improve, but his summer play has already impressed his teammates.

 

“You would never look at him and say he’s a freshman in college, 18 years old,” said senior guard Jarrod Polson. “He just already has an NBA body, NBA skill set. He’s really good for how big he is.”

 

“I had heard the hype about Julius, but I’m one of those guys, I have to see it to believe it,” said senior guard Jon Hood. “I’m a believer now. He can play. He’s a monster, 6-9 250, 18 years old, will cut your head off to win.”

 

Randle could have chosen to play almost anywhere in the country, including programs where he would have been the unquestioned star. Instead, he chose to attend UK, where he would share the spotlight with five other McDonald’s All-Americans who had already committed to the Cats when he made his decision.

 

Randle said the primary reason behind the decision to come to UK and face the competition on the Cats’ roster was for the chance to win a championship.

 

Reaching that goal at AT&T Stadium in Dallas, will be especially significant for the native Texan.

 

“It would be the best experience ever,” he said. “That’s just why I came here. Just thinking about it makes me happy, so I’ve got to make sure I put in the work to make sure we can get there.”

 

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In the weeks leading up to the 2013 UK men’s basketball media day, KyForward is previewing the season with a series of stories about the Cats resulting from interviews with players and head coach John Calipari from September. As they publish, you can see all of the stories in the series here.

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