By LARRY VAUGHT
He surprised many when he decided to commit to Kentucky and become part of possibly the nation’s all-time best recruiting class, but Plano (Texas) Prestonwood Christian coach Chris Mayberry knew competition would not intimidate Julius Randle.
“He could have gone anywhere and been successful,” said Mayberry of the 6-9 power forward. “I think Kentucky had the tradition and comfort level with the staff that he felt was best for him. I think it will be a great place for him to continue to prove himself.
“Based on everything I have seen from him, he thrives in really big-time situations. My first year we played in the City of Palms Classic (in Fort Myers, Fla.) and it was a new situation to him and I just watched him take over. It was impressive. Any time we played a team that had a guy scoring a lot, he would say, ‘Coach, I got him,’ and would take care of it. Whatever we needed, he did.
“That’s why I know it will not be intimidating for him to play with great players. He knows who he is and how hard work will help his team win. He wants a chance to win a national title and knows Kentucky is a place to do that.”
Randle verbally committed to UK last week and will join a recruiting class of Andrew and Aaron Harrison, James Young, Marcus Lee, Dakari Johnson and Derek Willis when he signs with the Cats next month.
Last August 2012 Randle won the Under Armour Elite 24 dunk Contest and the next day he was named one of the most valuable players of the Elite 24 game where he scored 27 points and led his team to a 164-138 victory. However, he fractured his foot in late November, missed three months and returned just in time to lead his team to a state title.
He’ll play in the McDonald’s All-American Game and Jordan Brand Classic in the weeks ahead and is ranked as the nation’s top power forward prospect and one of the nation’s top three high school recruits by most recruiting services.
“He’s all about winning. In one of our playoff games, he was double teamed in the open court and triple teamed in halfcourt,” Mayberry said. “He took four shots in the game. He didn’t force anything. He knew if he forced things he would take tough shots or turn the ball over. He decided to be a great teammate. Some guys missed easy shots, but he kept passing. He’s always willing to do what it takes to be on the right side of the scoreboard.”
Mayberry said it was not easy for Randle to tell coaches at Duke, North Carolina and Kansas that he was going to Kentucky.
“He is straight up and tried to be as good as he could with those guys,” Mayberry said. “But he is also excited it is all over. The biggest thing for him about Kentucky, based on what he told me, was the visit. He felt a comfort level with everybody associated with the program from the academic people to the strength coach to the chaplain. He felt great about all of them.”
Mayberry said Randle and those around him are being careful not to get caught up in the “speculation” about UK’s recruiting class being the best ever.
“They have got to go out and show they can be the best,” Mayberry said. “I am excited for him and know what he can do. He will take his game to a whole different level. I saw him get so much better and this year when he couldn’t play he still pushed himself to work so hard that he came back quicker than anyone thought.”
Mayberry says Randle’s personality will endear him to UK fans and keep the Kentucky spotlight from overwhelming him.
“He had great relationships with everybody at school here. Talk to anybody, including the headmaster, and they cannot stop talking about how great a kid he is. I knew the hype and hoopla did not change him. He has great character, a great mom. He’s very well grounded. As long as he stays healthy, he has a really high ceiling.”
Mayberry knows Randle will have adjustments to make at Kentucky off the court.
“He’s a very religious kid. He has kind of been in a bit of a Christian atmosphere here, but there is going to be a big difference between here and Kentucky,” Mayberry said. “I am not dumb. I know what goes on in college. I am excited, though, for him to make an impact on others and pray God will protect him and let him make the positive impact on others he meets and sees at Kentucky because he’s going to have the opportunity to influence a lot of people.”