By HAL MORRIS
At 6-9, 250 pounds, the conventional wisdom is that Julius Randle can take his man dow low and dominate him. But that is not where the Kentucky freshman’s basketball future lies, so Randle has been trying to move away from the middle and get more of an outside game developed going into tonight’s Blue-White Game.
“It’s a hard adjustment. You can go back to your old ways and it will work, but that’s not going to help you in the long run,” said Randle, who was named the preseason Southeastern Conference Preseason Player of the Year by the media. “Just got to keep doing it and I’ve kept doing it and I’ve started to get better at it.”
Randle has been focusing on every part of his game.
“Shooting the ball, shooting the ball off the dribble. Shooting floaters with the left and right hand,” he said. “I’ve just got to keep working on that stuff and being patient enough to know that it’s going to work out.”
The challenge of learning to play away from the basket and being pushed by coach John Calipari in that direction is one thing that drew Randle to Kentucky.
“Just the freedom that Cal offers us is one of the big things that attracted me here,” Randle said. “I knew I trusted him when I came here. He’s not going to tell you everything you want to hear, but at the end of the day you know it’s the best thing for you. And I came here because I trusted him, so I’m going to listen to what he says.
“It can be difficult because you want to do things your own way. But from what I’ve learned so far in practice, you keep working on it, you keep working on it and do things how he teaches you to do it, it starts to work out and you start getting good at it.”
Calipari likened Randle’s transformation to that of former player Patrick Patterson.
“I don’t want to play him under the basket. That’s not preparing him for what’s ahead for him. I could play him at seven feet and try to win college games, tell him, I’m really helping you, or I can make him play out on the floor like we did Patrick Patterson,” Calipari said. “Do you remember Patrick went from standing under the basket to playing at the top of the key offensively? So it’s going to take him time.”
Randle said he appreciates the work that goes into getting out of his comfort zone and growing his game.
“That’s what it’s all about, the process, the grind of things. Definitely you’re going to see it at the end because you can already see the results form where you are just working,” Randle said. “The process of him on you every day, working out, class and all that stuff, and you can see getting better at all that stuff.”
Work is something Randle has no problem with. While last year’s team was questioned for not putting enough time in on their own, Calipari has no such issues with Randle.
“I’ll give you an example. I come in last night. I’m in my office about 11:00. 10:30. He’s in there shooting,” Calipari said. “This morning, I hear blup, blup, blup, and I look out my window in the morning, and he’s got a full sweat going, and he’s going to practice today.”
Randle said working out on his own is something he’s always done.
“I come from a hard-working family. My mom, being a single parent, always raising me, and I’ve seen how hard she works,” he said. “So it’s something I’ve always done. But having a gym 20 feet away from the (Wildcat) Lodge doesn’t hurt at all.”
Calipari said Randle may have lost some of his “swagger” early on, but that should just be temporary.
“But listen, he’s — we’re changing how he plays. So he’s not as confident. He doesn’t have the swagger that he had right now because we’re changing — you can’t do it from seven feet,” Calipari said. “Now get out there and do it from the perimeter.
“You still have to offensive rebound, which he is not. He’s not defensive rebounding the way he needs to. He is driving the ball better and recognizing better, trying to figure out when do I shoot jumpers, when do I drive?”
Randle said he has never lost confidence in his game, but admits if his game is struggling it could affect his confidence.
“I’m always going to be confident. It’s just how confident I’m going to be is how I’m developing, how I’m getting better. I’m definitely getting better every day. And I’ll get my swagger back,” he said.
Randle, who averaged 32.5 points and 22.5 rebounds per game last season at Prestonwood Christian in Texas, is one of six freshman McDonald’s All-Americans at UK. The Wildcats are in the top three of most preseason polls, but Randle was not going to get caught up in prognosticating abut how good the Wildcats can be this season.
“I can’t speak from experience because I haven’t played a college game. I just know what we have here. It seems like we have a really good team, and Nov. 8 we’ll be able to go over there and see what we’re made of,” he said. “We’re going to be everybody’s big game, we’ll just have to see when we go out there.”