It’s been an up and down season for Julius Randle. He was touted as a potential No. 1 pick in the 2014 NBA draft before he played his first game at Kentucky. He has led UK in scoring and rebounding all season and was SEC freshman of the year. He’s earned several other postseason honors from first-team all-SEC to freshman All-American, but he’s also been criticized at times for not being more dominant. He also had issues with leg cramps — he missed most of the second half of UK’s win over Louisville — earlier in the season that led to some questioning his conditioning.
But Randle, who shoots 50 percent from the field, insists he’s enjoyed the season and the learning curve he’s had.
“Just growing up, maturing, improving as a basketball player and as a person, too. A lot of what Coach does is not just about basketball but he teaches us a lot of life lessons and that has helped me. So it has been fun,” he said.
His family has helped when he’s been criticized, especially his mother who has attended numerous games.
“They just try to keep me strong and focused and make sure that I get better,” Randle said. “I never really pay attention to the criticism. I knew when I came here that I would be in the spotlight. You can’t really pay attention to it or let it bother you.”
Is she more of an encourager or butt-kicker?
“She plays both roles. She is there to help me but there also to give me constructive criticism just like she always has. Not really just about basketball but to make sure I am doing everything right in the classroom. That’s how she has raised me and that has not changed,” he said. “
Has the criticism ever motivated him?
“Yeah, if I hear about it, sure. That should motivate anyone,” Randle said. “But you can’t really worry about what other people have to say about me. I know what I have to do to get better as a player. My coach helps me for that.
“I have really gotten better in a lot of aspects of my game. Shooting the ball, and my post game. Especially on the defensive end I have got better. Coaches have challenged me to get better all year.”
Randle missed most of his final high school season with a knee injury before returning to help his team win a state title.
“That made me have a much greater appreciation for being able to play now when I couldn’t play last year,” he said. “I still talk to my high school coach. We don’t really talk that much about basketball. We just talk about life and how things are going in general for me, and he’s always a big help.”