By LARRY VAUGHT
Julius Randle didn’t play in USA Basketball international competitions this summer — several of his Kentucky teammates also declined — so he could be at Kentucky for summer school and to start his pursuit of winning a national championship.
“I want to win a national championship. I am more convinced now that we can win just because from the pickup games I see how well we play together and how unselfish we all are. I know we have the talent to do it. It is just up to all of us. It has been an eye-opener here with so many great players,” Randle said.
He doesn’t mind Calipari labeling him as a leader and player, like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who can “drag” other players with him to a championship level.
“It is cool. But it is also a lot of pressure. Actually, I wouldn’t say pressure because I don’t believe in that. But it is a lot of responsibility. I know I am going to have to work hard and I expect that out of myself,” Randle said.
Calipari has called Randle a leader, pit bull and “alpha beast.”
“In his workouts, he’s like … and you know there are times where he wants to settle on the perimeter, be like a guard, but we were doing drills where he had to attack,” Calipari said. “He’s got to get to his right hand more cause you know how everybody’s going to play him: make him go right. They may even play him, and he can. But he’s more comfortable getting to his left,” Calipari said.
“But when he missed it, he was … his head was right back on the rim until it went in. Like, oh my gosh. Then I tell the guys what happened two years ago was Michael dragged us to that level as a team, and that’s what I’m asking Julius to do. ‘Forget about everything else. Just do that right there and drag us. We’ll help you with all the other stuff. You don’t lose that.’”
Randle’s high school coach, Chris 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 was. I knew the hype and hoopla would not change him. He has great character, a great mom. He’s very well grounded,” Mayberry said.
That personality came through soon after Randle got to Lexington in June and he often posed for pictures and signed autographs for fans, things he does not mind doing.
“I just realize how fortunate I am to be in the position that I am in. My mom always tells me to enjoy the dream, enjoy the journey. I am just going to enjoy every step,” he said. “I heard it gets pretty nutty around here, but it is something we will all enjoy. We all just have to realize that they (fans) love us because we can do a lot of great things, but that is a great responsibility and we have to keep getting a lot better.”