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Julius Randle

By LARRY VAUGHT

Julius Randle said in the preseason he wanted to work on his perimeter game and coach John Calipari vowed he would have him do that because it wasn’t just about winning for the team. However, as the season progressed, Randle was used almost exclusively in the low post — a move he said he understood and accepted.

“Coach Cal used me different ways but posting up was one of my strengths. Everybody had to sacrifice. Once we bought in and believed in our roles, that is why we made the postseason run,” Randle said Tuesday after announcing he was leaving UK for the NBA.

He said UK played the way it should have in the postseason when the “less is more” motto Calipari preached sunk in team-wide.

“I didn’t have to worry about doing anything crazy or scoring a lot of points. We had so much talent. That’s the way it should have been. The reason I came here was because I trusted his advice,” Randle said of Calipari’s tweaks late in the season.

He has yet to pick an agent and said “we will continue to pray about it” before deciding which agent is right.

“I am blessed to be in position to have a chance to get drafted,” Randle said. “I am pretty sure when I start the combine and workouts for individual teams, I will have better idea where I will go but I was confident enough now to enter the draft.”

By LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON — Teammate James Young has opted to leave UK just as Julius Randle announced he would on Tuesday. Two other teammates, Willie Cauley-Stein and Marcus Lee, have announced they will return. Randle said he had no idea what twin guards Andrew and Aaron Harrison would do about returning for their sophomore seasons or going into the draft.

“I can’t really speak for them. I have not given them any advice or anything,” Randle said Tuesday. “We are just talking about normal teenage things. I am pretty sure they will make the best decision for them. But whether they will go or declare, I can’t speak on that.”

However, he did says he expects UK to have an “amazing team” next year.

“We have so much talent,” Randle said. “Willie coming back, Marcus was huge in the (NCAA) tournament. So much talent coming in next year. They will definitely make another run. Coach Cal will do a great job of developing players.”

Calipari eventually did that last season even though UK finished 29-11, not exactly what was expected when the Cats started the year ranked No. 1 and openly talked of going 40-0. Regular-season losses created mounting criticism for the players and coach before UK caught fire in postseason play.

Randle said he dealt with the criticism because he never “fed to, read anything or believed anything” about the preseason hype. Instead, he stayed in his “own little circle” and stayed focused on improving.

“It was an experience I will never forget. All the adversity we went through all year and to finally have the opportunity to play for a national championship and see how we came together during the postseason run I will never forget. I will grow old one da yand tell my children or grandchildren what I did when I was 19 years old. It will always be a memory for me,” Randle said.

Randle said “some was fair, some was not fair” about the criticism during the year.

“But at the end of the day it never shook us up. We stayed together and showed how tough minded we are,” Randle said. “Lot of day I would go into practice or a game not feeling well, but I would look at those guys and know what they been through and that just gives you motivation.”

He said the daily challenges made him a better player and person.

“Each day you have to take things one day at a time. You are definitely going to face adversity in life whether it is basketball or not. Facing all that doubt and criticism taught me how to deal with things and I can apply it to life as well,” he said.

 

By LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON — Since he was 3 or 4 years old and started playing basketball, Julius Randle had dreamed of playing in the NBA.

Now he’s going to have that chance after announcing Tuesday he would leave Kentucky after one season to make himself eligible for the June NBA draft where he is projected as a top five pick.

Randle said he felt “blessed and excited” with his decision after he posted 24 double-doubles to lead the nation last season and led UK in scoring (15.0 points) and rebounds (10.4) per game. However, he admitted he did consider returning to UK for another season.

“This season, this year, the more I think about it, it just went by fast,” said Randle. “I am definitely going to miss it and Kentucky will have a special place in my heart. Growing up as a kid, my dream was always to play in the NBA and there’s no better chance to achieve that goal.

“I came here to win a national championship. I came here to grow and mature on and off the court. I did that. We came up one game short of winning a national championship, but everything I went through this year I will never forget. That alone kept me at peace to leave.”

He said his decision was “about me personally” and that every player’s goal was to win a national championship that UK just missed when it lost to Connecticut in the national title game earlier this month.

“We came up one game short, but this decision was about what was best for me to grow on and off the court,” Randle said. “My one year here was fantastic.”

He said coach John Calipari came into his home to recruit him and told him playing at UK would be the “hardest thing you have ever done” and he didn’t fully understand that.

“Once you are in the fire, that’s really true,” Randle said. “I learned to deal with things that I can apply to life as well.”

He knows the next level will be a challenge and he’ll have to show more than the powerful low post game he did at UK that overpowered opponents when he was not double or triple teamed.

He said he got a lot of “positive feedback” from NBA evaluations.

“Enough positive feedback for me to decide I wanted to enter the NBA draft,” Randle said.

As he always has when he feels a player will be a high draft choice, Calipari told Randle he was ready to leave after the coach consulted with his NBA contacts.

“He gave me all the information. What NBA teams are saying and what feedback he’s gotten. He told me he felt like I was ready. He was my biggest supporter. He was a big supporter for me through the whole process. He put me in position to be able to declare and I am happy for that opportunity,” Randle said.

“This wasn’t about … it was about each player personally and what was best for his future. Any decision any player made we were going to have their back 100 percent. We became brothers during the year. Time to leave or stay, we have their back because know they are doing the best thing for them.”

 

By LARRY VAUGHT

Julius Randle surprised no one today when he announced he was leaving Kentucky to put his name into the NBA draft where he’s expected to be among the top five picks in the June draft. Teammate James Young made the same decision last week.

“I have been blessed and fortunate to be in position to have decisions and big decision whether to declare for the draft or not. Talking with my family and a lot of prayer, I have decided to declare for the draft,” Randle said.

Randle averaged 15 points and 10.4 rebounds — both team highs — for Kentucky and had 24 double-doubles, tops in the nation. He was remarkably consistent in NCAA play — 10 points, six rebounds, four assists versus Connecticut; 16 points, five rebounds against Wisconsin; 16 points, 11 rebounds against Michigan; 15 points, 12 rebounds against Louisville; 13 points, 10 rebounds, six assists against Wichita State; and 19 points and 15 rebounds against Kansas State.

He was named the SEC Freshman of the Year as well as an overall first-team all-SEC pick. He also made several all-American teams.

Here is how NBAdraft.net evaluates Randle’s strengths and weaknesses.

Strengths: Very strong upper body and a reliable left hand … He shows a strong motor, and finishes well around the rim with contact … He is very skilled with his face up game and has shown some creative finishing ability … Though he lacks elite explosiveness, he is able to use his strong frame to protect the ball and avoid blocks … On the offensive boards he is an absolute beast, relentless in seeking out rebounds … The same thing is true on the defensive end where he has natural instincts for rebounds … He uses his strong body to not allow taller opponents to get close to the rim … He doesn’t have the quickest feet in the world, but definitely really good for a big, very balanced … Randle is a mix of power, skills and balance that makes him a very interesting prospect … Despite being just a freshman he could have an immediate impact in the NBA due to his strength and offensive skills.

Weaknesses: Despite all the good things mentioned about his game there are a lot of concerns about Randle … It’s been noted that Randle is undersized for the PF position, lacking ideal length with a sub 7 foot wingspan … He may struggle to create looks against stronger, more athletic and taller opponents in the post … Offensively his numbers on synergy indicate how difficult it has been for him to score on post moves with very low percentages on each low post block and over either shoulder … It also doesn’t help matters that he is not able to utilize his right hand … Very few, even highly talented, players are able to play at high level without being able to finish and make moves with both hands, as the book becomes well known and everyone overplays their strength. … His shooting isn’t consistent and despite good mechanics, his percentages are low and 3-poin range is non-existent … He will have to develop a consistent solid jumpshot to replicate the success of Zach Randolph and Michael Beasley when facing the basket … Overall his game right now is based almost entirely on overpowering weaker opponents … He is very skilled but it will be hard to find the same success overpowering post players in the league. Also it is worth considering that most of Randle’s game is below the rim … His future will likely hinge more heavily than most prospects on landing in the right system, where a team has a vision of how to utilize him and makes sure he stays focused and works hard on the right skill development.

 

Julius Randle will hold a press conference at 1:30 April 22. This livestream is courtesy Kentucky Wildcats TV.

Vaught’s note: Steve Vance is a long time UK basketball fan who occasionally provides commentary on UK basketball. Today he shares his thoughts on the one-and-done — and assumes that Julius Randle will declare for the NBA in a few hours at his press conference — and even has a humorous reference to Hayden “Sidd” Finch. Enjoy.

By STEVE VANCE

Coach John Calipari has said it numerous times since becoming head men’s basketball coach at the University of Kentucky, “It’s not my rule. It’s the NBA’s rule. If it was up to me, I’d have a player stay two years.” Of course, Coach Cal is talking about the National Basketball Association’s initial player eligibility rule, more commonly known to NCAA college basketball fans and sports reporters alike as the “one and done” rule. That being said, no college basketball coach has more successfully utilized the NBA’s eligibility rule to recruit and develop a top performing college basketball team than John Calipari himself has done at the University of Kentucky. Three Final Fours, a National Title, and a runner-up during his brief five year leadership of the Wildcats, all speak to the talent level Calipari has been able to bring to Lexington by embracing the minimum of one year of college eligibility required by the NBA.

In his tenure at UK, a total of 12 John Calipari recruited athletes have shined as UK freshmen and, by virtue of the one year eligibility rule, then taken their tremendous basketball talents directly to the NBA the following year. DeMarcus Cousins, John Wall, Eric Bledsoe, Daniel Orton, Brandon Knight, Marcus Teague, Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Archie Goodwin, Nerlens Noel, and most recently, James Young and Julius Randle have all succeeded at UK then proceeded to the professional ranks after one season at the University of Kentucky. Imagining an NBA rule change that would require a player of comparable talents to remain at UK for a second year of play makes the Big Blue Nation almost giddy with excitement and inspires dreams of NCAA Championships to come.

And yet, for all the talk about the NBA taking action to change its player eligibility ruling to either require two years of college or be at least 21 years of age (effectively eliminating the so called “one and done” rule), The reality is that the NCAA has always had the power to negate the NBA eligibility ruling, revolutionize college basketball, and bring more parity to the college landscape as a whole; they’ve just been too contrary to do it.

It all has to do with how the NCAA defines eligibility as it relates to the NBA draft.

The NCAA Division 1 Manual, the guide for intercollegiate athletics states in Section 12.1.12 “An individual loses amateur status and thus shall not be eligible for intercollegiate competition in a particular sport if the individual: (f ) After initial full-time collegiate enrollment, enters into a professional draft .” Very simply put, if a player declares for the NBA draft – they’re done – kaput – finished – no more college eligibility. Their college playing days are over – regardless of the drafts outcome, regardless if it proved a wise decision or not. In the NCAA’s mind, this restrictive rule serves to create a climate of fear that somehow will compel a college athlete to remain in school for a longer period of time, rather than risk a premature jump to the NBA.

The question is “why”?

Why is it necessary for a player to lose his remaining college eligibility to play additional years simply by allowing his name to be placed into the NBA draft? Why not allow every college player to place his name into the NBA draft as often as he wants to, and then simply decide after the draft whether he wants to remain in college or take the money and jump to the professional ranks? If the NBA draft is simply viewed as a potential job offer, why not allow a college player to participate in the draft, determine the quality of the job offer, and then either accept it or reject it and then return to college?

The reason “why not” has a lot to do with the control of power and wealth. The NCAA leadership views itself as the righteous defender of amateur athleticism while wielding an iron-fisted monopoly of self-serving rules that would make any tyrant proud. If Coach Cal advocates a “players first” approach, the NCAA advocates a “players last” approach in its rule making. Yet, a simple change to eligibility as it relates to the draft could change it all – for the better of the players, the Universities, the fans, and the NCAA.

Think about the case of fictional NCAA player Hayden Finch. The lanky 7’2” center, starts for the Northwest Southeastern State University Tadpoles and has set a new NCAA Division 1 shot blocking record. However, he struggles offensively, and weighs only 175 pounds. Under the proposed NCAA rule change, Finch could place his name into the NBA draft and wait and see the draft results before deciding to forego his college eligibility and become a professional. On draft night, Finch might go as a lottery pick, for which he thanks his missionary parents, a Tibetan monk, and his college coach, while becoming a guaranteed contract multi-millionaire. On the other hand, Finch is picked late in the second round by the Sioux City Scooters, who follow-up with a non-guaranteed contract of $120,000, and a big qualifier of “IF Finch makes the team”. In this latter scenario, Hayden could simply say “no thanks” to the NBA offer and return to school to work on his game and help the Tadpoles continue their journey towards an NCAA title run. Finch is happy, the University is happy, the fans are happy, and even the NCAA might crack a smile with the prospect of a talented player returning to college without their threat of lost eligibility as coercion.

To be certain, there would need to be a few companion NCAA rule changes to make the new draft eligibility rule work effectively. First, following the draft, a player would need to make his intentions known to return for additional college eligibility within a 30 day or so period of the draft’s conclusion – roughly by August 1st of each year. Second, NCAA National Letters of Intent would have a non-binding status until that same exact post draft decision date; giving recruited players the option to look at other schools should they suddenly find their position crowded by a returning draftee. Incidentally, it’s this second point that would create more parity in the college game. Let’s revisit our fictional player to see how.

With Hayden Finch returning for another year of college play, the NWSE State Tadpoles suddenly find that they have one too few scholarships. Their planned replacement recruit for Sid, foreign youth athletic club player, Tahl Projecht, cannot sign a binding intent letter with NWSE State because the school does not have an available scholarship due to Finch’s decision to return to school based on his low draft position and poor man’s employment offer. As a result, Tahl Projecht signs with another NCAA school, in effect spreading the incoming talent wealth around the college game and creating more parity as more kids sticking around at a top school, means more available players for other schools. It slows the play and leave process down, resulting in more talented players remaining in college over all.

For top high school players, having to wait to finalize a commitment to a school until after the NBA draft would create some tension but probably no more so than when a current player who is expected to go to the draft now, such as Willie Cauley-Stein, elects to stay in school. Thus, top High School prospects might choose to simply make verbal commitments pending the draft results and which college players are choosing to return to school. While it could result in a few last minute scrambles, all of the top players have been recruited by multiple schools and know their options well. It really shouldn’t be an issue, and the option of being able to explore the draft at any time is a great benefit to an incoming player. Plus, it would spread the wealth of talent over more college programs, rather than the handful of elites, something all the NCAA member schools would like to see happen.

The NBA would also likely respond to this action by the NCAA. While the top college talents, regardless of class, would expect to retain a high first round draft position, an NBA team would not want to risk a low first round draft pick on a player who might opt to return to college. They would likely pass over the marginal prospect or not yet fully NBA ready talent for the more certain signing of a proven upperclassman. This also lowers the financial risk of the NBA teams, reducing their investment in marginal players who never develop NBA skills. It would also likely improve the quality of the NBA game as more immediately ready skilled players join the league.

Even if the NBA does revise their eligibility rules to require two years of college eligibility, the NCAA would still benefit by eliminating the “draft ineligibility rule” and giving the players the freedom to return to school after the draft. Quite frankly, with all the negative publicity the NCAA has received over the perceived financial inequities between the players and the institution, a player-first initiative like this proposed rule change would go a long way in helping their case in the court of public opinion.

For the University of Kentucky, this proposed rule change would likely slow down the progression of new players coming in, as more current players return for another year of improvement in the hope of improving their NBA stock, however, this would allow the current Wildcat team to develop more effectively with some talented upper classmen to support the uber-talented freshmen – much like Darius Miller, Terrence Jones, and Doron Lamb did with the 2012 Championship team. That’s a thought every UK fan salivates about, even while they agonize over the thought that Coach Cal might not have enough scholarships to sign every top high school recruit should this proposed change be adopted by the NCAA.

If the NCAA would eliminate the archaic penalty of ineligibility as a result of entering the draft, far more good college players, but not yet NBA ready players, would remain in college to hone their skills, get their degree, and to the NCAA’s benefit – raise the overall quality of college play as less underclassmen would be likely to feel pressured by an “all or nothing” NBA draft decision as they currently face. In all, it’s time for the NCAA to stop treating players with fear and intimidation and partner with these young athletes to help them succeed and then proceed with a career well suited to their skills; treating them with the equality that every other scholarship student is treated.

By LARRY VAUGHT

Don’t expect a decision quickly from guards Andrew and Aaron Harrison about the NBA draft. The Kentucky freshmen have until Sunday to declare for the draft or stay at UK and based on what their father told Houston’s Fox 26, it looks like a decision is several days away.

Aaron Harrison Sr. said the family is “probably midway” through the evaluation process and is still waiting official word from the NBA on the guards’ evaluations. Some mock drafts have both players projected as late first-round picks, some mock drafts have both going in the second round where there are no guaranteed contracts.

“I talked to a gentleman at the NBA and he said he would get it (the paperwork on the evaluations) to me as fast as possible and then we’ll go from there,” said Aaron Harrison Sr. “It’s important. You’re trying to find out what the prospects are for them and where they’ll be drafted and all those things.”

Sporting News’ mock draft has Andrew Harrison No. 21 pick and Aaron Harrison No. 25. Ed Isaacson of NBADraftblog.com also said he would put both in the first round.

Aaron Harrison Sr. told Fox 26 that his sons are not leaning either way. The twins told the station that they are thinking about “all the angles” and that the decision was tough on them and their family.

If both Andrew and Aaron Harrison return, the Wildcats will be a legitimate national title contender again — and perhaps the No. 1 team going into next season. Kentucky would have the Harrisons, Wilie Cauley-Stein, Marcus Lee, Dominique Hawkins and Derek Willis definitely returning along with incoming freshmen Karl Towns, Trey Lyles, Tyler Ulis and Devin Booker. With Alex Poythress also likely returning and possibly Dakari Johnson as well, that’s another talented roster for coach John Calipari with depth and experience.

On top of that you add talented freshmen in pure point guard Tyler Ulis, skilled low-post scorer Karl Towns Jr., big-time jump-shooter Devin Booker and versatile power forward Trey Lyles. You’ve got a deep, talented and mature roster that actually has what it’s been missing in a locker room voice.

If the Harrisons continue to play the way they did in the postseason and can improve with a push from Ulis and Booker daily, UK could be a much better team next year than this season’s team that make the national title game.

If the Harrisons don’t return, the Hawkin-Ulis combination will be solid at point guard because Ulis has great court sense and is special at the game’s intangibles. Booker is also a knockdown shooter, much like former Cat Doron Lamb.

By LARRY VAUGHT

Did Julius Randle upgrade his NBA draft stock with his play in the NCAA Tournament? That’s the question I posed to Ed Isaacson of NBAdraftblog.com.

“I don’t think Randle did anything to hurt his draft value, and I think actually showing what he did well all along this season just reinforced people’s thoughts about him,” said Isaacson. “I see a player who could make an impact rather quickly and he still has room to improve. At worst, he is going to be a very good rebounder and efficient scorer around the basket.”

What about James Young, who did declare for the draft Thursday (Randle has yet to declare but likely will soon)?

“He’s still the same player he has been all along. He’s a very good athlete, but an inconsistent shooter and a poor defender,” Isaacson said. “But there will be teams that will be interested in him, but I don’t see any real value for him until you get into the 20′s.”

uk basketball logoBy LARRY VAUGHT

Could Kentucky  lose seven players — five freshmen starters and sophomores Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress — to the NBA draft?

As unlikely as that might seem to Kentucky fans, it doesn’t seem that unlikely to some who closely monitor the NBA draft.

Start with ESPN analyst Chad Ford who indicated on ESPN.com Wednesday that UK could lose more than the expected trio of Julius Randle, Cauley-Stein and James Young — all projected first-round picks in every mock draft I have seen.

Ford agreed that Randle and  Young are “for sure gone” and put Cauley-Stein in the same category even though the sophomore explained after the title game that there would be reasons for staying in school — as well as having several millions reasons (dollar-wise) for going to the NBA. He has Randle ranked as the fifth best player with Young 16th and Cauley-Stein 19th

“The Harrison twins have wanted to leave all year according to multiple sources around the twins, but their draft stock made them iffy first rounders. I’m not sure it’s to the point that they are clear first rounders,” Ford said on ESPN.com. “Andrew probably has the most claim, but he’s not a lock. Another year at Kentucky would help.”

Aaron Harrison Sr. told the Houston Chronicle that he had not discussed the NBA with his sons before the title game and that he expected them to discuss the subject this weekend when the twins likely will come home. Harrison Sr. said about a month ago that he was fine with his sons staying at UK if that was their decision.

NBADraft.net has Andrew Harrison going 27th in the first round with Aaron going in the second round with the 35th overall.

Draftexpress.com has Randle going fourth, Cauley-Stein 12th and Young 17th. Draftexpress.com does not have any other Wildcat going in the first or second rounds. CBSSports.com has  Randle, Cauley-Stein and Young in the same slots with Poythress 46th and Aaron Harrison 47th in the second round. CBS has Andrew Harrison as the 61st best prospect — there are 60 spots in the draft.

Most assumed that freshman Dakari Johnson would be back. While he said he had not thought about his draft status after Monday’s national title game loss, he also didn’t want to say he would be back at UK, either.

“Dakari Johnson would be a bubble first rounder as well,” Ford said.

He said he’s also heard rumblings that Poythress could declare, but says he would be on the same first-round bubble as Johnson.

“I think there’s a chance all of them are gone. There are certainly rumblings that direction. But the only three that really make sense right now are Randle, Young and Cauley-Stein,” Ford said.

 Players don’t have long to make a decision. The draft is not until June 26 but players who wanted official NBA input have already had to request that and will receive by Monday. Those not requesting information have until April 27 to enter the draft.

 

 

By LARRY VAUGHT

Kentucky freshman Julius Randle took to Twitter tonight — Kentucky does not make players available for interviews — to deny an ESPN report that he has already decided to declare for the NBA draft.

He posted: “Idk (I don’t know) who reported what but I haven’t made up my mind about the draft yet. Haven’t even talked to my family about it. So it’s all false.”

Randle averaged 15 points and 10.4 rebounds per game, both team highs. He had just 10 points and six rebounds in the national title game loss but had 24 double-doubles in 40 games, the nation’s best total. He’s projected as a likely top five pick if he does enter the draft.

 

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