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Julius Randle picks Kentucky

All-access with the nation's No. 2 basketball recruit on his decision day



Julius Randle poses with Kentucky coaches, including John Calipari (far left), during an in-home visit last year. Randle announced that he will play at Kentucky over Florida, Kansas and Texas. / Courtesy of Julius Randle

Prestonwood Christian (Plano, Texas) forward Julius Randle picked up a fitted Kentucky cap and subsequently ended his months-long recruitment today. Randle, who is the No. 2 basketball recruit in the class of 2013 in the Rivals150, picked the Wildcats over Florida, Kansas and Texas. Randle gave our own Jason Jordan exclusive access leading up to his big announcement and talked about what led him to pick the Wildcats, as well as the expectations that UK will face next season.

PLANO, Texas -- Julius Randle lies on his back and peers up at the ceiling inside of the Prestonwood Christian Academy gym as sweat beads race down his cheeks and pool on the baseline beneath him.

He breathes heavier and heavier as his personal trainer Tyler Relph slams the ball down and screams at him to start another drill that’s so tough Randle’s not supposed to actually be able to complete it.

The fact that he does has him dreadfully tired. Devoid of all energy. His legs are feeling heavier by the second, and it’s not even 7:30 a.m..

“Let’s go J!” says Relph, who played at St. Bonaventure from 2003-05. “Come on, I’m with you. Let’s go!”

MORE: Randle's last-minute shopping

In less than five hours, Randle will slip into a snazzy outfit, fully equipped with a Burberry belt, and sit at a table at the school’s field house with fitted caps from Texas, Kansas, Kentucky and Florida sprawled in front of him.

Then he’ll look into the ESPNU cameras and tell three schools thanks but no thanks, pick up a cap and make that school a legitimate title contender for next season.

“That’s the hard part,” Randle says. “I’d much rather be here. I’d much rather be working.”

It’s relative.

This gym is Randle’s sanctuary.

It’s where he rehabbed a fractured foot that kept him sidelined for most of the season only to come back in the final five games and average 28.8 points and 15 rebounds to lead Prestonwood to its second straight state title.

It’s where he went from being a so-so ball handler to an ankle-breaking highlight reel. Where his deep ball graduated from mechanically challenged to marksman-esque.

PHOTOS: NCAA tournament players in high school

It’s where he went from a good player with loads of potential to Julius Randle, the country’s second best player according to Rivals.com, and a lock for the 2014 NBA draft lottery according to every major draft board.

“The only thing that’s certain is that I’ve got to work harder,” Randle says. “I don’t even think about any of that other stuff. I’m so ready to get this decision over with. It’s been too crazy. I’m only excited about it because I know I’ll be able to do what I’m doing right now without any distractions.”

“Forget all that,” Relph says. “Let’s go. We’ve got five makes from each spot then we’ll head over to the field house and let the world know you’re going to St. Bonaventure. Let’s go!”

Randle bursts into laughter. Then slams the ball into his palms.

“Aight man,” he says with a smile. “I’ll finish this then I’ll join the Bonnies. Gotcha!”

Opinions abound

From the sometimes creepy Twitter followers, to the Foot Locker employees at the mall, to the giddy students stirring in the hallways at Prestonwood between classes, everyone has an opinion on which hat Prestonwood Christian (Plano, Texas) star Julius Randle should pick today.

“I don’t think I’ve gone five minutes without someone saying something about it,” Randle says. “I don’t mind it, I’m used to it. Some have better reasons than others.”

For example, Florida coach Billy Donovan, who landed current Gators star Kenny Boynton by placing a Nerf gun on his coffee table and telling Boynton to shoot him once he started speaking disingenuously, sent Randle a text Tuesday afternoon reminding him that he was the missing piece for the Gators.

Then there was Kansas coach Bill Self’s text later that day telling Randle he could have a “Kevin Durant-like impact” if he were to choose the Jayhawks.

MORE: Inside Randle's in-home visits

Then there was the anonymous letter someone sent to Randle’s house telling him he should play for a black coach and should strongly consider picking a historically black college.

“I’m still trying to figure out how they got my address,” Randle's mother, Carolyn Kyles says. “I’m not feelin’ that.”  

The most practical theory came Tuesday night when Randle went to get a haircut at The Fade Shop from Travis Pearson, who’s been Randle’s barber for the last 10 years.

“See, I know this bond is tight,” says Pearson, pointing back and forth to Randle and Kyles. “That’s why I think it’s Oklahoma.”

Randle laughs and Kyles informs Pearson that the Sooners were recently cut from the list.

“What?” Pearson says. “They were on the list last week though!”

“Not anymore,” Kyles says. “So now who are you gonna say?”

“Yeah, who?” Randle says while he spins around in the chair.

Pearson turns off his clippers and looks at Randle. Then turns to Kyles. Then back to Randle, who can’t hold back his laughter.

“Look now,” Kyles interrupts. “Are you gonna tell us your guess or what now?”

“Well, I always said it was either Oklahoma or Kentucky,” Pearson says. “I’ll have to go with Kentucky then.”

The other side of the barbershop disagrees.

They think it’s Florida.

Randle shrugs his shoulders. Kyles follows suit.

“I guess we’ll see,” he says.


Julius Randle's custom-stenciled iPhone. / Jason Jordan

Joining Big Blue Nation

Randle tried to keep an open mind about the recruiting process.

He was politically correct in interviews the whole time, saying that he didn’t have any favorites and everyone had a fair shake.

He bonded with Donovan on his visit to Florida, even made plans to go shark diving in South Africa with him someday.  

He loved Self’s straightforward approach and Texas was home.

But the truth about what he truly wanted was embedded in his subconscious, only revealing itself when he gave serious consideration to going elsewhere.

“Kentucky, man,” Randle says. “Every time I told myself that I was gonna look somewhere else it just never felt right. Kentucky is home for me. It’s where I felt most comfortable.”

When he told Kentucky coach John Calipari that he was going to join the Big Blue Nation, Randle said Calipari “seemed like he was in shock.”

That reaction seems dead-on for a recruiting class that most are calling the best ever assembled.

Yes, that includes Michigan’s 1991 “Fab Five” class of Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Jalen Rose, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson.

Kentucky’s 2013 haul makes up a third of the top 18 players in the ESPN 100. All six were named to the McDonald’s All American Game on April 3.

MORE: Randle added to McDonald's All American Game roster

“I don’t know if we’re the best of all time,” Randle says. “That’ll be based on how we play. But we’re really talented. And, yes, we all like each other.”

Randle was quick to point out that his commitment to Kentucky “should dead” the rumor that he and Travis (Richmond, Texas) twins Aaron and Andrew Harrison don’t get along.

“That’s always been funny to all three of us,” Randle says with a laugh. “We actually were texting back and forth yesterday. We’ve been cool since we were 8. Whoever says otherwise is someone you shouldn’t listen to, period.”

“And I had a great talk with Aaron Sr. on Tuesday,” Kyles says. “We were talking about these crazy rumors. Now they’re over. Now we can let these babies just play.”

When that time comes the expectations will be unfair.

That’s right, say hello to the 2013-14 preseason No. 1 team.

Pressure?

No chance.

Not even after the Cats’ embarrassing loss to Robert Morris in the first round of the NIT Tuesday night. Randle was chomping away on teriyaki chicken at Benihana when he learned about the loss.

MORE: Did March's biggest upset already happen?

He wasn’t happy.

“You only feel pressure when you’re underprepared,” Randle says. “I work too hard to be underprepared. It’ll be a challenge after this season to get us back to where we used to be. John Wall’s freshman year they had to do the same thing. We’re built for this. We’ll get Kentucky back to where we’re supposed to be. I’m not worried about that. I’m just happy to be a part of the Kentucky family.”

Randle didn’t waste any time getting firmly entrenched into the lifestyle that is Big Blue Nation, as evidenced by the “UK 30” emblem he had professionally stenciled on the back of his iPhone 5.

“It’s crazy, right,” Randle says holding up the blue phone. “I love it. I wanted everything to be perfect today.”

His godfather Jeff Webster can attest.

Randle sent him on a wild goose chase to track down the perfect Kentucky fitted cap to seal the deal in.

“He had to have a specific one,” Kyles said. “That’s just J!”

He’s just as meticulous with his training.

Just as relentless when Relph and Webster are barking orders at him during training sessions, challenging him to do what he physically can’t.

Just before his last drill during his morning session Wednesday, Randle hunched over with both hands on his knees trying desperately to catch his breath.

“Come on man,” Relph says. “One more and we’re done! You’re not tired you haven’t accomplished enough to be tired! Let’s go!”

Relph turns slightly and, just briefly, Randle catches a glimpe of the phrase plastered across the back of Relph’s shirt.

“Satisfaction Leads To Failure.”

Randle pops up immediately.

“Let’s go!” he says. “I’m ready.”

That’s just J.

Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter @JayJayUSATODAY.

 

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