Have you ever wondered what it'd be like to be the nation's most sought-after basketball recruit? To have legendary coaches lining up at your door to steal an hour or two of your time in between school and practice? Prestonwood Christian (Plano, Texas) senior Julius Randle, the nation's No. 1 recruit according to Rivals.com, lets you into his world.
PART I: NC State and Kentucky
MCKINNEY, Texas – Roughly 50 miles northeast of the midfield star at Cowboys stadium, a McKinney squad car pulls up behind a black KIA Soul parked on a grassy sidewalk around the corner from Kennedy Drive.
At 10 p.m., the car looks out of place. Suspicious.
Blue lights flash.
Seconds later a skinny officer with a crew-cut hops out and taps on the driver’s side window.
“You lost?” he asks with a southern twang.
“No,” I say. “But I promise this is gonna be the most random story you’ve heard all summer.”
I tell him about how the NCAA rules don't allow me to be present when college coaches meet with recruits, even if it's the nation's No. 1 basketball player (Rivals150). I then try and sell him on the fact that the grassy sidewalk has been an ideal post-up spot for me since Julius Randle has been hosting top college coaches for in-home visits all week.
"I'm just waiting for him to tell me the coast is clear," I say.
By now the officer is obviously debating the validity of this wacky story, but once he sees identification, he turns into an excited fan, insisting that I camp out in the grass as long as I want. Even reminds me that the name "Julius Randle" will take me places.
Those sentiments are shared by 10 of college basketball’s most elite head coaches, who converged on Randle’s home over the course of two weeks in early September trying to lure him to their schools.
“Julius isn’t just a guy who can help you win a national championship," said a college assistant from a top 10 program speaking under the condition of anonymity since college coaches aren't permitted to discuss unsigned recruits. "His impact can lure other players to your school for years. He’s that good.”
Randle’s perspective is much different.
The impending decision is much too taxing for excitement to be his prevailing emotion.
“I know they all want me bad,” says Randle, a senior forward at Prestonwood Christian (Plano, Texas). “They tell me all the time. But I’m not sure what to expect from the in-homes. I’m kinda curious to see what they come up with.”
Evening Sept. 9 – N.C. State’s and Kentucky’s day
Randle and his mother, Carolyn Kyles, are beat.
There are “long days” and there are days like this, where yawns seem as common as breaths and 10:30 p.m. feels like it’s four hours later.
The day started for Kyles when at 6 a.m., she stumpled upon an interesting surprise from Baylor on her way for a morning jog. There, littered all over her porch, were more than 30 flyers from the coaching staff urging Randle to be a Bear.
“One said ‘Stay close to mom’ and listed the miles from my house to the games to show that it wasn’t very far at all,” Randle says with a laugh. “It’s hard not to be impressed by that.”
“Baylor wanted to get the first in-home at 12:01 a.m. since they were the first to recruit Julius in the eighth grade,” Kyles says. “But I told them if they come knocking on my door that time of night I’m calling the cops.”
Kyles is one of those rare people who it’s nearly impossible to misinterpret.
She’s very real. Very warm, but very direct.
To hear her tell it, Randle got his basketball skills from her.
Kyles, who stands 6-foot-3, played at the University of Texas at Arlington from 1984-85. As the story goes, Randle approached Kyles when he was 8 years old and asked if he could wear her jersey number (30).
“I told him ‘Only if you’re gonna do something with it,” Kyles recalls. “He said he would and he definitely has.”
Randle shakes his head and laughs. It’s obvious that he needs a nap pronto, but he stays at the kitchen table to rehash the N.C. State visit with Kyles.
N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried and assistant Orlando Early knocked on Randle’s door at 10:30 that morning, exactly an hour after he had returned from an unofficial visit to Texas. For two hours, Gottfried and Early admired Randle’s trophies, commented on pictures and presented their case for why Randle should run with the Wolfpack.
“Coach Gottfried is a guy you can’t help but to feel comfortable with,” Randle says. “They’re definitely a program that’s on the come up.”
When the conversation turned to the program that was already up – the reigning national champion Kentucky Wildcats – Randle and Kyles start to find their second wind.
“Cal is just, well, Cal,” Kyles says of Kentucky coach John Calipari, who showed up at 7:45 that evening. “He’s just got swag. I mean he had a driver. There wasn't any presentation - it was just Cal talking off the cuff and chilling out with us.”
Randle nods and smiles.
“Most coaches sell their school,” he says. “Coach Cal carries himself like what he’s done sells itself.”
Still, Calipari takes no shortcuts.
He shows up sporting his 2012 championship ring, showed off slides of him with well-known hip hop stars like Jay-Z, then upped Kyles’ excitement with three words: "red velvet cake."
“Most of the coaches know that’s my favorite,” Kyles says. “He said we’d have that all weekend.”
Calipari’s message was simple: Come to Kentucky for a year, compete for a national title and dress nice on NBA Draft night.
“He said they lose first-round talent every year,” Randle says. “It’s obviously working. That ring he was wearing was crazy.”
“Yeah he was leading with the right a lot when he was talking,” Kyles jokes. “He made sure we saw that championship ring. It was hard not to see.”
Randle leans back in his chair at the kitchen table and yawns.
“Got (North Carolina) coach Roy (Williams) tomorrow,” he says. “He texted me and said he was really fired up for their visit.”
Randle smiles and starts in on Williams and the Tar Heels, but just a sentence in his phone buzzes.
It’s a text from Calipari saying: “Your mom is the best.”
“I really am,” Kyles interrupts with a smile.
Calipari went on to say that he was excited about Randle and Carolyn coming up for an official visit (Sept. 14-16).
Randle stares at his phone and smiles.
“I can’t wait either,” he said. “I can’t wait.”
To continue to Part II, click here.