Julius, we hardly knew ye. And we’d better get used to this.
Julius Randle made the announcement only the most optimistic of UK fans didn’t see coming Tuesday afternoon when he ended speculation and said he would pursue the riches of the NBA. It brought to a close the college career of yet another Kentucky basketball player after just one season.
Randle’s stay in Lexington, however brief, is the focal point of college basketball fans not only throughout the BBN but nationwide. Did he do what he was supposed to do? That depends on your side of the argument.
The 6-foot-9 freshman from Dallas was recruited by John Calipari to help the Wildcats not just win basketball games, but to compete for a national championship. He did both. The fact that it all happened within a five-month span (and not four years) makes for talk show and social media fodder, but it’s not going to change until the NBA Players Association makes a change of its own.
Only when (and if) the players agree to work with the owners and alter the NBA’s job qualifications will players like Randle (and James Young) put down deeper roots in Lexington and other college towns. Arizona’s Aaron Gordon, Jabari Parker of Duke, Indiana’s Noah Vonleh and Andrew Wiggins of Kansas already have announced.
Of course, with more talented freshmen (and potential NBA players) on its roster, Kentucky remains the Evil One-and-Done Empire in the eyes of too many college basketball fans and media types. Not one has produced, by way of argument, a Division I coach who would convince anyone he’d turn down any of the players Calipari has recruited because of the danger of an early departure.
Hypocritical? You bet. But old-school fans are using the word as well, believing that athletes like Randle should remain in school until they graduate – or run out of eligibility, a position hypocritical in its own right. Back in the day, you never heard fans bemoaning the fact that a senior who’d used up his eligibility failed to graduate. All they knew was that his playing days were over, and somebody else better come in and hit some buckets and grab some rebounds.
Randle is a rarity: He’s ready, at least physically. He’ll be the first to tell you he’ll have much to learn in the professional ranks and will be playing a different brand of basketball, although he stopped short of saying he’d have to reinvent himself as a face-the-basket player. He’s already got that skill set covered, he said. We just didn’t see it much this season.
“ Coach Cal did a great job of using me in many different ways,” Randle said. “It just happened that posting up and a low-post player, that was one of my strengths here and everybody had to sacrifice.”
It does make you wonder what next year’s team might be like had Randle done the unthinkable and announced he would return. With Karl Towns coming in to play in the low post, perhaps Calipari would have played Randle out on the floor, so he could develop his ballhandling and shooting, the way Patrick Patterson did. That would be Patrick Patterson of the Toronto Raptors, now appearing in the NBA playoffs.
But Randle made his choice, and he’s good with it, although he leaves Kentucky a few buckets shy of a national championship. But at least he got his shot.
“I came here to win a national championship,” he said. “I came here to grow up and mature on and off the court, and I did that. I know I came one game short of winning a national championship – we did as a team – but everything we went through this year is just an experience that I’ll never forget. That alone was enough, kept me at peace to leave.”
“Peace” – not a word that pops up very often when the subject is college basketball players leaving after just one season. This battle will rage at least until the NBAPA meets again to talk about the minimum age requirements for the league. By then, Julius Randle will have settled into his new life as a highly-paid athlete.
It’s the job he had his eye on when he went away to college. Mission accomplished.
(Dick Gabriel is in his 25th season with the UK TV and Radio Networks, and can be heard on the Big Blue Insider Monday through Friday from 6-8 p.m. ET on 630 WLAP-AM and wlap.com.)