'The game's changed' for Kentucky with commitment of Randle

broberts@herald-leader.comMarch 20, 2013 

Robert Morris is a thing of the past.

Julius Randle was the name on the lips of every Kentucky basketball fan Wednesday afternoon.

Not 24 hours removed from the Wildcats' disheartening NIT loss in Moon Township, Pa., one of the most sought-after recruits in the country sat down at a table in Plano, Texas, and put on a blue-and-gray UK hat.

What was already being discussed as the No. 1 recruiting class of all time got a whole lot stronger.

More help is on the way for John Calipari and the Cats.

"That's where it was in my heart. I wanted to be at Kentucky," Randle told those present at his high school gym and a nationwide audience watching live on ESPNU.

Randle, rated by some recruiting services as the No. 2 overall prospect in the country, became the sixth McDonald's All-American to commit to Kentucky's class of 2013.

The 6-foot-8, 240-pound power forward joins Andrew and Aaron Harrison, James Young, Derek Willis, Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee in what recruiting analysts Rushed to Twitter to call the best class of all time.

Aaron Harrison Sr. — father of the Harrison twins — has coached against Randle since the newest Wildcat was 8 years old.

Harrison said he and his family get along great with Randle and his mother, Carolyn Kyles, who called Harrison less than an hour after the announcement to make sure he heard the news.

He said there was no truth to rumors of a rift between the three Texas blue-chippers and speculated that the stories could have been started by other schools that were recruiting Randle and didn't want to see him join the twins in Lexington.

"I guess it didn't work," he said.

He also put UK's 2013-14 foes on notice.

"If I'm an opponent — the game's changed," Harrison Sr. said. "I think Kentucky had one of the best classes ever before they got Julius. When they got Julius, they got to the point where if they take these kids they've got and put them four years forward, they could create another NBA team.

"It's the truth. They've got great size. They've got shooters. They've got a bench. They've got everything."

Scout.com analyst Evan Daniels said the Cats would be the favorites to win a ninth national championship if they secured a commitment from Randle, who ultimately chose UK over Kansas, Texas and Florida.

Daniels sees the big-bodied forward as a player who can go inside, go outside, and make a big impact from the moment he steps onto the Rupp Arena floor.

"With Julius, it's all about how aggressive he is and how dynamic of a power forward he is," Daniels said. "This is a guy that can do a lot facing the rim, do a lot with his back to the basket. For a guy his size, he's very skilled and very athletic and he's explosive around the rim.

"And he's a hard-nosed, tough dude. There's no doubt about that."

Randle proved his mettle during a senior season in which he played only six games.

Midway through Prestonwood Christian Academy's second game, Randle limped off the floor with what was later determined to be a broken foot.

His season — and his high school career — were supposed to be finished.

Randle promised to return, and he did just that in Prestonwood's regular-season finale in late February.

Then came the state playoffs, where he averaged 36.3 points and 17.3 rebounds in leading his team to a second consecutive state title and its third in four years.

Prestonwood Coach Chris Mayberry called it an "amazing" comeback.

"I think what people are going to see is what I've seen for two years — and that is just that he's special," Mayberry told the Herald-Leader. "There's not a lot of kids that could have done what he did. The sky's the limit for how good Julius will be. As long as he stays humble and stays hungry, he's really, really going to be something special."

Randle's next challenge will be to mesh with other elite players: the Harrison twins, the rest of UK's incoming class and whoever else returns off this season's squad.

It shouldn't be a problem for Randle, who was one of only two high school players on the USA basketball under-18 team that won a FIBA gold medal last summer.

That group was coached by Florida's Billy Donovan and included college stars Marcus Smart and Rodney Purvis.

Randle was the leading scorer and rebounder, although he didn't take the most shots or play the most minutes.

The experience sold him on the idea of playing with Calipari's latest — and possibly greatest — class of stars.

"I knew I was able to play with great players," Randle said. "To be able to battle with those guys every day in practice is only going to make me better and help me prepare for the next level. Playing with great players — it was a plus for me. It wasn't a negative at all."

Randle was out to dinner with his family Tuesday night and didn't catch UK's loss to Robert Morris.

"I heard about it," he said with a smile.

His goal is to make sure it doesn't happen again.

Aaron Harrison Sr. has known Randle for about as long as anyone in basketball and has watched over the years and wondered what would happen if his boys were to ever team up with a player he admiringly refers to as "a monster" on the court.

"Now they'll get a chance to play together after playing against each other for all these years," he said. "If they work hard, all of their dreams will come true."


KENTUCKY'S MAGNIFICENT SEVEN

With the addition of Julius Randle, Kentucky's recruiting class of 2013 now consists of seven players — six of whom are McDonald's All-Americans. Here's a closer look at the next wave of Wildcats, with their recruiting rankings:

Aaron Harrison

Shooting guard 6-foot-5, 205 pounds

Houston

Rivals: No. 4 Scout: No. 4 ESPN: No. 7 24/7: No. 3

Andrew Harrison

Point guard 6-foot-5, 205 pounds

Houston

Rivals: No. 5 Scout: No. 3 ESPN: No. 5 24/7: No. 4

Dakari Johnson

Center 6-foot-11, 250 pounds

New York

Rivals: No. 13 Scout: No. 18 ESPN: No. 11 24/7: No. 13

Marcus Lee

Forward 6-foot-9, 200 pounds

Antioch, Calif.

Rivals: No. 18 Scout: No. 21 ESPN: No. 18 24/7: No. 9

Julius Randle

Power forward 6-foot-8, 240 pounds

Plano, Texas

Rivals: No. 2 Scout: No. 5 ESPN: No. 3 24/7: No. 2

Derek Willis

Small forward 6-foot-9, 200 pounds

Mt. Washington, Ky.

Rivals: No. 129 24/7: No. 64

James Young

Guard/forward 6-foot-6, 200 pounds

Rochester, Mich.

Rivals: No. 10 Scout: No. 10 ESPN: No. 6 24/7: No. 11

Ben Roberts: (859) 231-3216 Twitter: @NextCats. Blog: UKrecruiting.bloginky.com.

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