Kentucky-Florida notes: Randle was 'pretty serious' about Gators before choosing UK

jtipton@herald-leader.comFebruary 14, 2014 

Scary thought: Kentucky star Julius Randle could have been playing for Florida in Saturday night's big game.

Playing for Billy Donovan in an international competition made Randle consider casting his basketball lot with the Gators.

"Yeah, I was pretty seriously (considering Florida)," he said this week. "Having that relationship with Coach 'D,' playing for him, I was considering them pretty seriously.

"But I just felt like (UK) is the best place for me. And it still is."

The connection to Donovan led to the expectation that Randle would play for Florida.

"It was kind of a surprise to everybody at the end," he said of the commitment to Kentucky.

Randle and Donovan formed a mutual admiration society when they played and coached, respectively, for a USA Basketball team in an Under-18 tournament in South America in the summer of 2012.

"He's a great coach and a terrific person," Randle said of Donovan. "We're playing against him this time, so I'm looking forward to it."

At the Southeastern Conference Media Days, Donovan lauded Randle.

"Oh, I loved him," the Florida coach said. "He has a really, really high basketball IQ. ... He's as quick a 6-9, 240-pound guy as I've ever seen.

"As a kid, he's top-notch, one of the nicest kids I've been around."

As for this season, Randle posted double-doubles in the first seven games. His 12 points and 12 rebounds at Auburn on Wednesday marked his 12th double-double, which is only four less than the national leaders.

That anyone might be even mildly critical of Randle's play would surprise ESPN analyst Jay Bilas.

"I think if Julius Randle was playing somewhere else, we'd be talking about how phenomenal he is," he said. "But because he's at Kentucky, and he's the latest in a line of sort of freshman kings, it's expected and maybe not seen as impressive a feat. ...

"Who in the country as an 18- or 19-year-old is doing more than Julius Randle, and doing it more consistently? Jabari Parker (of Duke), maybe. Outside of that, nobody."

'Those dudes'

UK wing James Young made one of 10 shots at Auburn (one of five from three-point range). That made him 6-for-26 (2-for-14 from beyond the arc) in the last three games.

Calipari said he met with Young this week and the pair watched tape.

"He's settling for jumpers," the UK coach said. "He's trying to avoid all contact."

Florida figures to offer contact, Calipari said.

"Those dudes, they play rough-house basketball," he said. "There are going to be fouls. They may not be called. But there are going to be a lot of fouls both ways because the game is really going to be physical."

Florida has managed to play effective defense without fouling. Opponents average 57.9 points (SEC opponents only 56.9), which ranks as the sixth-fewest points given up by a Division I team. Florida also ranks No. 14 in fewest fouls (16.1 per game, on average).

SEC opponents average 18 free-throw attempts, making 11.9 per game against Florida. For the season, UK has averaged 30.5 free-throw attempts and 20.7 makes.

Defense, defense

After Florida held his team to 41 points last month, Tennessee Coach Cuonzo Martin said, "Probably the best defense I've seen all season. He credited point guard Scottie Wilbekin and big man Patric Young.

"When you have a guy set the tone out top and a big guy on the interior who has a presence ... all the other guys kind of fall in line," he said, "when you have that kind of work ethic from those two guys."

ESPN analyst Jay Williams cited tenaciousness and "a certain amount of willingness" as keys to being a good defender.

"Because that's all it is," he said. "Defense doesn't take a lot of athletic ability. (Ohio State's) Aaron Craft is not the most athletic player on the court. But Aaron Craft is mentally the strongest player on the court because he's always up in you and he never quits."

'Not fair'

Calipari on how much he's asking of UK's freshmen and how quickly he wants them to deliver: "I told them (Thursday), it's not fair what I ask you to do. Now, do it."

'Smash'

Calipari on the Gators' probable approach to the game: "They're not coming in just to win. They want to smash."

Etc.

Dan Shulman, Dick Vitale and Shannon Spake will call the game for ESPN.

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com.

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