Kentucky's Randle leans on longtime mentor for inspiration, instruction

jtipton@herald-leader.comMarch 19, 2014 

  • FRIDAY

    Kentucky vs. Kansas State

    What: NCAA Tournament Midwest Regional

    Where: Scottrade Center in St. Louis When: 9:40 p.m.

    Records: No. 8 seed Kentucky 24-10, No. 9 Kansas State 20-12

    TV: CBS-27

Even more regularly than he posts double-doubles, Julius Randle whips out his cellphone and punches a number from the 214 area code. Former Oklahoma star Jeff Webster is waiting to hear from Kentucky's star freshman.

"After every game, I know I'm going to get a call," Webster said. "'OK. How'd I do? 'What do I have to do?' And this and that."

As Randle is sure to call, so Webster is sure to demand more-more-more.

"'Listen, Julius, you have so much more to give,'" Webster said he will tell Randle. "I call him 'the one-half wonder' because he normally is giving you one-half. 'When are you going to put two halves together?'

"That's just the youth in him."

With Kentucky beginning play in the NCAA Tournament on Friday, the time is right for putting together two (and many more) productive halves.

Webster, who scored 2,281 points for Oklahoma (1989-94), describes his role in Randle's life as father/mentor/big brother. "All that stuff," he said. The two became acquainted as player and assistant coach for an AAU team, the Texas Titans.

The timing for the convergence of promising fifth-grader and former college star was fortuitous, Randle's mother said.

"I was his first coach," said Carolyn Kyles, who played collegiately at UT Arlington. "I put a ball in his hands, and I taught him, and he believed in me. But then when he got to a certain level, and he was bigger than me, he needed someone bigger than him to really grasp what was being said.

"I can say things and he understands. But when you hear it coming out of a male figure's mouth that you trust a lot, it sounds totally different."

Randle's biological father was not present. Webster picked up Randle and took him to practices. Webster fed him. Webster coached him, on and off the court.

"I would have to explain to him about certain things in life," Webster said. "This is why you do this. And this is how you carry yourself.

"I have a 14-year-old son, myself. I actually had to deal with a teenage son or kid (Randle) way before my son became one."

Kyles expressed gratitude for how Webster has helped her son.

"Jeff is the dad," she said.

Kyles will ask Webster if he's spoken to his son, and she'll ask Randle if he's talked to his dad. Webster introduces Kyles as his sister. Kyles considers Webster's wife Randle's godmother and the Websters' children as Randle's siblings.

"Being a parent raising a young man, a woman by herself, it's like God brought Jeff into our lives at exactly the right time," Kyles said.

Billy Tubbs, who coached Webster at Oklahoma, vouched for his former player serving as a mentor. He noted how Webster's father had made a career of military service.

"So he didn't take any bull off him," Tubbs said with a chuckle. "His dad was always pleasant to be around. I don't know what he was doing with Jeff. But he was always there when I needed him for help."

Tubbs sees hints of Webster's game in Randle.

"Great offensive player," he said of Webster. "Really played the four-five position for us. So he'd have been a great guy for Randle to work with. Not only as somebody who could help him with his game, but somebody who could help him with his life in general."

Kyles gave Webster credit for helping Randle deal with a broken foot early in his high school senior season.

"He was devastated," she said of her son. "... I can love on him and baby him through that. But you've got to have that strong voice going, 'OK, boy, let's get in the gym.' And that's what Jeff was."

Webster, a second-round draft pick of the Miami Heat and once traded for Rex Chapman, played the role of wise insider when Randle faced the difficult task of picking a college. Webster knew what questions to ask, what qualities to seek in a college program and how coaches had developed players.

"He trusts him," Kyles said of Randle's faith in Webster. "You have so many people coming your way that you can't trust. (People) who are out for something for themselves.

"Once you find that person who loves you for Julius Randle and not for No. 30, you have to keep those people close. That's what Jeff has been."

Webster said he talks to Randle on a daily basis this season. He's tried to help the player deal with the outsized expectations that come with playing for Kentucky, even more so for a freshman expected to elevate the college team to the highest level.

"Dealing with that when you come in as a little baby," Webster said. "Because Julius came from a protected environment."

Randle attended a private school in Dallas, Prestonwood Christian.

Webster disliked the pre-season hype surrounding Randle and the Kentucky freshmen. He noted how a pre-season No. 1 ranking adversely affected an Oklahoma football team during his days in Norman.

"I'm, like, that's a curse in itself because now expectations are too high," he said. "It's almost like a setup to me."

But the NCAA Tournament provides the opportune time to generate hype.

"Hey, you know, we hope," Webster said light-heartedly. "I know, right now, he's gritting his teeth.

"I'm hoping everybody writes something negative about him. It's not like he reads it, but I hope they do because that inspires him. I always tell people, Julius has to play angry. He has to be mad. He has to be fearful. That's when he's at his best."

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

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