BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Kentucky's Julius Randle made a bit of history Wednesday when a media vote made him the Southeastern Conference's pre-season Player of the Year. That marked the first time a freshman had won the vote.
Randle, a 6-foot-9, 250-pound forward, received 11 of the 27 votes. Tennessee wing Jordan McRae was a distant second.
"He's a tremendous talent," Missouri Coach Frank Haith said of Randle. "He has to get used to the college game. I think he will. So big and athletic and gifted. He's a lot like (Anthony) Bennett who played at UNLV last year. He does everything."
LSU forward Johnny O'Bryant III, who joined Randle on the media's all-SEC first team, set aside any doubt there might be about a freshman who has yet to play a college game.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Lexington Herald-Leader
"Obviously, he has the hype," O'Bryant said. "He must have the talent, too."
O'Bryant also noted that the Player of the Year award given by the SEC next spring remained "up for grabs."
UK teammate Alex Poythress endorsed Randle as a player worthy of Player of the Year consideration.
"People think highly of him, and they should," Poythress said. "He's a great talent."
Two UK players have been named SEC Player of the Year after their freshman seasons: John Wall for 2009-10 and Anthony Davis in 2011-12. But the media vote tabbed UK teammates for the pre-season award those seasons: Patrick Patterson in 2009 and Terrence Jones in 2011.
ESPN analyst Jimmy Dykes saluted Randle as worthy of speculation that he might be the best prospect coming out of high school since LeBron James.
"I've heard people say that of Andrew Wiggins," Dykes said. "That's the comparison. I'm not sold on Andrew Wiggins as the No. 1 pick (in the 2014 NBA Draft). I think Randle will give him a run for his money."
Dykes cited Randle's willpower and competitiveness, qualities known colloquially as a "motor."
"Randle goes after it every day like it's his last day," Dykes said.
Other members of the all-SEC first team were Trevor Releford of Alabama, Marshall Henderson of Ole Miss and McRae. UK's Willie Cauley-Stein, Andrew Harrison and Dakari Johnson made the second team.
Cats picked to win
UK was named the favorite to win the Southeastern Conference this season, in results of media voting announced Wednesday.
UK collected 21 first-place votes, while Florida earned five first-place votes and Tennessee received one.
Close, but . . .
The UK women's players apparently hope that coming close to reaching their goals last season can spur them to greater heights this coming season.
"We lost the conference title by one game," Coach Matthew Mitchell said of last season. "We got beat in the SEC championship game. . . . We needed to be mentally tougher — talking to the players about their mental approach to practice every day and just trying to be as strong as you possibly can. Winning in an environment against Texas A&M on a Monday night and then being able to bounce back and go on the road and win at a place like Baton Rouge. That's where we failed (in) those kind of mental preparation things. That's the important part."
Star DeNesha Stallworth got the message. "I think we're taking it more personal," she said. "Just knowing what we could have done that we didn't do."
Texas A&M Coach Billy Kennedy saluted the three UK freshman from his state: Aaron Harrison, Andrew Harrison and Randle.
"They're winners," he said. "All three of them have great motors. They'll fight you to win. They're mature beyond their years."
Kennedy suggested that the willingness to compete separates the talented player from the exceptional player.
"Julius Randle and the Harrison twins will do the dirty work." he said.
Randle apparently suffered from cramping Tuesday. Calipari noted that the freshman worked out late the night before, again Tuesday morning, participated in UK's Media Day activities and then practiced.
"He was cramping" at the end of Tuesday's practice, the UK coach said. "No kidding. Stay off the court, kid!"
The motto for early workouts has been "fail fast," Calipari said. Unlike with his previous teams, he said the Cats are scrimmaging rather than running drills. He said he wants the players to experience what works and what doesn't on the college level.
"Stuff you did in high school against a six-foot forward is not working now," Calipari said.
The SEC coaches welcomed the SEC's decision to play nine of its next 12 league tournaments in Nashville. Georgia Coach Mark Fox was the exception, saying he'd like to see Atlanta get the event at least some times in the future.
As for Nashville, the coaches cited its central location, and playing in an arena rather than a dome.
Calipari suggested that UK fans were "part of the reason" for committing to Nashville. UK fans, who are clearly the most interested group, continued to attend the event in 2013 even though UK lost its first game against Vanderbilt.
Of the wealth of scoring threats on UK's team, Calipari made a prediction.
"Seven guys will score 25 or more points in at least one game," he said. "Maybe two."
All-Southeastern Conference men's basketball teams, as voted on by a select panel of league and national media members:
Trevor Releford, Alabama G 6-0 Sr.
Julius Randle, Kentucky F 6-9 Fr.
Johnny O'Bryant III, LSU F 6-9 Jr.
Marshall Henderson, Mississippi G 6-2 Sr.
Jordan McRae, Tennessee G 6-6 Sr.
Scottie Wilbekin, Florida G 6-2 Sr.
Patric Young, Florida C 6-9 Sr.
Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky F 7-0So.
Andrew Harrison, Kentucky G 6-6 Fr.
Dakari Johnson, Kentucky C 7-0 Fr.
Jabari Brown, Missouri G 6-5 Jr.
Jeronne Maymon, Tennessee F 6-8 Sr.
Jarnell Stokes, Tennessee F 6-8 Jr.
SEC Player of the Year: Julius Randle, Kentucky
Media voting for SEC team finish, with first-place votes in parentheses:
1. Kentucky (21) 371
2. Florida (5) 353
3. Tennessee (1) 320
4. LSU 270
5. Missouri 262
6. Alabama 257
7. Ole Miss 216
8. Arkansas 197
9. Texas A&M 139
10. Vanderbilt 125
11. Georgia 119
12. South Carolina 108
13. Mississippi State 59
14. Auburn 39