LEXINGTON, Ky. — Ultimately, to enter the NBA Draft or return to college is an individual player’s decision. The college team, even one with as storied a history as Kentucky’s, does not dictate which path to take at such an important crossroads.
“It’s about each individual player personally and what he thought was best for his future,” Julius Randle said Tuesday in announcing he will enter this year’s NBA Draft.
For Julius Randle, the time to enter the NBA Draft is now. He thanked UK fans and coaches for their support. He said he considered returning for his sophomore season.
“I’m definitely going to miss it,” he said. “Kentucky will always have a special place in my heart.
“But growing up as a kid, it’s always been my dream to play in the NBA. And, you know, there’s no better opportunity for me to achieve that goal than now.”
Randle, who said he began thinking about the NBA as a 3- or 4-year-old, is widely considered a lottery pick in this year’s NBA Draft, which is scheduled for June 26.
Two of his teammates, Willie Cauley-Stein and Marcus Lee, announced last week that they would return to Kentucky next season. Each said in prepared statements that they wanted to fill a void created by UK’s loss to Connecticut in the national championship game this month.
For Randle, there is no such sense of incompleteness.
“We came up one game short ... ,” he said. “But everything we went through this year is an experience I’ll never forget. That alone kept me at peace.”
Randle’s mentor, former Oklahoma standout Jeff Webster, noted how the timing was right for this now former UK player.
“You never know how long the opportunity presents itself,” said Webster, who attended Randle’s announcement. “A lot of people say you can try to come back and give it another run, but why not now? It’s his life-long dream.”
Webster, a 2,000-point scorer for Oklahoma in the 1990s, said that the chance to return to college to achieve more is inescapable.
“Sometimes in life, you have to make a choice and you have to live with your choice,” he said. “Kentucky had a great run. They had their opportunity to win it. They could have won the championship, and they could have said, ‘Come back and try to win two.’
“There’s always a what-if.”
While acknowledging the challenges associated with a move from college to the NBA, Webster said that Randle can rely on a more versatile game to ease the advancement to basketball’s highest level. Randle sacrificed his individual game to help the Kentucky team prosper this past season, he said.
“He can’t just be the one guy out there doing everything,” Webster said. “They’d have never made the run (if Randle tried to dominate). So we know he can shoot the ball, can handle the ball.
“He’s not just a post guy, but that’s what the team needed. Now, he’ll get back to doing things because the NBA is more of a one-on-one game.”
Randle, who averaged 15 points and 10.4 rebounds, downplayed the notion of sacrificing his game for Kentucky’s greater good.
“Coach Cal (John Calipari) did a great job of using me in many different ways,” he said. “It just happened that posting up and (being a) post-up player was one of my strengths here. Everybody had to sacrifice and everybody had their role.”
Randle laughed when asked whether he looked forward to pro teams guarding him with one defender. At UK, he faced double- and triple-teaming most games.
“It’ll be nice,” he said. “If that’s what happens. The next level is going to be a challenge. Hopefully that happens.”
Webster, who has worked with Randle since the former UK player was a fifth-grader, said he will resume training Randle.
“He’ll be back under my tutelage, and I can see him every day,” Webster said. “Kentucky did an outstanding job. But we can kind of get back to some things that I know he needs to correct and fine-tune and get ready for the next step.”
Randle’s mother, Carolyn Kyles, who also attended the announcement, said her son was ready to deal with NBA life on and off the court. “He’s always been a very mature young man,” she said.
When asked if she might move to the NBA city her son calls home, Kyles said, “I would love to do that, but I think I have to let him grow up.”
Randle will join teammate James Young as players who started and ended their UK careers with the 2013-14 season.
Other UK players who have yet to announce whether they’ll enter this year’s NBA Draft or return to Kentucky next season include Andrew and Aaron Harrison, Dakari Johnson and Alex Poythress.
The deadline for entering the draft is 11:59 p.m. EDT on Sunday.
Young, who announced his decision to enter this year’s draft last week, and Randle became the 11th and 12th so-called one-and-done players for Kentucky since Calipari became coach in 2009. The others are John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe, Daniel Orton, Brandon Knight, Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marquis Teague, Archie Goodwin and Nerlens Noel.
All the while, Kentucky remains Kentucky. In Calipari’s five seasons, UK has played in three Final Fours, four Elite Eights and won the 2012 national championship.
In saying farewell, Randle suggested UK fans should expect more of the same.
“It’ll be amazing,” he said of Kentucky’s prospects for the 2014-15 season. “We have so much talent. ... We’re definitely going to make another run.”
©2014 Lexington Herald-Leader (Lexington, Ky.)
Visit the Lexington Herald-Leader (Lexington, Ky.) at www.kentucky.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services