Randle is leaving, but he says ‘Kentucky will always have a special place in my heart’

Published on NewsOK Modified: April 22, 2014 at 6:51 pm •  Published: April 22, 2014

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.”