On Thursday, the Lakers did what was expected. They drafted Kentucky power forward and SEC Freshman of the Year, Julius Randle. Julius is a tough, driven, ambitious, scoring in the paint power forward with a great motor and a chip on his shoulder. Frankly, he was a little bit angry that he wasn’t one of the top 4 picks. “The teams that passed on me will regret it.”
Julius Randle’s elation at being selected by the Lakers was evident as a huge grin settled across his face once Adam Silver called his name. “I couldn’t be more ecstatic.” He hugged his mother. He leaped up the stairs to greet Adam Silver as if he had just won the lottery and was afraid they would snatch the pick away. He knew what it meant to be drafted by the Lakers. He said, “When you think of Los Angeles you think of the Lakers.” Later Julius Randle added, “It was the organization I wanted to go to.”
The son of a basketball playing mother, Randle dominated the NCAA tournament until his final game. Because he was in the national spotlight from the moment Kentucky played their first game, no other player in the draft has had his game dissected more than Randle. Coming into his freshman year he was the #2 high school player in the country even after he broke his foot. In high school he averaged 33 points and 23 rebounds. In college he averaged 15 points and 10 rebounds. The Lakers are in desperate need of a player who can take the ball, drive and finish at the rim either with a jump hook, an up and under move or a five footer.
It was clear that the Lakers had their eye on Randle from the start. He was the only prospect who had a private workout. Afterwards, Jim Buss rushed onto the court to personally shake his hand. The Lakers loved what they saw of Randle’s post play and efficiency, his versatility but more importantly his competitiveness. As the workout continued Randle’s motor went into overdrive, a clue about his talent and that he had another gear he could climb.
Jesse Buss, the Lakers director of scouting said, “When he came to work out he had a different level of intensity.” The Lakers were impressed with his scoring ability which was better than they expected. The Lakers had watched Randle more than any other college player during the season. “He had a great workout with us, a great interview. He’s a great kid.”
Randle thought his workout went great. “It felt like home.”
Mitch Kupchak did not expect Randle to be available at 7. He felt very lucky to be able to land a player of his caliber, one who performed at a top level program, got to the NCAA title game, lead all freshman in double-doubles. “He’s got big time skills. The bottom line is he plays and competes at a very high level.” Randle had the same max vertical as Blake Griffin, he just isn’t as explosive but he is more skilled in the low post. Kupchak loved his “effort” after a season of lackadaisical and casual play from mediocre players. “We think he’s going to be a heck of a professional and are excited to have him in Los Angeles.”
“The Lakers are about championships”, Randle said, well versed already in Lakers history and mythology. He knows the concern about his foot, the one with the screw in it that has not healed correctly. Randle admitted he might have to have surgery depending on what the Lakers doctors believe. Neither he nor the Lakers expect his foot to interfere with his on court game. Randle is confident especially with his defense and his ability to guard stretch four’s as well as traditional power forwards.
But set that aside. Thursday night was about embracing the moment, luxuriating in the news that he was a Los Angeles Lakers. “I couldn’t be more blessed or fortunate to go to an organization like the Lakers.”
Kobe Bryant chimed in on twitter: Welcome Home @J30_RANDLE from one legendary institution to one epic franchise #LakersDraft. Randle seemed amused talking about Kobe as if he couldn’t believe his fate. “He may get tired of me because I’m going to be bugging him. I have a chance to learn from him. I couldn’t be in a better situation. L.A. is a perfect place for me… I get to go play in a great city that expects championships. I couldn’t be more excited.”
Randle on Twitter said: Honored to be a LAKER! #LakerNation