Julius Randle Rises To The Challenge
Two members of the 2012 USA Basketball Men's U18 National Team that was announced on Saturday evening (June 9) have one year of high school remaining in their prep careers, including Julius Randle (Prestonwood Christian Academy), who described himself as a "mismatched forward" due to his 6'8", 235-pound frame.
The 12-member USA Basketball roster for the 2012 FIBA Americas U18 Championship was announced after five days of training camp, which has consisted of two-a-day sessions at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.
"(Training camp) definitely has been great for me," Randle said. "It's probably the longest I've been away from home. But just being around these college coaches -- I'm only going to be a senior next year -- it's going to be a good headstart for me, and I'm definitely learning a lot here."
Training camp may be long and grueling, but overall there are just 11 days between the start of camp on June 5 and the USA's first game against U.S. Virgin Islands at 1 p.m. (times listed are EDT) on July 16 in Sao Sebastiao do Paraiso, Brazil. The team departs for Brazil on June 12, where it will play five games in five days.
Randle said his teammates have helped him feel more comfortable while he's away from home.
"I've established relationships with a lot of these guys already through camps and stuff like that. So, when I saw the list coming out here of some of the guys that were going to be here, I was excited because it's like I have a second family here almost."
The players stay in dorms at the U.S. Olympic Training Center, and while the first three days of camp consisted mostly of scrimmages, the team is now focused on offenses, defenses and communication under the guidance of head coach Billy Donovan (University of Florida), and assistant coaches Mark Few (Gonzaga University) and Shaka Smart (Virginia Commonwealth University).
Each day in practice Randle competes against and alongside nine players headed to Division I programs for the 2012-13 NCAA season as well as Jarnell Stokes (Memphis, Tenn.), who played in 17 games for the University of Tennessee this past season and was named to the Southeastern Conference All-Freshman Team.
"Every session you just got to come in focused, willing to get better. Not only get yourself better but get your team better. Because, when we go down there, it's not going to be easy for us. There is pressure, but we believe in our ablity to win a gold medal."
The USA is looking to defend it's 2010 gold medal after earning silver with a loss to Argentina in Argentina in 2008. Undoubtly, Randle will undoubtdly learn from his experiences in Brazil, and he says training camp has taught him a lot already.
"(Training camp) is definitely great for me because I still get my senior season, and I can share this with my team, but also when I go into college, I will know what to expect. So, this is great for me. And also, with coach Donovan being here and the other coaches here, I get to see how they run their offenses and their coaching style. So, it kind of gives me a look on what they do.
"I would say I've improved my leadership, and trying to play with other great players. When you are playing with other great players, you have to do other things. You also have to learn how to play within a system. That's something I'm still trying to learn to do."
Each player in camp boasts of an accomplished basketball resume, and Randle's two high school state titles in three years is impressive. He scored 26 points in the 2012 Texas Association of Private and Paraochial Schools 5A state title game, lead his team to a state finals appearance with averages of 24.0 points and 12.0 rebounds per game as a junior and he captured his first championship as a freshman. When asked what he thought the committee saw in him, Randle points to his energy and attitude.
"I would say, everybody knows I can score and do other things, but just me being an energizer -- bringing energy to the team, rebounding, doing little things. My unselfishness I would say, knowing that I could fit in with the team."
Not only were Randle and his high school successful in 2012-12, Randle said it was a team he appreciated playing for.
"(My junior year) was probably my best season so far. As far as my numbers, I think I averaged more my sophomore season, but as far as my team, I was happy because my team was such a great team. It was our first time being nationally ranked, we won a second state championship and we won a No. 1 tournament in the country, the City of Palms Classic, and as far as high school seasons as a team, it was very successful."
For his senior year, Randle said he'd like to go undefeated. To do that, he isn't focused on fixing one thing, he said he is working to fix all things.
"I'm just trying to work on my all-around game. I want to have every facet, so when one thing is not working, I can go to a different thing. Just have an all-around game and be a leader and constantly have effort and work hard."
Randle is undecided about what college he will attend, and it's clear that he has a plan for how he will make his decision -- part of which is do it later. Randle has said he will make a short list of colleges at the end of the summer.
"I'm not even sure yet how I will decide where I will go to school. I'm just going to sit down and talk to my mom, my mentor and the people around me, and just see about playing styles and what I like about schools and coaches. I'm not sure yet, though. I'm keeping an open mind, taking it all in, enjoying it while I can because I know when my senior season starts, I'm going to have to start looking at colleges, and it's going to be a big decision for me. I'm just trying to enjoy all my visits right now."
For now, Randle said he is grateful to have a break from thinking about recruiting while he is focused on the task of securing a gold medal. A berth into the 2013 FIBA U19 World Championship also is at stake in the 2012 Americas zone qualifer, as the top four finishing teams earn a spot in next summer's U19 World Championship.
"It is a great feeling, just to know that I get the chance to go down to Brazil and represent my country. That's something I gaurantee you every basketball players wants to do, so It definitely is an honor for me.
"Especially me being younger, and knowing I get to go down there and represent my country. This could just be the start for me. Maybe later in my career I could play for USA teams too. I definitely want to come back with a gold medal."