LEXINGTON, Ky. — In a move that surprised no one, Kentucky freshman Julius Randle announced Tuesday he's headed to the NBA. The 6-foot-9, 250-pound All-American power forward is widely projected to be a top-five pick in the June 26 draft.
"Growing up, I dreamed about playing in the NBA," said Randle, who has yet to hire an agent. "I came here (Kentucky) to win a national championship, I came here to mature. We came one game short."
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Randle is the Wildcats' 12th one-and-done player — leaving college for the NBA after a single season — in five years under coach John Calipari. Teammate James Young became the 11th last week. Each of UK's previous 10 one-and-dones has been selected in the first round, including six who were top-10 picks.
Young and Randle are so far the only two players from this year's team to turn pro. Sophomore center Willie Cauley-Stein and freshman forward Marcus Lee both announced they're coming back to school next year. Twin guards Andrew and Aaron Harrison, forward Alex Poythress and center Dakari Johnson have yet to make their intentions known but have to declare one way or the other by Sunday.
Randle, a native of Dallas, Texas, helped lead the Cats to the program's 16th Final Four and 12th NCAA title game appearance in his only season at Kentucky. He averaged 15 points and 10.4 rebounds and set school records for freshmen in rebounds (417), double-doubles (24), free throws attempted (289) and free throws made (204). He ranks top-five in single-season history among all UK players in those categories.
One of his most impressive games came against undefeated No. 1 seed Wichita State in the NCAA Tournament's Round of 32. Randle had 13 points, 10 rebounds and six assists in the upset that launched Kentucky's remarkable run. He also had 16 points and 11 rebounds in the Elite Eight win over Michigan.
Randle's list of honors in a brief Cats career is long: Final Four all-tournament team, NABC All-America third team, USBWA Freshman All-America, All-SEC first team, SEC Freshman of the Year and finalist for Wayman Tisdale National Freshman of the Year, Oscar Robertson National Player of the Year and the Naismith Player of the Year.
"He's NBA ready, and he's going to be a top-seven pick in this draft," ESPN draft analyst Chad Ford, who ranks Randle the No. 5 player available, told The Courier-Journal last week. "When you look at the motor that he has and the NBA body that he has and his ability to rebound, those are attributes that NBA GMs salivate over. Could he improve his game with another year at Kentucky? Sure. But I think he's one of the two or three most NBA-ready players in the draft."
Kyle Tucker writes for the Louisville Courier-Journal.
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