Nobody’s coached Julius Randle longer than Scott Pospichal.
The Team Texas Titans head coach has been with Randle since the fifth grade, watching him grow from a kid who was “pretty good” for his age into a 6-foot-9, 225-pound bull of a player who’s ranked by some analysts as the best prospect in the class of 2013.
Pospichal has also had a front-row seat for Randle’s rivalry with the Harrison twins, fellow Texans who are expected to commit to Kentucky in October. The three players, all top-five recruits, will be teammates Saturday night at the Elite 24 game in California.
Pospichal can’t wait.
“That will be really interesting. It really will be,” he said. “Sometimes the twins can get a bad rap because of their competitive nature. … They’re very competitive. But if that goes well and they share the ball and try to make it about the team and not about them … and that goes for Julius, too … that could be really interesting.”
Randle also has Kentucky in the top tier of his list, which includes Duke, North Carolina, Kansas and several other major powers in college basketball. He’s spent the summer downplaying rumors that he doesn’t want to play with the Harrisons at the next level. The trio have a complicated relationship, Pospichal says, that dates all the way back to the fifth grade.
The Titans were the upstarts. The Defenders, who the Harrisons play for, were the established program.
“Understand, when we first started playing in the fifth grade, it was the Defenders. They were the big brothers,” Pospichal said. “The first year we played them they beat us like we stole something. They were the hurdle we had to get over.”
He said the Defenders beat them two more times in the sixth grade, before the Titans finally broke through with a victory in Maryland later that year. The teams split eight games over the next two seasons and then didn’t play again until this summer. The Defenders won that matchup.
Pospichal says the competitive feelings have always been there. As for personal animosity, he doesn’t see it. And he doesn’t think the past will have an effect on any of the recruits’ future decisions.
“They’re all tremendous. They’re elite players,” he said. “I don’t think there are issues there. At the end of the day, there’s mutual respect around people who have accomplishments. Doesn’t mean there’s love, but there’s respect. And respect goes a long way. Respect who they are and what they do and there’s a lot of success that will follow that pattern.”
Pospichal referenced the U.S. Olympic team and the way that players like LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant are able to put longtime rivalries behind them to achieve something together. “You grow up and you get past those rivalries. And you do what’s best for the team,” he said. “… Because you’re going to put your best foot forward and play for the uniform you’re wearing today.”
He won’t be surprised if that uniform says “Kentucky” on it.
Pospichal said Randle grew from the experience of playing for the gold-medal winning U.S. under-18 team in Brazil this summer. He was joined on that squad with high-level players like N.C. State’s Rodney Purvis, Tennessee’s Jarnell Stokes and Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart.
All of his Team USA peers will end up playing for elite D-I programs. And those are the type of teammates Randle would have at UK.
“He got a chance to play with other guys that are like him. … So he’s not going to have to do everything,” Pospichal said. “He’s going to play at Kentucky with a high-caliber player, an elite player, a potential first-round draft pick at every position. That’s going to make his job easier.
“You want to play with people you can count on and trust.”
John Calipari recruits those people. And Pospichal says that’s not lost on elite high school players like Randle.
“When you think about college basketball today you think about two people. You think about Mike Krzyzewski and you think about John Calipari,” he said. “What (Calipari) has done here recently is kind of unrivaled. He’s put together this formula like Gatorade. Everybody’s drinking it. It’s amazing.”
Like any player of Randle’s caliber, the goal is to be successful in college but then go to the NBA after one season. Since coming to Kentucky, John Calipari has had 15 NBA Draft picks in just three seasons. Eleven of those players have gone in the first round.
Other programs have had great success of putting players in the NBA. But no school’s recent numbers match up with Kentucky. Pospichal described Randle’s college choice as a “business decision.”
Kentucky, he says, is in the business up sending players to the next level.
“Other coaches will say, ‘Well it doesn’t matter. He can come play at this school or that school and he still potentially could be a one-and-done guy.’ Sure he could. But, the percentages are higher (at Kentucky).
“You can look at a lot of really, really good programs. But at the end of the day, what do the elite of the elite want? They want to win. But, more importantly, they want to go play at the next level. They want to play in the NBA. In the last three years, who’s done better than that guy? Nobody.”
Despite the praise, Pospichal said it was too early to call Kentucky the outright favorite in Randle’s recruitment. Duke, North Carolina, Kansas and others will be on his trail until he finally makes an announcement, which the coach says probably won’t come until after the college basketball season is over.
But if it’s a strict business decision, as Pospichal says, the Cats look to be in pretty good shape.
“There are a lot of really good programs that are recruiting Julius,” he said. “But when you’re evaluating it would be hard not to look at Kentucky and go, ‘Gosh, they’re right in there.’ If you’re a Kentucky fan you’ve got to love what’s going on in your place.”