Written by SportsDayDFW.com
Prestonwood's Julius Randle chooses Kentucky, caps historic recruiting class
PLANO — Julius Randle has packed gyms and been the center of attention many times. On Wednesday afternoon at Plano Prestonwood Christian Academy, he was in the spotlight wearing a vest and tie with no basketball.
The celebration ceremony at midcourt was all about where the 6-9 Randle would play basketball next season. The answer — broadcast live on ESPNU — was Kentucky.
“[Kentucky’s] system was the best fit,” Randle said. “I trusted coach [John Calipari]. In my heart, that’s where I always wanted to go. I wasn’t going to go against my heart.”
Randle’s finalists were Kentucky, Kansas, Texas and Florida. Why not stay at home and play at Texas?
“At the beginning of the year, I liked Texas a lot,” Randle said. “But I felt like [Kentucky] was the best place for me to develop, play with great players and win it. I felt like this was the best situation for me at the end of the day.”
When he officially signs in April, Randle will become part of a highly regarded Kentucky class that is being compared to the iconic “Fab Five” of Michigan’s 1991 class. Kentucky’s class includes twins Andrew and Aaron Harrison, who led Fort Bend Travis to the Class 5A state title this season. Kentucky also is a finalist for 6-8 Andrew Wiggins, who plays at a West Virginia prep school and has been dubbed by some as the “Canadian LeBron James.”
Some college basketball writers and analysts are calling this Kentucky recruiting class the best in college basketball history.
“It’s an amazing class, but we haven’t done anything yet,” Randle told reporters after his announcement. “Our class isn’t going to be judged until you see how we play in college. And our goal is to win it, go undefeated, whatever we want to do. Once we do that, then you can judge our class. But right now, we’re just great recruits.”
Randle is rated the No. 2 player in the nation in the 2013 recruiting class by Rivals.com. Recognizable coaches from around the country have been regular visitors to the Prestonwood campus during the last four years.
“About a year and a half ago, I was sitting in my office talking with someone, and we knew that whenever Julius decided it would be a big deal,” Prestonwood athletic director Chris Cunningham said. “We didn’t know ESPN was coming out, but we knew it would be huge. [His recruiting] had gotten to the point we knew it wouldn’t be a normal.”
Randle has been on recruiting radars since he was a 5-11 fifth-grader in McKinney who joined the AAU select Texas Titans, sponsored by Dallas businessman Kenny Troutt. Prestonwood head of school Larry Taylor recognized Kenny and Lisa Troutt in presentations surrounding Randle’s announcement.
Randle was USA Basketball’s leading scorer and rebounder in last summer’s FIBA Americas U18 Championship, and the experience swayed his decision to join other stars at Kentucky.
“With the USA team I was able to be around great players,” Randle said. “To battle those guys every day in practice and become a better player. That was a positive thing.”
Kansas had high hopes of signing Randle. The Jayhawks’ Bill Self was the only college coach at Randle’s state semifinal in Mansfield.
Randle gave Kentucky — last season’s NCAA champion — a reason for optimism after a disappointing season ended Tuesday with a loss to Robert Morris in the opening round of the NIT. Randle said he didn’t watch the game on TV because he was having dinner with his family, but he gave Calipari a lift by calling him Wednesday morning.
“[Calipari] was happy, shocked, just really, really happy,” Randle said.
Randle missed most of his senior season at Prestonwood because of a fractured foot suffered in the second game. He returned for the final five games of the season and led Prestonwood to a second consecutive TAPPS 5A state title. He scored 40 points in the semifinal and 34 in the state final.
Prestonwood finished with a 15-19 overall record but was 6-1 in the seven games Randle played. The loss came against Duncanville when Randle was injured.
Randle is a Jordan Brand All-American and was a late addition for the McDonald’s All American Game. Randle is considered a power forward, but former Oklahoma standout Jeff Webster, who works with Randle as a specialized coach, said versatility makes Randle such an exceptional prospect.
“He’s a basketball player,” Webster said. “He can rebound, he handles the ball, he can pass. The way the game has changed, he’s one of those players who can adapt and play whatever position it takes to win.”
Staff writer Brad Townsend contributed to this report.