When the last college basketball season began, he was predicted by many to be the top pick in the upcoming
When last season ended, his team was playing in the national championship game, and he had led them there, piling up double-doubles in
Yet Thursday night in Brooklyn, when it was time for large, powerful and passionate
He was bypassed by two players who couldn't get their teams out of the first weekend of the tournament. He was bypassed by a chronically injured center who might not play for six months. He was bypassed by a kid guard from Australia who never played collegiately, an Oklahoma State guard who can't shoot, and an
Then, finally, he walked into the surprise embrace of the
Good news, Lakers fans. At long last, some very good news.
"The bottom line is, he plays and competes at a very, very high level," General Manager
Oh, yeah. Kobe. If the Lakers wanted to smooth Bryant's last laps while creating the foundation for a future without him, they couldn't have done better with the seventh overall pick. Randle is the sort of bruiser and bodyguard that Bryant hasn't had since
Can Randle team with Bryant to lead them back to a championship the next two seasons? No, he's only 19. But can Randle grab enough offensive rebounds and clear enough space to allow Bryant to get the most out of his farewell tour? Yes. And can this potential younger version of
Randle has already shown a bit of the swagger necessary for someone to succeed on a Kobe Bryant-run Hollywood team. Witness one of his pre-draft quotes.
"I heard Kobe was as little tough on rookies, but I don't care," Randle said. "The city of Los Angeles expects nothing but championships. What more can I ask for?"
Moments after he was picked Thursday, the kid ducked his head and kept charging.
"I think I should've went higher, for sure but, you know, the teams that passed on me will regret it," he told
Later in the interview, Williams saved Randle from himself when he reminded him to acknowledge Bryant while he was listing his favorite things about the franchise.
Said Randle: "L.A. is the perfect spot for me, I get to go play in a great city, a great franchise that expects nothing but championshps, great market, great organization.…
Interrupted Williams: "And Kobe Bryant?"
Said Randle: "And Kobe Bryant, my idol growing up."
One reason Randle might have fallen in the draft is that there are reports he may need surgery to rearrange a pin that was incorrectly placed in his foot when he broke it while playing for his Dallas-area high school. But it didn't stop him from leading Kentucky to within a few missed free throws of winning the national championship game against Connecticut this spring, and Kupchak said he has no long-term concerns.
"We felt that his talent was such that even if he did have to miss a period of time with that kind of injury — it could be six months if necessary — it would not impact his career," Kupchak said. "At his age, even if he does reinjure it, there's no reason he can't play 12 to 14 more years at a very, very high level"
Another reason he might have fallen is that he simply got lost in the midst of all the other talent at Kentucky. But even amid those game-winning shots hit by one of those Harrison kids, Randle was still the Wildcat leader. He's not flashy, as about 85% of his shots were in the paint. He's not a court-wide threat, as he did not make a jumper after a February game against Florida. But unlike Thursday's top twosome of Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker, he was able to elevate his team in crunch time. He is a winner, and his new team knows all about drafting winners. The last time the Lakers had a draft pick as high as No. 7, they made
"That was the organization I wanted to go to, it couldn't be a better situation for me," Randle told Los Angeles reporters in a Thursday night conference call. "They didn't think I'd be available at seven.… When I got there [for a pre-draft workout], man, it felt like home."
The Lakers must still travel many miles before returning to the