Julius Randle is a confident young man and it's hard to blame him. He's 19, spent a season showcasing his talent under John Calipari at the University of Kentucky -- the same school that's planning on hosting NBA-styled combines going forward -- and never broke stride when he walked up to shake NBA commissioner Adam Silver's hand as he put on his Los Angeles Lakers draft day cap. Don't confuse that edginess with immaturity or disrespect, though. Randle is ready to learn and earn the right to represent the purple and gold.
"I don't want anything given to me. Starting in the NBA, you have to earn that," Randle told ESPN LA radio during Lakers media day, "You have guys who have earned that here, and that's something I'm going to have to earn."
"When things are given to people that's when I see things kinda' collapse for a person."
The Lakers' surprise winning bid on Carlos Boozer has caused a stir with fans of the franchise. The open lane Randle was supposed to have was suddenly clogged, and that very well may be the case to start the season. Byron Scott hammered home the importance of Randle proving himself as a rookie and earning respect of the veterans on the team. Scott will have to let go and see what happens, though. "We're going to have to throw him out there in the fire every now and then and see how he reacts," Scott said after explaining the importance of Randle earning his minutes.
Randle will be just fine in those moments. He's cool, collected and won't be shaken when his number is called. He's taking that same unfazed approach with being labeled as the first flickering flame of hope for a franchise that's gone dark over the last two seasons. "It's just basketball. At the end of the day you put in the work, and all you can do is trust the work you put in."
Work is something Lakers fans have come to expect out of their franchise player. It's the kind of culture Kobe Bryant has willed onto the franchise, and the kind of culture Pat Riley instilled into the franchise when he led the Lakers during a golden era of basketball. Take, for instance, this anecdote chronicled by the New York Times' Charlie Noble in 1995:
It was during one of Pat Riley's nine mostly successful coaching seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers. Magic Johnson approached him and said, in essence, that the Lakers were winning, but they weren't having fun doing it.
Johnson suggested that Riley ease up. So the next day, midway through practice, Riley stopped all activity, pulled out a chair and asked everyone to gather around.
"The next 15 minutes will be devoted to facetiousness and levity," the coach said. Since then, Riley hasn't felt the need to lighten up about anything.
Work is one of the reasons many questioned the heart of Dwight Howard, who allowed the perception he wasn't putting in the kind of diligence the Lakers needed out of him. Work is one of the reasons Andrew Bynum didn't always seem to fit into being a Laker, even if he had endless talent above those hopeless knees. Work is one of the reasons Randle should stand apart from the pack, and he'll have Kobe Bryant teaching him the ropes.
Randle looked up to Kobe Bryant growing up, something many Lakers fans can relate to. He's admitted, repeatedly, he was his favorite player. He posted a throwback picture of himself wearing a No. 8 Bryant jersey shortly after the Lakers officially called his name on draft night. Everything changed the moment he was cast to be part of Bryant's final chapters, though.
"It went from admiration to, I would say, man I could learn a lot now. What can I learn from him. How much information can I soak up from him," Randle said when asked about his thoughts on playing with his basketball idol. "Hopefully the torch is passed to me. Hopefully I can fill his shoes. Hopefully I can be half as good as him."
Nobody expects Julius Randle to be a generational talent, but he has the tools to be a dominant power forward in the NBA today. He's athletic, can handle the ball like a shooting guard, already has a nice bag of tricks to shake faced-up defenders and still has so much room for growth. His mid-range game needs some fine tuning, but there's reason to be optimistic it'll come along with time and repetition.
When you put together that outward confidence, his hunger to be great and his obvious basketball talents, it's hard to imagine Randle becoming anything but an impact player for the Lakers. The feeling of inevitability in Randle's rise will certainly lead to inflated expectations, but what if he delivers on that promise? Plenty of players prove themselves early in their careers, and the Lakers are long overdue for unequivocally good news for a change.
What matters, for now, is this: The Lakers have a player who shamelessly wants to learn from Kobe Bryant, looks forward to the challenge of earning his way and putting in the necessary work, and has the talent to put it all together in a hurry. Let's not over complicate this.
It's just basketball. Right?