USA U18 Gold-Medalist Julius Randle Returns To The Court
USA Basketball's leading scorer and rebounder from this past summer's 2012 FIBA Americas U18 Championship, Julius Randle (Prestonwood Christian Academy/McKinney, Texas) will be back in a USA Basketball jersey come April 20 for the 2013 Nike Hoop Summit. Unlike the U18 championship, which saw Randle contribute team-highs of 14.2 points and 6.6 rebounds per game through five wins, the Nike Hoop Summit is an annual, one-game showdown that pits top U.S. high school seniors against the best players from around the world, age 19-years-old or younger.
"I was really honored when they asked me to join the (USA) Nike Hoop Summit team," Randle said. "I know all of the history of the players that have come through this game, and then it being me representing my country, that's a huge honor for me. I experienced it over the summer, and I was really excited to be able to do something with USA Basketball again."
The jersey will be nearly the same in 2013 as it was in 2012, but the event will not. Some of the differences between the Nike Hoop Summit and traditional USA Basketball experiences, however, are exactly why Randle said the event has him excited.
"I think the game is an example of how rich basketball is in the USA," Randle said. "It's the USA versus all of the top players from every other country. That speaks to how good basketball is in the USA. And the game is played in an NBA arena in the (Portland) Rose Garden and they sell a lot of tickets. It's a big crowd, and that's always something that has stuck out about the game to me, too."
Randle won't be the only player bringing prior international experience along with him to Portland. In fact, three of his teammates -- Aaron Gordon, Rondaé Hollis-Jefferson, Jabari Parker -- garnered valuable experience with USA Basketball U16 and U17 teams in 2011 and 2012. Randle says all of the players, no matter their prior experience, have some history with each other. Something everyone hopes will help the team to develop chemistry in its two days of practices.
"I've played against, I've played with the guys, a lot of the guys through AAU summer basketball or summer camps," Randle said of his nine U.S. teammates. "It's always a fun experience to kind of reunite with the guys and compete against them in training."
Is there someone you mold your game after?
Who was your favorite player growing up?
When did you start playing?
How often do you work out?
Is that your schedule year-round?
What exactly the team will be training to compete against mostly will be unknown. The 10-or-11-member World Select Team that will be compiled by Nike's international talent scouts will not be announced until sometime in March, and the roster will be comprised of players from all over the world -- players unfamiliar here in the U.S. A possible exception, however, will be Canadian Andrew Wiggins. The 6-7 forward plays at Huntington Prep in West Virginia and is a favorite to make the World Team again in 2013 after helping the international squad to a win in 2012 with 20 points, including a World Team-record six attempted 3-pointers. Wiggins, coincidentally, fits the style of international play Randle said he expects to see in the game.
"I expect the World Team will have a lot of guys who can shoot, and people who are very skilled at different positions. Big guys who can really stretch the floor, who are mobile and can shoot the long ball," said Randle when asked what he expected to face on April 20.
The time leading up to the Nike Hoop Summit will be incredibly valuable for Randle in particular. While his teammates are in the midst of their high school seasons, Randle is just now getting back on the court after injuring his foot in late November.
"I just got back this week, and I'm doing some stuff on the basketball court now," Randle said. "I'm taking it slow."
The view from the bench has been challenging, Randle admitted.
"I love basketball, so me being able to work on my craft and perfect my craft, that's just something that's very encouraging to me. As far as my struggle off the court, when I wasn't playing, it was a big-time struggle for me as far as sitting back and watching my teammates struggle without me and me also knowing that I'm not getting better sitting on the sideline. The game of basketball getting taken away from me, it kind of hurt a lot, but I learned a lot through the experience."
Before the season Randle had goals related to winning with his teammates. After the injury, his goals became more personal.
"Basically my goal is just to get healthy and just to get back into shape and get ready for the all-star games and college and make sure that I'm 100 percent and better than I was before, when I step on the college court."
While Randle knows he wants to be better at the next level, he isn't yet sure where, and he is one of two U.S. players undecided about what college they would like to attend.
"I would say that a coach who I can trust, that I know is going to push me to get better, academics -- a school that fits what I'm looking for academically, and just a family environment that I know when I'm there that people will take care of me," said Randle about how he will make his college choice. "And a great fan base -- I love that also."
By virtue of being undecided, Randle has fans all over the country following his every basketball move. Reportedly, his short list is down to Kansas, Kentucky, Florida, Oklahoma, North Carolina State and Texas. Luckily for his supporters, Randle has been blogging for USA Today this season, an experience he said he has thoroughly enjoyed.
"It's definitely fun," Randle said of his blog. "It keeps the people who follow me in basketball up to date with what's going on with my recruitment and stuff like that. It's been fun to interact with fans."
No matter which school lands the versatile, 6-9 forward come this spring, Portland-area basketball fans are in for a treat as Randle and his U.S. teammates take on the World Team on April 20. Don't forget to get your tickets.