Kentucky freshman superstar Julius Randle has lived up to the hype and then some through the first month of the college basketball season, proving to be the early favorite for the Naismith Player of the Year Award.
The highly-touted forward out of Dallas is leading the No. 4 Wildcats in scoring and rebounding through their first five games and ranks second in NCAA Division I in rebounding. The 6'9", 250-pound stud has pulled down 13.4 on average to go along with 20.8 points per game.
Although Randle isn't doing any damage from beyond the arc, his early dominance is reminiscent of Kevin Durant seven years ago.
Durant, a 6'9" forward for Texas, became the first freshman to win National Player of the Year honors in 2006-07. Like Durant, Randle is averaging a double-double early on and is sure to be a top-five pick in next summer's NBA draft.
*through five games
Perhaps a better comparison would be another freshman forward from Kentucky who recently won the Naismith Award, Anthony Davis. Davis was the Wildcats' best player two seasons ago and averaged a double-double in his only college season in 2011-12.
Although Davis' dominance was often predicated on the defensive end of the floor, it's hard to argue that Randle's impact hasn't been just as great in terms of all-around performance thus far.
Julius Randle with his fifth straight double-double— Matt Jones (@KySportsRadio) November 20, 2013
Though it's far too early to crown any one player, if Randle maintains his current pace, he must be considered the front-runner to win heading into the new year and conference play.
Which freshman has been the most impressive thus far?
After all, in Kentucky's only true test this season against Michigan State, Randle was everything the experts thought he could be. Although he started slow, he finished with 27 points and 13 rebounds in the narrow loss. What's more, he shot 9-of-14 from the field and earned a season-high 15 free-throw attempts.
That powerful and aggressive style is sure to benefit him moving forward as the competition stiffens.
While it would be silly to say the first-year forward is a lock to win Player of the Year honors in November—especially with Duke's Jabari Parker playing spectacular basketball early—if you're searching for an early-season favorite, look no further than Julius Randle.
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