All the talk about the top of the 2014 NBA draft is related to Kansas' Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid and Duke's Jabari Parker. It is understandable, considering all three young men are having great freshman seasons.
That said, Julius Randle—Kentucky's best player and another member of this stunningly good freshman class—reminded us just how good he can be on Saturday. On the strength of his 29-point, 10-rebound performance against the Belmont Bruins, the 6'9" power forward can't be ignored when discussing the elite prospects who could potentially be in the upcoming draft.
Belmont isn't a Top 25 team, but the Bruins gave Kentucky all it could handle. The fact that 15 of Randle's 29 points came in the second half makes his outing all the more impressive. Coming off a season low in points and rebounds against the North Carolina Tar Heels in his last game, Randle needed to bounce back.
With so much competition in the race to be the top pick in the draft, there is a thin line for the freshmen between extending the hype from high school and falling behind their peers.
It is easy to forget that Randle is averaging 18.2 points and 11.2 rebounds per game this season. He began the year with seven straight double-doubles. The one he had on Saturday was his ninth of the year. He and Louisiana Lafayette's Shawn Long are the only players in the nation who are averaging at least 18 points and 11 rebounds.
No disrespect to Long, but he is a junior, while Randle turned 19 on Nov. 29. Randle's performance thus far has been a bit more impressive considering the difference in experience.
Kentucky has the rivalry clash against Louisville on Dec. 28 and then conference play after that. Randle is poised to make an even bigger impression against major programs.
He may not overtake Wiggins, Embiid and Parker in the eyes of NBA general managers by June 2014. However, if he continues to play at this level, he'll make any decision to pass on him in the draft a difficult one.
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