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Calipari challenging Randle to expand game

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Freshman forward Julius Randle. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Freshman forward Julius Randle. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
John Calipari knows a surefire way Julius Randle could terrorize the college basketball world from the moment he first sets foot on the floor. If Calipari would just send his 6-foot-9, 250-pound "alpha beast" into the post, he's certain Randle would dominate.

Because of that, you'd likely assume Coach Cal is sending his prized freshman forward into the paint in preseason practices where Randle can immediately capitalize on his size, strength and athleticism.

You'd be wrong.

"That's not preparing him for what's ahead for him," Calipari said at Tuesday's Media Day. "I could play him at seven feet and try to win college games, tell him, I'm really helping you, or I can make him play out on the floor like we did Patrick Patterson."

If not for Calipari's background with Patterson, the approach might seem crazy.

Four seasons ago, Patterson was the best returning player on Coach Cal's first Kentucky team, an All-Southeastern Conference performer who played strictly in the paint for most of his first two seasons. Bypassing the NBA Draft, Patterson opted to return to UK for his junior season and Calipari quickly went about shaping him into a versatile power forward.

His game expanded, the Wildcats thrived and Patterson became a lottery pick in the 2010 NBA Draft and now has a regular role with the Sacramento Kings thanks in large part due to a knockdown midrange game.

Now, Randle is going through a similar transition.

"We're changing how he plays," Calipari said. "So he's not as confident. He doesn't have the swagger that he had right now because we're changing    you can't do it from seven feet. Now get out there and do it from the perimeter."

Randle -- the media's preseason SEC Player of the Year pick -- is accustomed to success. After returning from a fractured right foot that cost him most of his final high-school season, Randle averaged 32.5 points and 22.5 rebounds in leading Prestonwood Christian Academy to a state title. He was a McDonald's and Jordan Brand All-American and a top-five recruit according to every major outlet.

His background means the growing pains which he's now coping with are unfamiliar. Calipari says Randle is still a work in progress when it comes to decision-making and rebounding when he's so far from the hoop, but Randle isn't batting an eye.

"I came here because I trusted him, so I am going to do what he says," Randle said. "It can be difficult because you want to do things your own way, but from what I have learned so far in practice, if you keep working on it and working on it the way he teaches you to do it then it starts to work out and you start getting good at it."

So, what are practices now like for Randle?
"In workouts I pretty much work on everything from shooting the ball, shooting the ball off the dribble, coming to one-two stops, shooting floaters right- and left-handed," Randle said. "Just have to keep working on that stuff and be patient enough to know it will work out."

Randle's teammates say they have already noticed improvement in the big lefthander.

"He's shooting a lot better now," James Young said. "Very strong. He's using his right hand more. I've already seen him use it and he's getting better with it."

Randle's new role, however, isn't wholly unfamiliar. He would often flash ability away from basket and prided himself on being able to play all over the floor.

"It hasn't been a tough adjustment because in high school I played out there a lot, just basically being like a combo forward, a guy who could play inside and out," Randle said. "I think my trainers in high school, my mentor Jeff Webster (a former star at Oklahoma), and how they trained me in the past has kind of made it an easy adjustment because I've already had that training, but it's just taking it to the next level here."

Calipari is sure he will reach that next level, and it has a lot to do with Randle's work ethic. In fact, the only player Calipari can remember coaching that has matched Randle's work habits was Brandon Knight.

"I come in last night," Calipari said. "I'm in my office about 11, 10:30. He's in there shooting. This morning, I hear blup, blup, blup, and I look out my window in the morning, and he's got a full sweat going, and he's going to practice today."

With that willingness to work, imagine what Randle could do to opponents if he simply focused on playing inside. That's surely a tempting thought for Calipari, particularly as the season approaches, but he knows both Randle and the team will be best served by pushing his limits.

"If I'm about my players and I do right by their growth, we'll win our college games, make it simple for you," Calipari said.

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