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Randle embracing pressure of expectations, Kidd-Gilchrist comparison

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Kentucky freshman forward Julius Randle. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Kentucky freshman forward Julius Randle. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
John Calipari has been nothing short of effusive in his praise of Julius Randle.

Calipari has lauded the nation's second-ranked freshman for his versatility. He's pointed out his rare combination of size, strength and skill. He's fawned over Randle's athleticism and finishing ability.

But to anyone who follows Kentucky basketball closely, it's not any description of the 6-foot-9, 250-pound forward's measurables that sticks out. Rather, it's Calipari's comparison of Randle to a past pupil that is most exciting.

Calipari sees shades of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in Randle's game.

In an August workout, Calipari watched as Randle missed a shot at the rim. In an instant, Randle's head was right back at rim level attempting a put-back. Calipari can't remember exactly how many times Randle repeated the process, but he didn't stop until the ball went through the net.

Sound familiar?

"What happened two years ago is Michael dragged us to that level as a team," Calipari said. "And that's what I'm asking Julius to do. Forget about everything else. Just do that right there and drag us. We'll help you with all the other stuff. You don't lose that."

That directive is equal parts simple and extraordinarily difficult.

Kidd-Gilchrist's capacity to work and, by extension, lead is almost without equal. The youngest player on a team that featured six future NBA Draft picks, Kidd-Gilchrist emerged as the tone-setter en route to a national championship.

Randle - who played in the McDonald's All-American and Jordan Brand Classic games just two years after Kidd-Gilchrist did the same - understands the weight behind his coach's words.

"It's definitely humbling," Randle said. "Michael did a lot of great things for the team two years ago. To be compared to a guy like that as far as work ethic and stuff like that, it's a great thing for sure."

Short of Calipari, perhaps no one understands the value of a Kidd-Gilchrist-like presence than Dakari Johnson. The 7-foot center was a teammate of Kidd-Gilchrist's at St. Patrick's High School back in 2010-11 when he was a freshman and still counts the current Charlotte Bobcat a close friend.

"He's the ultimate team player," Johnson said. "Even in that one year, I was struggling for most of it and he would always be in my ear telling me to pick it up, just to push myself. He really showed me what it was to work hard and why he was so successful on the court."

Johnson has noticed a similar drive in Randle since the two have been on campus starting back in June.

"I kind of see it because, Julius, he has a non-stop motor. He's relentless too like Mike," Johnson said. "They're like non-stop, both of them."

Randle doesn't balk at the idea of being mentioned in the same breath as the former No. 2 overall pick. In fact, he embraces it as a challenge. He attributes his inexhaustible work ethic to a fear of failure and his capacity to lead to his upbringing.

"Just because my mom, it's something she instilled it in me," Randle said. "I saw how she had to be a leader in taking care of us, taking care of my family. So she's always done it by herself and I want to pay her back, take care of her."

That close relationship with his mother is another thing Randle has in common with Kidd-Gilchrist and he hopes to use it as fuel to push his teammates just as his predecessor did. Kidd-Gilchrist, however, succeeded in large part due to the fact that his teammates were willing participants. Randle already sees signs he's a part of a similar group of Wildcats.

"I'm not a selfish person," Randle said. "I want people to do great just like me. I think it'll be a lot easier to because we have guys that are willing to put in the work."

Calipari recognizes he's putting quite a bit on the shoulders of a player who won't turn 19 until after the seventh game of his college career. For that reason, Coach Cal isn't asking Randle to be anything more than who he is when he steps on the floor. That will make Randle a different player than Kidd-Gilchrist, but special nonetheless.

"Michael, there's stuff I've seen Michael do that I couldn't believe human beings could do," Calipari said. "But this kid, he's his own guy. He's 6-9, 250, nimble and he's tough."

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