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In midst of record-setting start, Randle accepting challenge to improve

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Julius Randle had 23 points and 16 rebounds in UK's 93-63 win over NKU on Sunday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Julius Randle had 23 points and 16 rebounds in UK's 93-63 win over NKU on Sunday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
The question was completely fair.

Two dominant regular-season games in, Julius Randle was asked whether he could have imagined a better start to his collegiate career.

After posting a second straight double-double in a 93-63 win over Northern Kentucky on Sunday, Randle smiled and took a moment to decide how to answer.

"If you say so," Randle said.

For anyone not wearing his No. 30 jersey or his coach's loafers, the answer would surely be a resounding no. To say anything else after he posted 22 points and 14 rebounds against the Norse to follow a 23-point, 16-rebound effort in the season opener would be crazy, right?

Could he have expected something more than scoring the most points through two games of any UK freshman under John Calipari, breaking John Wall's previous record of 40? Could he have thought he could do better becoming the first freshman since Michael Beasley six years ago to 20-point, 10-rebound games in each of his first two games?

Well, yeah.

To get this straight, Randle is averaging 22.5 points and 15.0 rebounds through two games. He's shooting 60 percent from the field and nearly 80 percent from the free-throw line.  He also offers the following appraisal of his performance to date.

"I'm still missing a lot of opportunities," Randle said. "A lot of balls I should come up with. I think I missed like four free throws today (he shot 10 for 14), so I'm still leaving a lot out there. I've just gotta learn from it and improve."

Randle has always had a reputation for demanding the best of himself, but his pursuit of perfection has been cranked up a notch since he put on Kentucky blue. That surely has something to do with Calipari.

"He should be averaging 20 rebounds a game right now I would say," Coach Cal said.

At one point during the first half when Randle was on the bench for a breather, Alex Poythress grabbed an offensive rebound and laid it back in, causing Calipari to turn and say something to his star freshman.

"He was just challenging me saying that's gotta be me on the offensive glass like that," Randle said. "I've gotta accept the challenge and keep going."

It's both a sign of how well Poythress is playing -- he had nine points and seven rebounds in just 20 minutes -- and of how good Calipari believes Randle can be that he would issue such a challenge. If Randle is able to do what Coach Cal believes he can, the college basketball world better watch out because he's pretty good already.

"He's playing very well," said Andrew Harrison, who scored 13 points. "I knew how good he was. He's a hard worker too. There's nothing he can be but good."

Harrison has never experienced playing college basketball without Randle, but Willie Cauley-Stein has. The perspective of playing his freshman year with no presence like the 6-foot-9, 250-pound Calipari-described "alpha beast" alongside him in the post makes Cauley-Stein realize how fortunate UK is to have Randle.

"It's fun," said the 7-foot sophomore who had seven points and 11 rebounds on Sunday. "If all else fails, you can just throw him the ball and he's going to make something happen. He's a great teammate to have on your team because you know he's always going to make a play. He's pretty good."

The only time on Sunday NKU was able to slow Randle was when he took an inadvertent poke to the eye during the first half. The play sent him to the bench less than three minutes into the game, but not for long.

"I couldn't see for a little bit, but I'm good now," Randle said.

Always asking for more, Calipari even used Randle's brief exit as a teachable moment.

"He stops out there," Calipari said, referencing Randle's unwillingness to leave the game regardless how tired he may be, "and he finally took himself out for the first time this season. He took himself out. The only way he came out was the guy almost poked his eye out, so had he to come out. You can't play at the pace we play and stay in there for 15 minutes. You just can't do it."

If Randle weren't the way he is, he might view Calipari's coaching as nitpicking. Instead, he understands his coach is only trying to make him better.

With that in mind, Randle is going to strive to meet those high standards even though he knows Coach Cal will only raise the bar if he reaches them.

"I'll try to (get 20 rebounds)," Randle said. "But if I get 20, he's going to ask for 25. I'm just out there trying my best and trying to get better."

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