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Hometown Final Four fulfills two-year dream for Randle

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Julius Randle will return to his hometown of Dallas for the Final Four this week. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Julius Randle will return to his hometown of Dallas for the Final Four this week. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Julius Randle was a high-school junior sitting in study hall when he first found out.

His schoolwork done, Randle came across the news that the Final Four would be coming to AT&T Stadium in 2014. Thinking two years in his future, Randle pictured himself a college freshman playing for a national championship mere miles from where he grew up.

He hasn't stopped thinking about it since.

"It's been my screensaver for about two years," Randle said.

A year after he first found out North Texas would host the Final Four, Randle was in AT&T Stadium. Watching Florida and Michigan play in the Elite Eight just weeks after committing to Kentucky, Randle's focus only intensified.

"I just wanted to make sure I did whatever I could to get back there," Randle said. "It's just added motivation that it's in Dallas, but any kid wants to play in the Final Four. I don't care if it's on the moon. You want to play in the Final Four. But for it to be in my hometown, it's special as well."

It became even more special last weekend when playing in the Final Four went from dream to reality for Randle.

Randle's mother, Carolyn Kyles, was in Indianapolis as her only son played in the Midwest Regional semifinals and finals. She saw all of UK's comeback victory over Louisville on Friday, but had to leave Randle's Elite Eight game against Michigan early to catch a flight home so she could work first thing on Monday morning.

"I knew she was going to have to leave so I just wanted to make sure we won so I could see her again," Randle said.

Randle -- the Midwest Region's Most Outstanding Player -- delivered. Now, he gets to go home and play on college basketball's biggest stage in front of his mother.

"She's really excited," Randle said. "I don't know much she's going to be around because I know she wants me to focus and stuff, but she's really excited and so is the rest of my family."

To Randle, that kind of unselfishness is what defines his mother above all else.

"Just seeing her every day get up, go to work and just take care of me and my sister and for her to do it by herself and for her not to have much and to make sure me and my sister felt like we had everything we needed and wanted just goes to show how strong of a woman she is," Randle said. "She did it all by herself."

Of course, paying his mother back for all she's done helps drive Randle to be the tireless worker he is on and off the floor. But Kyles has refused to let that overwhelm her son.

"She's always telling me just to enjoy being a college student, not to worry about her, not to worry about taking care of her," Randle said. "She says to enjoy being a college student because she doesn't want to put that type of pressure on me and there's no need to. I'm just blessed to be here, play basketball at Kentucky and that's all I can really focus on."

It's that kind of perspective, character and strong family background John Calipari saw early in Randle's recruiting process.

"The best thing that has happened for him is that he surrounded by good people, and they all tell him the truth," Calipari said. "They tell him the truth. ... His mother is solid; she left the game early because she had to go to work."

The same goes for the Harrison twins, who will also be returning to their home state for UK's Saturday national semifinal matchup with Wisconsin. Andrew and Aaron Harrison and Randle give Coach Cal three players from the Lone Star State, which was unthinkable 20 years ago.

"When I was back at UMass and went into Texas, the coaches asked if we were Division I or Division II, so we didn't do real well then," Calipari said.

Doing well in Texas has become more and more important over the years. Though the state is still known for the bright lights of football, basketball has come a long way.

"Where Texas was always just about football, it still is, Friday nights and all that stuff," Calipari said. "But the coaching in Texas, the high-school coaching, has gone from the (football) line coach coaching the basketball team, to basketball coaches, basketball junkies, coaching basketball now. So now all of a sudden you're getting skilled players."

UK's Texas trio certainly fits that bill, benefitting from solid coaching on both their high school and AAU teams. The Harrisons, however, did dabble in football before switching to basketball full time. Andrew Harrison was a running back but was too lanky at the time to continue into high school.

"If it's not during the season, you have to do 7-on-7 or something like that," Andrew Harrison said. "We wanted to play basketball."

Based on the volume of ticket requests the Harrison twins are receiving for this weekend, they might have converted some football lovers with that choice. Aaron Harrison reported around 50 friends and family have asked for tickets and his brother the same, while Randle is forwarding all such requests to his mother.

"You can call my mom," Randle said. "I'm not dealing with it. I changed my number."

But not his screensaver

To bring you more expansive coverage, CoachCal.com and Cat Scratches will be joining forces for the postseason. You can read the same great stories you are accustomed to from both sites at CoachCal.com and UKathletics.com/blog, but now you'll enjoy even more coverage than normal.

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