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Quickly as it went by, Randle won't forget time at UK

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Julius Randle declared for the NBA Draft on Tuesday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Julius Randle declared for the NBA Draft on Tuesday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
It was more than a year ago now that Julius Randle committed to Kentucky.

Just a few months later, he arrived on campus and began practicing with his teammates. Big Blue Madness, a tumultuous regular season and a magical NCAA Tournament were next on the docket.

As Randle sat at a podium announcing his decision to declare for the NBA Draft on Tuesday, he couldn't help but wonder where the time went.

"This season, this year, the more I think about it, it just went by fast," Randle said. "I'm definitely going to miss it. Kentucky will always have a special place in my heart. Growing up as a kid, it's always been my dream to play in the NBA, and there's no better opportunity for me to achieve that goal than now."

When Randle came to UK, he put thoughts of playing professionally on hold. Instead, he focused on building bonds with his team and playing for college basketball's ultimate prize.

The Wildcats came up one win short of the latter goal, but succeeded wildly when it came to the former. That's why Randle was able to make the decision to leave Lexington with his head held high.

"I know I came one game short of winning a national championship - we did as a team - but everything we went through this year is just an experience that I'll never forget," Randle said. "That alone was enough, kept me at peace to leave."

Short of beating Connecticut, Randle couldn't have accomplished much more in his short time as a Wildcat.

The 6-foot-9 forward arrived with a five-star pedigree and delivered. He was a dominant force from the beginning of the season onward in spite of facing double and triple teams after a 27-point, 13-rebound performance against Michigan State. Randle averaged 15.0 points and 10.4 rebounds, garnering Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Year honors in the process.

"I would say my one year here was fantastic because (John Calipari) goes into your home when he recruits you and he says, 'It's going to be the hardest thing you've ever done,' " Randle said. " 'You're going to work the hardest you ever did.' You say OK, but you may not believe it. But once you're in the fire, what he said is true."

After surviving the fire, Randle moves on to the next challenge. He's the No. 5 prospect on Chad Ford's Big Board and the No. 4 overall pick in Draft Express's 2014 mock draft. No matter where he lands, Coach Cal sees a bright future ahead.

"I truly believe that Julius will be an even better pro than a college player," Calipari said in a release. "He was Shaq'd (Shaquille O'Neal) all year - in every way. I really appreciate all that he did for this program and how he represented all of us throughout the entire year. I cannot wait to watch him shine at the next level."

While Calipari watches his former pupil in the NBA, Randle will be watching his former coach's team next season.

He had no insight to offer about the pending stay-or-leave decisions of Aaron and Andrew Harrison, Alex Poythress and Dakari Johnson, but Randle had plenty of good things to say about next year's team.

"I mean, we have so much talent," Randle said. "Willie (Cauley-Stein) coming back. We have Marcus (Lee). He was huge in the tournament. All the incoming guys. We have so much talent coming in next year. We're definitely going to make another run."

The use of first person is particularly telling because Randle isn't about to stop being a Wildcat even though he won't wear the uniform next year. With that in mind, he had some advice to pass on to his UK brethren, who figure to shoulder some of the same expectations Randle and last year's Cats had to cope with.

"I think that's why I was able deal with the criticism myself, because I never really fed into or really read anything or believed anything," Randle said. "I just tried to stay in my own little circle or little bubble and focused on the team and that's all I really cared about. As long as you're invested into the team, that's your total focus, investing into being a student-athlete then you won't really won't waver too much from the criticism or expectations."

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