Knicks: How Julius Randle battled through intense adversity and became ‘The Sergeant’

Julius Randle, New York Knicks
Dec 25, 2022; New York, New York, USA; New York Knicks forward Julius Randle (30) dribbles up court against the Philadelphia 76ers during the second half at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

New York Knicks star Julius Randle is entering the 10th season of his career, looking to become a cornerstone in New York sports history. The road to stardom has been rocky for Randle. But despite consistent doubts and criticism, Randle has demonstrated his resiliency with the Knicks and established himself as a bonafide star.

Taking a look back on Randle’s basketball career, his journey to becoming a centerpiece of the Knicks took place on a winding, bumpy road. But Randle battled through the adversity and is now “The Sergeant” of an up-and-coming Knicks squad that aims to wreak havoc on the Eastern Conference this season.

Julius Randle has been a stud since high school

Randle attended Prestonwood Christian in Plano, Texas, where he showcased his dominant skills on the court. In a popular “Ballislife” YouTube video, Randle proclaimed, “If I’m in my zone, it’s a good place to be,” displaying his impressive all-around game, including above-the-rim plays, lethal shooting, and his ability to be a motor for his young team. His outstanding talent at a young age earned him the second spot in ESPN’s national rankings coming out of high school.

Taking the NCAA by storm

Transitioning to the NCAA level, Randle wasted no time in demonstrating his skills at an even higher level for the Kentucky Wildcats. He emphasized the importance of self-awareness and poise in an interview with Whistle; two traits which proved to be valuable as he earned numerous honors, including first-team All-SEC and the 2014 SEC Rookie of the Year award.

Averaging 15 points and ten rebounds per game in college, there were no doubts about what Randle could bring to the NBA. Randle demonstrated his next level of development in college, exhibiting his ability to score as well as defend on all three levels.

A rocky start to Randle’s NBA career

After a successful collegiate career, Randle was drafted with the seventh overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft by the Los Angeles Lakers, their highest draft pick since taking James Worthy in 1982. Randle has never shied away from the bright lights.

The 2014 Lakers were entering the beginning of a new era for the franchise with Randle at the helm. A slow changing of the guard was to take place with Randle eventually taking over as the team’s next star. But, in his first game as a Laker, Randle fractured his tibia. With his future in question, the 250-pound rookie set his sights on a speedy recovery and worked diligently to get back to full strength.

A breakout second season with the Los Angeles Lakers

Returning with a new fire, Randle played so well upon his return that fans began to question his eligibility for Rookie of the Year. Following Randle’s explosive return to the NBA, long-time Lakers reporter Mike Trudell posted, “I asked the NBA if Julius Randle might have retained eligibility as a rookie since he played only 14 minutes last year before injury.”

Unfortunately, the NBA labeled Randle a second-year player. But the nod from fans and media alike showed high promise for his future.

Randle’s passion for the game was on full display as then-teammates Jordan Clarkson and D’Angelo Russell referred to him as “a beast” and a “monster with the ball” when speaking with ESPN senior writer Baxter Holmes in 2015.

Randle was improving his game year by year. Yet, with a regime change in the Laker’s front office, his time to cement himself in Los Angeles was left up to another team. The Lakers then renounced Randle’s rights.

The purple and gold had plans with signing star free agents and Randle, still young in his career, took this not as a demotion, but more as a chance for him to showcase his developing skills. Randle took his talents to NOLA, signing a two-year deal with the New Orleans Pelicans only an hour and a half after being renounced by Los Angeles.

Julius Randle’s career got a second wind with the New Orleans Pelicans

Randle’s time in New Orleans marked a pivotal phase in his young career. He displayed an impressive two-way presence alongside teammate Anthony Davis, showcasing his offensive prowess and averaging a career-best 21 points per game. Randle’s relentless work ethic and refusal to be deterred by challenges kept him in the NBA spotlight.

The Pelicans attached a player option to Randle’s deal, motivating the ascending star to keep his motor at an all-time high. Randle eclipsed 35 points on three separate occasions during his one season with New Orleans. His strong 2019 season gave Randle leverage entering his next round of negotiations in the 2019 offseason.

Joining the Knicks was a “no-brainer” for Julius Randle

Randle declined his player option after one impressive season in New Orleans, making him a free agent once again. The New York Knicks targeted Randle in free agency and signed the star power forward to a three-year, $63 million deal. Randle described the decision to join the Knicks in free agency as a “no-brainer.”

The deal was a “no-brainer” for New York, too, as Randle was the exact splash-signing they needed to turn their team around. Randle did not disappoint and quickly resonated in the hearts of Knicks fans by playing with a high motor and intense level of toughness on the court.

Randle took home the NBA’s Most Improved Player award in 2021 after averaging a new career-high 24.1 points per game for the Blue and Orange. He backed that up with another impressive season in 2022, leading the Knicks to the second round of the NBA playoffs.

Julius Randle feels better than ever entering 2023

Still in his prime, the best is yet to come for Randle, as he explained recently in an interview on HBO’s The Shop: Uninterrupted.

Physically, I feel like this is going to be my best year. But mentally I feel like I’ve taken a tremendous step…

Julius Randle on HBO’s The Shop: Uninterrupted

The divisive media in the NBA’s biggest market have aimed their criticisms of the Knicks at Randle. Meanwhile, the Knicks’ fanbase, hungrier than ever to win games, is adding tremendous pressure to their superstar’s shoulders. But Randle’s strong work ethic and dedication will keep him flying high as the high motor he’s had since high school will keep him running for years to come.