Even before playing in an actual NBA game, Julius Randle passed a rookie test that has nothing to do with a vertical jump or an individual workout. It has everything to do with starting off on the right foot with a key colleague.
With the Lakers selecting him with the seventh overall pick in the NBA Draft, Randle wasted no time gushing about Kobe Bryant. So much that Randle quickly posted a childhood photo of himself on Instagram in which he is wearing Bryant’s former No. 8 jersey.
“It’s going to be amazing. I grew up a huge fan of Kobe. He was my idol growing up as a player,” Randle said on a conference call with reporters. “Now I have a chance to pick his brain and learn a lot from him. I couldn’t ask for a better situation.”
Randle wasn’t just reading cue cards to appease the Lakers. More than a month ago at the NBA pre-draft combine in Chicago, Randle gushed plenty about both following the Lakers and idolizing Bryant.
Randle craved for wanting to learn from Bryant about how to maximize his work ethic. Randle believed his bruising style of play that ensured a nation-leading 24 double doubles at University of Kentucky would complement Bryant’s high-volume scoring. Randle believed his experienced playing for a demanding Wilcats program would prepare him for handling such pressure from the Lakers’ organization, their impassioned fan base and from Bryant himself.
“I know I can learn a lot from him as far as his mindset, work ethic and what he can do on a day-to-day basis to be successful,” Randle said. “I know I can learn a lot from him. That’s what I’m looking forward to, how he approaches every day to get better.”
That mindset marks one of the many reasons why the Lakers opted for Randle, who impressed the team in an individual workout last week with his hustle, physical play inside and mid-range shooting. The Lakers also considered Randle more versatile and polished than Arizona forward Aaron Gordon and Indiana forward Noah Vonleh.
Add it all up, and Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak sensed Bryant would approve this draft selection.
“Although I don’t expect Kobe to talk to him until January,” Kupchak joked, “I think he’ll like him.”
Actually, Bryant wasted no time congratulating Randle on Twitter.
— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) June 27, 2014
“I haven’t seen that yet. I hadn’t looked at Twitter,” Randle said. “He did text me and said he was looking forward to seeing me and that he would link up when he gets back into the country. I look forward to talking to him in a little bit.”
In the meantime, it appears clear Randle still remembers the days he first idolized Bryant. That includes wearing one of his old jerseys.