There was a time when rankings were extremely important to Julius Randle.
Newly minted as the top prospect in the Rivals150 for the class of 2013, the 6-foot-9, 240-pound senior from Plano (Texas) Prestonwood Christian still pays attention to the rankings - his goal was to be considered the top player in the country.
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As he's grown older, though, the versatile forward focuses more on the bigger picture - big-time college ball followed by the NBA - than rankings.
"Sure it's a goal," Randle said of being No. 1 in his class. "But I've become more mature in high school so I know that everybody is going to have their own opinion. My focus has become to get better as a player and to help my teammates. My goal has become to win first and then try to establish myself as the best player on the court each time I'm out there."
More often than not, Randle has been able to establish himself as the top player on the court. Physically imposing and skilled, the Texan brings an alpha dog mentality and confidence to the floor.
Capable of bruising opponents in the post, Randle can also attack from 20 feet via the dribble and is a dominant rebounder on both ends of the floor
"Me being able to do a lot of different things on the court," Randle said, describing his strength. "Just helping my teammates get better. Everybody knows my strength is attacking the basket and playing in the post."
While he's confident in his ability, Randle sees the strengths of those just behind him. He considers No. 2 Jabari Parker of Chicago Simeon to be a versatile, smooth, all-around player with few weaknesses. At Nos. 3 and 4, respectively, are the do-everything twins Aaron Harrison and Andrew Harrison of Houston (Texas) Travis. At No. 5, Randle sees San Jose (Calif.) Archbishop Mitty's Aaron Gordon as perhaps the most athletically explosive and entertaining player in the class.
"All of those guys have done tremendous things in their AAU and high school careers," Randle said. "They've really established themselves as top players. I've heard a lot of comparisons between our class and others like Mike Beasley and Derrick Rose's class [in 2007], so to be compared to them is pretty crazy."
In short, the 17-year-old Randle - who this week cut his list to a final 10 of Baylor, Duke, Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, N.C. State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas - knows he can't let up if he wants to keep top billing.
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"There is a lot of things that I can improve on and that if I get in there and really work that I'm just scratching the surface of what I can do," Randle said, "like learning change of pace ands stuff like that. I get a lot of offensive fouls because sometimes I put my head down and charge.
"I need to work on the mid-range and shoot the ball when people back off of me. I can shoot the ball better than people realize. Also when things aren't going my way, I'm just learning to get to my spots where I'm comfortable and turn things around."
So far, Randle has only set up an official visit to Florida (Oct. 6 for the LSU game) and he's going to wait until the spring to make a decision. Despite being the object of attention from the nation's top programs, he says that he's just now getting immersed in the process.
Randle is quick to credit those around him, such as his mother Carolyn and longtime mentor and coach Jeff Webster, for allowing him to take his time with the process and alleviate pressure.
"The people around me have made things easy," he said. "They've always had my back. If there's a time I don't want to talk they let people know."
In fact, Randle has leaned just as heavily on Webster -- a star player at Oklahoma in the 1990s -- off the floor as he has on it.
"Jeff's been tremendous for me," Randle said. "I started working with him in the fifth grade when I first started playing with the Texas Titans. He told me then that he would always have my best interest at heart and I was sold on him.
"When you have somebody who has been through the process it's easier to go to them and talk to them. He's like family to me now, like a big brother or the male figure in my life."
At the end of the day, though, Randle's rock has always been his mother. Not surprisingly, she'll continue to be his most trusted advisor and the person whose opinion he values most as he continues to chase his dream of NBA stardom.
"She'll play a big role. She's been raising me on her own her whole life," Randle said. "She's always been there for me. Even when we didn't have much she made me feel like I had everything.
"She's always been there for me and she's a really strong woman, and I appreciate everything she has done. She's enjoyed this process just like I have."
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