Between Selection Sunday and the first day of the NCAA Tournament, a lot of people gripe about snubs and seeding, but when the games begin, none of that matters.
You just have to survive and advance.
Kentucky, which has advanced to the Final Four in four of the last five seasons, is seeded a modest fourth in the East region, this despite winning the SEC Tournament. Assuming the Wildcats get by Stony Brook in the first round, they’re looking at potential match-ups with No.5 Indiana, No. 4 North Carolina and No. 2 Xavier in order to get to Houston.
That’s fine. Julius Randle thinks Kentucky can go all the way.
“They’re playing really well,” the former Wildcat and current Lakers forward said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show. “I feel great about them. I wouldn’t have it any other way. You’re going to have to go through somebody tough to get to the championship, so it’s kind of good to be battle-tested early. That’s how it was when we were there.”
Randle helped Kentucky advance to the national title game as an eight seed in 2014. The Wildcats beat Wichita Sate, Louisville, Michigan and Wisconsin before falling to Shabazz Napier and Connecticut, 60-54, in the championship.
“They’re going to have some tough games,” Randle said of this year’s Cats, “but Coach (Calipari) does a great job of preparing them for each game and focusing on that game and then moving on to the next one. So they’ll be fine. I think they’ll go on a great run and win it all.”
Randle, 21, is in the midst of his second season in the NBA and is averaging 11.7 points and 10.1 rebounds for the Lakers (14-53). It’s obviously been a tough year for Los Angeles, but this season hasn’t been about winning championships or even contending for one. It’s been about saying goodbye to Kobe Bryant, who – get ready – entered the NBA when Randle was 1 year old.
“It’s been cool (witnessing his final season),” Randle said. “Even though I grew up in Dallas, I was a huge Laker fan and I was a Kobe fan. I loved, loved, loved Kobe growing up. He’s my favorite player. Being able to watch him as a little kid and now being able to be on his team and watch him go out (with) all this love and respect (from) his peers as far as the players and the coaches have for him – and obviously the fans have for him – (it’s) pretty cool to be able to watch it every night and just kind of see him go out gracefully like he wants.”
Bryant, 37, is averaging 16.8 points, 3.1 assists and 4.1 rebounds per game. It certainly hasn’t been his best season, but he’ll take solace in the fact that he won five NBA championships and was one of the most dominant players of his era.
“He’s kind of set the bar for everybody,” Randle said. “Kobe, there’s not anybody like him as far as skill, mentality, all that type of stuff. He’s kind of set the bar on how to do things in the NBA and be that great competitor and champion. For all the players that have gone against him year after year and he’s had so much success against (with) the championships he’s won – to be able to play against him that one final time is very precious. For me to be able to go out there every night and play alongside with him and learn from him every night is pretty cool. When you play basketball, when you get to this level, you have resect for people who have been great for such a long time – and he’s definitely one of those guys.”