Jan. 8, 2010
By Tim Miguel
Jerome Randle is living proof that sometimes the smallest man on the court has the biggest heart.
The senior guard may not have the most intimidating credentials listed on the roster sheet, but his in-game capabilities have made him a force in the Pac-10 and across the country. Randle's long journey has included moving to Berkeley from Chicago after not being highly recruited out of high school, surviving the scare of a kidney biopsy and constantly being overlooked because of his size.
A 2009 All-Pac-10 first-team selection, Randle was recently named a preseason candidate for the Wooden Award and the Naismith Trophy, honors given to the national player of the year. The accolades are finally beginning to pour in for him as he begins his senior campaign for the Golden Bears as an acknowledged leader. The expectations are high; however, they aren't anything he hasn't conquered before.
Randle has had to prove himself since he first took up basketball. Measuring at 5-10 and less than 160 pounds at Hales Franciscan High School, he was constantly criticized for being too small. Yet seemingly when everybody counts Randle out, he rises to the occasion.
"I am all about proving people wrong," Randle said. "I have been proving people wrong since I was in grade school. They said we wouldn't win, but we did. They said I wouldn't go to high school and win anything. I won two state championships. They said I wouldn't go to a big-time collegiate program because I was too short. I got a scholarship from Cal."
There are times when Randle can't escape the comments about his height, even from his own teammates. Fellow senior guard Patrick Christopher, Randle's backcourt ally, playfully teases him about his size, but he respects his big game on the court.
"He just laughs it off. That's our relationship," Christopher said. "I try to do it around everybody so everyone else laughs, too. But to see the things that he does as a scorer blows my mind sometimes. He shot the ball nearly perfectly [last season]. It was almost a flawless season on the offensive end, shooting the ball from three. He was the most consistent player on the team last year hands down. I definitely respect him for that."
Randle didn't let the fact that he wasn't highly sought after by many major colleges get in the way of his dreams of playing for a big-time NCAA program. Randle became well acquainted with Cal's former assistant coach Dennis Gates, another native of Chicago. The impression of Cal that Gates instilled in Randle had a lot to do with his decision to come to Berkeley.
Despite his excitement for the chance to play in the Pac-10 - a conference known for producing NBA-bound point guards - leaving his hometown of Chicago was difficult for Randle. Family ties are very strong for him, especially to his mother, with whom he has a close relationship.
"I am a big-time mama's boy," Randle said. "Being away from my mom is tough. It is still tough with me right now. I have to talk to her every day. I miss my mom's cooking, and I've never been the cooking type. Every chance I get, I always try to go back home to spend time with my family."
The start of Randle's sophomore season in 2007-08 brought about another hurdle that he'd have to overcome. A routine blood test picked up minor abnormalities, and doctors concluded that he needed to have a kidney biopsy. The procedure stalled his preseason push to garner a starting role on the squad.
"When I first heard about it, I was definitely down," Randle said. "I thought basketball was over for me. I cried really hard and my mother told me it would be all right. I went to the doctor, and they told me that I had a kidney disease."
Fortunately for Randle, results from the biopsy showed that he only had a mild inflammation in his kidney that could be treated with medication. After missing the first two games of the season, Randle returned with a bang, soaring for 21 points in his first appearance against San Diego State and earning Pac-10 Player of the Week and Golden Bear Classic MVP honors in December. He ended the '07-08 campaign averaging 11.8 ppg - third best on the team - and was among the conference leaders in assists.
Heading into last season, it was unclear what Randle's role on the team would be, especially with a new head coach on board. True to his nature, he excelled. Randle shattered the school single-season record for three-pointers with 82 and ended the year as the best career free-throw shooter in the history of the program.
Randle nailed the game-winning three-pointer at Utah and was again tabbed the Golden Bear Classic MVP. But one performance in particular stands out above the rest, when the Bears trekked to Tucson, Ariz., for a clash against Arizona. In that game, Randle connected on eight treys, one shy of the Cal record, and went on to score a career-best 31 points as Cal won at the McKale Center for the first time since 1995.
"It was one of the games that I felt like the basket was the size of the ocean," Randle recalled." I couldn't miss. It was just one of those nights. I have those nights sometimes; they come once in a while. I just feel like I can't miss. I am just hoping I have like 10 or 15 of those this year. It was a special night."
The secret is out about how talented Randle is. He feels a target on his back - as well as on the team, now that the Bears are the preseason Pac-10 favorite - but he doesn't let it get to him. He stays away from all of the media hype as best he can and just focuses on his game.
Still, when times get tough, Randle is grateful that he has the love and support of his mother and his family.
"Looking at the struggles and looking at how I grew up as a kid, knowing what I want out of this whole thing and making it happen is what keeps me motivated," Randle said. "My mother has always been a motivator, keeping me levelheaded. I'd call when I'm mad and cry because things weren't going well. She is the one that keeps my spirits up. To know that my brothers, my sisters, nieces and nephews have faith in me goes a long way. So just giving up is just not an option for me. That's why I work hard the way that I do."
Randle hopes to achieve his goal of bringing a Pac-10 championship to Berkeley, and then move on to the professional ranks. He expects a new round of critics to tell him that he's too small to play in the NBA.
Just as he's done all along, Randle fully intends to prove the naysayers wrong once again.