Zach Randolph is on the brink of another career year. Entering his 12th year in the league, the 6-9 forward from Michigan State is averaging a double-double for the sixth time in the past seven seasons with 17 points and 13 rebounds. Z-Bo is already making headlines as one of the top big men in the league, not only for his talent, but also his desire to win. Randolph realizes in order to win on the court; he must put an emphasis on teamwork. He inspires those around him to be better.
"Zach has been an inspiration this year when you start talking about a transformation from a young player to a veteran player," Grizzlies Head Coach Lionel Hollins said. "He just wants to win. He knows that we have a bunch of guys who can go get it, but we need what he brings to the table."
After appearing in just 28 regular season games last season after suffering a torn MCL on Jan. 1, 2012 at Chicago when O.J. Mayo crushed to the floor and landed on the side of his knee, Randolph spent the offseason training with Frank Matrisciano, a strength and conditioning coach at the University of Memphis and who also helped build Blake Griffin into an explosive backcourt option for the Los Angeles Clippers. "This feels good because I worked hard this summer and when people last year said, 'Is he going to be the same Zach of old?' I heard that," Randolph said. "I just wanted to come out and prove people wrong. I still got it and I'm still in my prime." With a healthy Randolph in the Memphis frontcourt, the Grizzlies have the rest of the league talking with the top record in the NBA (as of November 30).
"They play as physical as anybody in this league," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "Everything starts inside-out with them. It makes it very dynamic. They put a lot of pressure on you to not foul but also be able to defend their actions."
“We won’t see it often,” Knicks center Tyson Chandler echoes Spoelstra’s sentiments. “The Grizzlies are a unique team. They have two big bodies out there.” Even young players in the league look forward to competing against Z-Bo because they admire his style of play, something they hope to be able to emulate in their own game. “On some aspects it’s fun and on some aspects it’s not fun (matched up against Randolph),” Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried. “It’s fun because you learn a lot like how to maneuver a certain way. Just positioning more and knowing how to get away and push people to the basket a little bit. He does that very well. But it’s not fun because you have to worry about boxing him off with your body on him, and he’s going to keep hitting you and keep going.”
While it’s important to have the respect and admiration of his peers in the league, the most important component to Z-Bo is winning. He will do anything and everything it takes to win. Even dubbing himself the “garbage man”, Randolph will “pick up your trash and do what I’ve got to do.”
“It’s just a matter of consistency and doing it every night,” said Coach Hollins. “Every time you go in the game you got to bring it. For a lot of young guys, it takes a minute for them to figure out that you have to play through this, play through that,’ but you have to bring it and do your job. He has been getting more and more consistent.
Anyone who mentions Z-Bo these days touches on his transformation from his rookie days with the Portland Trail Blazers to his performance today in the Bluff City. Steve Kerr, now a TNT analyst, was a 14-year veteran during Randolph’s first season in Portland.
"What stood out was despite all that, despite how green he was, he still had some practices where he just dominated," said Kerr, now a TNT analyst. "And I'm talking about Dale Davis, Rasheed Wallace, some really good bigs. He would just score on those guys at will on certain days when things were going well. You could just see the potential even at that raw state that he was in."
Randolph’s success this season does not surprise former Blazers assistant Monty Williams, now the head coach of the New Orleans Hornets. He is someone who remembers his Portland stint as a period of growth for himself and Randolph too. While Kerr reflects more on Randolph’s on the court success early on in his career, Williams recalls the person he met 11 years ago during his rookie season with the Trail Blazers in 2001.
"I've met two tough guys who I've been in the league with, Charles Oakley and Zach Randolph. Those are guys you probably don't want to push the wrong way, but those are guys that will literally give you the shirt off their back and pay for somebody's funeral that they don't even know," Williams said."He's a good kid. He's a good father and he's grown up in that. He's got a beautiful family. People are always expecting perfection. But if you're looking for that, keep looking because you're not going to find anybody perfect. But if you're looking for a guy who's just real — not perfect, but real — then Zach's your guy."
The imperfect persona of Randolph has been embraced so well by those in the City of Memphis. Z-Bo has engrained himself in the community, giving away food baskets during the Thanksgiving holidays and hosting a coat drive to benefit local youth during the month of December. Fans come to see Randolph post double-doubles at FedExForum but they also feel as though they know the real Zach off-the-court when they see him around town, a blend that has fascinated the Bluff City to quickly accept him as a fan favorite. When it comes to his current teammates though, they are continually impressed by Randolph’s intensity and dedication on the court. Z-Bo is a leader in the Grizzlies locker room and he has earned the respect of other veteran players on the roster. “Zach can get a double-double with one leg and with one arm,” Rudy Gay said of his backcourt teammate. “He’s tenacious out there and he’s going to make sure his presence is felt.”
“He's got a strong upper body. He hits you first to get you off balance," Marc Gasol said of Randolph. "And then he has great hands. Zach understands that the reason he became an all star (in 2010) is because he won," Gasol said. "Anybody can score 20 points in this league, honestly. But can you go out and do your job and still win? That's the key. He's doing that."