With the No. 7 pick in the 2014 Draft in Brooklyn on Thursday, the Lakers selected Kentucky freshman forward Julius Randle.
"I couldn't be more blessed and fortunate to go to an organization like Los Angeles, said Randle, the team's highest selection since James Worthy went No. 1 in 20. "They've had so much history and so much success in the past, and to be able to go to an organization like that … I couldn't be more happy. This is truly a blessing for me."
A coveted prospect who averaged 32.5 points and 22.5 boards as a senior at Prestonwood Christian Academy in Plano, Texas, Randle helped lead the University of Kentucky all the way to the National Championship game as a freshman. He started all 40 games for UK, leading the Wildcats in points (15.0) and rebounds (10.4). He set Kentucky freshman records in double-doubles (24), boards (417), and free throws made (204) as the SEC Freshman of the Year, and was named to the All-SEC First Team.
Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak said he and his staff were surprised that Randle was still on the board at No. 7, acknowledging that they'd coveted the 6-9, 250-pounder throughout the season.
"He has big-time skills," said Kupchak. "He can put the ball on the floor, he can drive, he can get to the rim … he plays and competes at a very high level."
Big and strong enough to bully most opponents at the collegiate level, Randle didn't always have to use what the Lakers feel is a well-developed face-up game, and an improving jump shot. Randle feels he has some versatility that will help him at the professional level, particularly with the game getting smaller in recent years.
"A lot of the league is going to small ball, but the good thing about me, I'm interchangeable," he offered. "I can play small ball because I can guard multiple positions because I can really move. But I think it's going to be an advantage for me to be able to take a smaller guy inside but also take a bigger guy on the outside."
Randle does have a foot issue about which the Lakers are aware, but not concerned, as Kupchak said he expects Randle to be ready for training camp. Randle added that he's going to seek other opinions on the foot from doctors, but said "I'll be there" when asked about the start of the season.
Randle appears to be the kind of player that Kobe Bryant is really going to like, known for an aggressive, all-business attitude on the court and a fiery, competitive spirit.
"(Bryant) may get tired of me because I'm going to be bugging him trying to learn stuff from him," Randle explained. "I demand a lot from my teammates as well, holding each other accountable, putting extra work in was what I had to do at Kentucky."
Randle also had a message for the teams that passed on him, suggesting they would "regret it."
In just a few months, Randle will have his chance to prove it while wearing the purple and gold.