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Randle Readies for Return

It has been 254 days since Julius Randle last played in an NBA-sanctioned game. But after more than eight months of recovering from a fractured tibia, the 2014 seventh overall pick is itching to make his return in the Lakers’ Summer League opener on Friday.

Randle’s progression has been a lengthy one since playing just 14 minutes in L.A.’s first game of the season. But his rehab has paid dividends according to the Lakers coaches and players, including a former Laker who visited for some pickup games.

Currently playing in the Italian League, Metta World Peace stopped by the Lakers practice facility in El Segundo and matched up against Randle each time. The 2010 champion left impressed by Randle’s physicality.

“If Metta says you’re strong, you’re pretty strong,” head coach Byron Scott said. “And Metta said, ‘That kid is super strong.’ So his body has definitely changed. That tells you how serious he is as far as basketball is concerned.

“I saw him the other day — and I don’t go ‘Wow’ with a lot of players — but he had his shirt off and I said, ‘Wow, OK man, that baby fat is kind of gone.’ Physically he looks good, and I think he’s ready mentally.”

Scott also said that World Peace would “bounce off” of Randle when the two collided down low. But the 2004 Defensive Player of the Year was not the only person who experienced how Randle — who has lost about 15 pounds — improved his game.

“Listening to the guys who have guarded him,” Scott said, “some of the guys have said he’s the strongest guy they’ve ever guarded.”

That kind of strength has Randle’s teammates describing him as a “beast,” “ox,”monster,” — and even, according to Tarik Black, a “lotus flower.”

He looks extremely good,” Black explained. “He’s seeing the floor. His handling is better. His shot is getting better. His game is coming around. … We’re the older guys on the Summer League team, but in the big picture we’re still very young. So he still has a long ways to go to reach his potential, but he’s on his way.”

Randle has seen his own progression from last year’s Summer League as well.

“It’s a lot different,” he said. “It’s crazy what a year does. Confidence-wise: just knowing the ins and outs and knowing how to work the game, how to play, how to push yourself. It’s amazing.”

The Lakers plan to be cautious with Randle’s return by not pushing him too far. Scott says he will be limited to 30 minutes or fewer per game and won’t play in Saturday’s contest. But that hasn’t quelled the excitement of Summer League head coach Mark Madsen.

“Where Julius is right now today compared to last year is night and day,” Madsen said. “The fans are gonna be really excited to see how he has changed his body. … And the thing that I also like is that Julius has done a good job of is being an extension of Byron Scott on the court.

“So Julius is now telling guys where to go, helping guys with defensive rotations, because he’s a really smart player and has that ability to see what’s happening on the court and then communicate it to his teammates.”

Looking ahead to the regular season, Scott already envisions Randle being able to guard small forwards — as well as his natural power forward position — due to his impressive footwork. Randle, meanwhile, is simply excited to return to the court as an improved product.

“Credit goes to my coaches just staying on me,” he said. “not letting this downtime with me being injured be a step in the wrong direction, but taking advantage of it the most I could. And also me: my drive and my will.”

That downtime is finally over for Randle, who has a response ready when asked if he’s excited for Friday.

“Can’t you see the smile on my face?”