Ex-Wildcat Julius Randle Chosen NBA's Most Improved Player
By Eric Lindsey
NEW YORK – After leading the New York Knicks to their first NBA Playoffs appearance since 2013, former Kentucky men’s basketball player Julius Randle was named the 2020-21 NBA Kia Most Improved Player on Tuesday.
Randle topped Detroit’s Jerami Grant and Denver’s Michael Porter Jr. with 98 first-place votes and 493 total points in voting conducted from a global panel of 100 sportswriters and broadcasters. Players were awarded five points for each first-place vote, three points for each second-place vote and one point for each third-place vote.
Randle becomes the first former UK player to win the award, which began in 1986.
One of six players or coaches on the Knicks with ties to Kentucky or John Calipari, Randle led New York to a surprising 41-31 record during the regular season and the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference postseason. (Randle, Immanuel Quickley, Kevin Knox, and Nerlens Noel played for UK, Derrick Rose played for Calipari at Memphis, and Kenny Payne was an assistant at Kentucky under Calipari.)
In averaging 24.1 points, 10.2 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game – all team and career highs – Randle became the first player in franchise history to average at least 24.0 points, at least 10.0 rebounds and at least 6.0 assists per game in a season. Only five other players in league history have ever recorded those numbers.
Randle finished the regular season with six triple-doubles, the most by a Knick since the 1981-82 season. He shot 45.6% from the floor, made 41.1% from behind the arc and hit 160 3-pointers after combining for 168 over the first six seasons of his career.
In April, Randle was named Eastern Conference Player of the Month following a dominating stretch that pushed the Knicks into the upper half of the conference standings.
Randle was named to the NBA All-Star Game this season for the first time in his career and his play will warrant All-NBA consideration as well.
Although at a different level, Kentucky fans will remember Randle for his dominance in the 2013-14 season. Randle started in all 40 games for the Wildcats that season en route to one of the most memorable runs in NCAA postseason history. The run culminated with a berth in the national championship game.
Randle led that team with 15.0 points and 10.4 rebounds per game and set the UK single-season freshman record in rebounds (417), double-doubles (24) and made free throws (204). His 24 double doubles also led the nation.
Randle was an All-America Third Team selection by the National Association of Basketball Coaches, U.S. Basketball Writers Association and the Associated Press. He was tabbed the SEC Freshman of the Year and was an All-SEC First Team selection. He was also a member of the Midwest Region NCAA All-Tournament Team and the Final Four NCAA All-Tournament Team.
Randle and the Knicks continue their postseason on Wednesday in Game Two of their series vs. the Atlanta Hawks. Atlanta won the first game on Sunday at Madison Square Garden, 107-105.
A season after setting the NBA record for most points in a single playoff, Kentucky is represented by 15 players in the 2021 NBA Playoffs, which began Saturday. The 15 players are more than any other college program. The Wildcats had more players on NBA opening-day rosters this season than any other school as well.
Of the 16 teams comprising the playoff field, nine feature former UK players. Three teams have multiple Wildcats, led by the Knicks.
When the 2020-21 season began, a staggering 31 players were on NBA opening-day rosters (including two-way and inactive lists) played and finished their college basketball careers at Kentucky. Underscoring the fact that no other school in the country can match UK’s ability to develop players and put them in the NBA, UK’s 31 players were once again the most of any college basketball program, beating the next-closest school (Duke with 26) by five players.
Nine different UK players this regular season eclipsed 40 or more points in at least one game this season, far and away more than any other university alumni can claim.