DALLAS — Julius Randle has never played at American Airlines Center, but he’s still quite familiar with the Dallas Mavericks’ home arena.
That’s because Randle, a Dallas native who’s a product of Prestonwood Christian Academy in the northern suburb of Plano, attended countless Mavs games in his formative years at AAC, even making it a point to never miss an appearance by his current employer, the Los Angeles Lakers.
In fact, he estimates he never missed a Lakers/Mavs game in Dallas from the time he was in sixth grade until he graduated from high school. He remembers seeing current LA teammates like Kobe Bryant and Metta World Peace play for the Lakers.
Plus, he also recalls sitting next to Mavs owner Mark Cuban’s wife during those games.
“Yeah, I came to a million Mav games when I was a kid but never played here. I feel good (coming back here), excited. Should be fun,” Randle said after Lakers shootaround on Friday morning in Dallas.
Randle is excited about his return but admits he didn’t know how big his cheering section would be, nor did he know how many people had asked for tickets.
His response to both questions was simple, stating that someone else handled those things.
For all practical purposes, Randle is still a rookie since he played part of one game last season after sustaining that terrible broken right fibia in the Lakers’ 2014 opener against the Houston Rockets.
But it’s not like spending most of his debut campaign on the sidelines was completely unproductive, as he watched as much practice and as many games as he could to soak in every lesson out there, experience which he’s been putting into practice this season.
“Yeah, I got valuable experience last year from watching, but a lot of stuff you can’t experience until you play and learn and grow. And I’m in that phase,” Randle said.
In eight games, he’s averaging 11.9 points. 8.3 rebounds and 2.9 assists, not bad numbers for a guy logging just over 33 minutes a game.
Lakers head coach Byron Scott knows that at 20, Randle remains a work-in-progress, but there are several facets of his game that have particularly impressed him thus far.
“(I love) when he’s in attack mode. He can really get to the basket. I like it when he rebounds and he pushes it because he’s a very good decision maker as far as passing the ball as well,” Scott said.
“He continues to work on the mid-range game, which he’s going to have to continue to do. But those are two of the things that I really love about him — when he tries to get to that basket and when he’s a playmaker.”
Friday will mark Randle’s first time playing at the AAC, but it won’t be his first game against his hometown team. He faced the Mavs back on Nov. 1 at Staples Center and went for 22 and 15 in a home loss.
Randle feels his versatility is currently his biggest strength, and that he’s someone who can consistently rebound, score and pass.
However, he knows that if he’s going to come anywhere close to reaching his immense potential, he’ll have to continue improving on the defensive end of the floor.
“Uh, just being alert (is one way I can improve on defense),” Randle said. “Guarding, I feel like I can guard my man, but as far being a help defender and stuff like that.”
Friday night will be big for Randle; his first NBA game against the team he grew up watching and in his hometown.
But the talented youngster seems to already see the whole experience from a proper perspective.
“Yeah, it’s fun. Kind of crazy how the time flies, how things change, but the biggest thing is just stay in the moment, stay focused,” Randle said.