‘It felt like a blown opportunity’

Julius Randle tight shot

In his second season with the Knicks, forward Julius Randle has taken his game to another level, earning his first career All-Star nod while serving as the Knicks’ “engine,” as Tom Thibodeau likes to say.

And while Randle has led the Knicks to a 19-18 record at the All-Star break – the team’s first winning first-half record since 2012-13 – his first season in New York was nowhere near as memorable.

Randle put up decent numbers last season, averaging 19.5 points, 9.7 rebounds, and 3.1 assists, but the Knicks struggled as a team throughout the year.

In a piece written by Randle for The Players’ Tribune, Randle explained the pressures he felt in coming to New York with the expectations of being the team’s leader, a role he’d never been in as an NBA player.

“For one, to be honest, I don’t think I realized everything that goes into being a #1 option in the NBA. You’re the head of the snake, and that’s not just some tough talk,” Randle writes. “That really means something. It means the other team’s defense is dialed in with an actual game-plan to stop you. It means there’s pressure on you, every play, to figure out how to get to your spot on the court. It means if you don’t execute like you’re supposed to, it’s not just a bad individual night — it’s probably a loss as well. There’s so many little things that come with a big role like that…. and I don’t know if I was ready for all of them.”

He continues: “And then another problem, looking back, is that I think I was so focused on proving myself as a #1 option, that I lost sight of some of my other responsibilities to the team. For example, I was supposed to be one of our leaders — someone who could help establish what our identity was as a group, and who could set an example of what it took to be a winning player in this league. Someone who could not only play at a high level, but who could also raise the level of those around him. As much as the team needed my scoring last year…. they might have needed my leadership even more. And I didn’t give it to them.”

Story continues

This season, Randle has come out playing with a purpose, posting career-best numbers of 23.2 points, 11.1 rebounds, and 5.5 assists per game. He’s thrived in Thibodeau’s system, and while ne knows he can’t change his first impression with the New York fan base, he believes he’s re-writing his story this season.

“I know you only get one chance to make a first impression in a city — and I was so disappointed in myself for how that first season in New York had gone. It felt like a blown opportunity,” Randle writes. “It felt like I’d cemented my reputation in the opposite way that I’d wanted to. Selfish. Not a leader. Not a winning player. I heard all of it, and I couldn’t say a thing about it.

“And I knew that if I wanted to shake off the reputation I’d built up, I really only had one option: to come out this season and establish a new one.

Randle details some of the hard work that he’s been putting in behind the scenes, including a story about learning to be a pro and putting in extra time from the late Kobe Bryant.

Clearly, the work Randle’s done has paid off this season, and the Kentucky product couldn’t be happier to be in playing in the Big Apple.

“And that’s what’s been special about this year. I’ve gotten to flip the script on my own reputation as a player, while I’ve also gotten to help with this larger thing we have going — where we’re flipping the script on the reputation of our entire franchise,” Randle writes.

“I’m grateful for the chance to make a second first impression.

“I’m damn proud to be a Knick.”

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