The frontrunner for 2014-15 Pac-12 Player of the Year sat on a stool, his retro Js swinging below a table.Chasson Randle was on the roof at Pac-12 headquarters, downtown San Francisco stretching around him in pure panorama. It was media day, and it was lunch time, but Randle, Stanford’s star senior guard, was willing to answer some questions.

Like say, about those all-black Jordan XIs, with a splash of turquoise in the logo.

“Had to bust ’em out,” Randle said, laughing.

He was asked about the toughest player he’d guarded last season. (Jahii Carson.) Was it weird not having Dwight Powell and Josh Huestis around? (Yes, but the freshmen have been stepping up to fill that void.) He moved on to the way he’d spent his summer. There was an invite to Chris Paul’s elite camp in mid-August. There were the months spent fortifying his already-prodigious offensive arsenal and defensive approach.

Considerable buzz follows him now. Randle was fresh off a spring in which he’d sprung onto the national scene with Stanford, who’d shocked the nation with a run to the Sweet 16, taking down No. 2-seeded Kansas along the way. There was that press conference that had gone viral, when two guffawing Jayhawks (Wayne Selden Jr and Andrew Wiggins) had been asked about Randle.

Q: What about Randle, and his impact on the game?

 

Wiggins: I am not sure right now. What about you, Wayne?

 

Selden: I am along with you.

Whoops. Thirteen points, 6 steals and one victory later, Randle was a media darling, the Jayhawks the latest victims of social media-abetted foot-in-mouth disease. It was one of the prime performances in a sensational junior campaign during which Randle averaged 18.8 points and shot 44 percent—from the field and from three.

Stanford would lose to Dayton in the Sweet 16, but a hurdle had been breached. They were on the verge of something special. The season finished, Randle headed back home.

He had work to do.

***

At Rock Island (IL) High, Randle never received less than an A. He was the class valedictorian. When people talk about him, it usually takes about 10 minutes before they breach the subject of basketball. Kid is special in that rare kind of all-around way. But still. Finishing his degree in African and American Studies, at Stanford, in three years, while maintaining a 3.3 GPA? That takes some doing. As Cardinal coach Johnny Dawkins puts it, “He’s had to take extra courses throughout the school year, and in summer. To balance that with basketball says a lot about him.”

This summer, Randle began work on his thesis for Stanford’s master’s program in Psychology.

That meant numerous trips to Scott County Correctional Facility, in Davenport, IA, just a short drive across the Mississippi River from Rock Island. Randle has volunteered at the facility since the summer before his junior year in high school.

He interacts with the kids housed there, tells them what he’s done with his life, what’s helped him get to where he is today. “I try to give them motivation and some hope for when they’re ready to leave and re-enter schools,” Randle says.

Those experiences served as the springboard for his master’s thesis. “We’re looking at perceptions of juvenile youth who are re-entering schools and how they’re received by their peers and teachers,” Randle explained. “What we’re really trying to do is help their transition in getting back into society and schools. Randle recounts all this in vintage matter-of-fact manner. You begin to see why Dawkins calls him a special kid, and why the first descriptor often attached to him is “extremely driven and incredibly humble.”

So, who better than to lead Stanford as they enter a ’14-15 season intent upon solidifying their foothold on the national scene? Randle has always felt more comfortable leading by example, but this fall, he’s been trying to improve vocally. “I think I’m growing in that area,” he says, “and getting that respect from my teammates.”

Randle once credited his AAU team, the heralded Illinois Wolves, with “bringing out the animal in him.” His commitment certainly couldn’t be questioned: Randle would make a five-hour round trip to practices.

At Stanford, Randle credits Dawkins with taking that on-court aggressiveness to “a whole ‘nother level.”

There’s reason for this, most notably in the two’s shared path as basketball players. Dawkins was a heralded recruit in Washington, DC, who in the mid-’80s became Duke’s (then) all-time leading scorer, keying the program’s rise. During his time in Durham, Dawkins transitioned from off guard to running point. To watch Randle do the same, the coach attests, is pretty cool. “We’re able to talk about certain things I don’t think he could talk about with a big man or a wing. That’s something that’s really special,” says Randle. “I’ve leaned on him a lot, on and off the court.”

The transition hasn’t always been seamless. After an excellent freshman season on The Farm, Randle struggled as a sophomore. Defenses were attuned to him, and his shooting percentages and production dipped accordingly. But Randle flipped the script last season. There were times he was simply unguardable. Like any great teacher, Dawkins knows Randle can give more. He knows this is the type of player that becomes the benchmark of a program.

“He’s kind of quiet,” says Dawkins, “so one of my jobs is to teach him how to lead. He has to continue to be vocal, and he’s really embraced that. He’s learning to be really proactive—not just with his play, which is always proactive, but also with his voice. He has a great voice, and people believe in him.”

***

It seems strange to talk about failure when it comes to Randle, but when the roster for the 2013 World University Games was announced, Randle wasn’t on it. He felt he deserved a spot, and it stung. But, in quintessential fashion, Randle rebounded quickly. He looks back philosophically. “I’ve failed a lot in my life, at basketball and off the court, but I’m driven by those things I’m not able to accomplish—the things that have, in my mind, gone wrong,” he says. “I’ve always been told, once things don’t go right for you, don’t be mad about it, don’t cry about it, turn that energy into working toward what you want to accomplish.”

Randle used the snub as motivation. Dawkins helped him harness it. “We used that disappointment of not being a part of the team and turned it into a positive, an opportunity to get better and show people, ‘Hey, maybe you made a mistake,'” Dawkins says. “I think that last year, he did that. He had one of the best seasons of any guard in the country.”

This season, Randle won’t be sneaking up on anybody. He has a shot at passing Todd Lichti for the program’s all-time points record. (He’s currently 686 points shy.) He’ll run point, and be a leader. Randle likes what he sees from a talented freshman class, which includes the likes of 6-8 forward Travis Reid and 6-2 point guard Robert Cartwright. Cartwright told Stanford’s official website he’s “lucky to learn from Randle.”

That’s music to Randle’s ears. “They’ve seen where we’ve been from afar, and they understand,” he says. “That’s special. They want to win, they want to compete, and they’ve been great at every single practice. They’ve brought a certain level of energy and intensity.”