by Farmer Jones / photos by Kelly Kline

Julius Randle is on the phone recalling his recent trip to Gainesville, FL, where Billy Donovan and the UF Gators were the second of five programs to host an official  visit from a guy many consider the best player in the Class of 2013. “Coach D was telling me, ‘I think our style and our system really fit you, but I’ve never had a player quite like you,’” Randle says. “I used to compare myself to other players, but I do think I have my own unique style.”

It’s a bold statement for any player, even one as good as Randle, a 6-9, 240-pound forward from Prestonwood Christian Academy just outside Dallas, who is a consensus top-three player in his class. A versatile lefty with post moves, range and athleticism—and a motor that maximizes all three—he is indeed hard to pigeonhole with an easy comparison. True as that may be, Donovan’s quote also reminds us that coaches will tell undecided, top-three prospects pretty much anything. This is a courtship, after all, something Randle and his mother, Carolyn Kyles, fully understand.

“With these coaches, it’s like we’re dating right now,” she says. “So everything is wonderful.”

Six head coaches/programs have managed to catch and hold Randle’s attention: Florida, NC State, Kansas, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Texas. Whoever wins his commitment will be blessed with a kid whose poise and perspective are rare at the prep level. Ask Randle his strengths?

“Leadership and versatility,” he says.

The skills matter, of course, and Randle isn’t lacking. Backing in or facing up, on the drive or the break, he’s comfortable with the ball anywhere on the court. Not that he’s settling. “I’m working on my spot-up shooting, off-the-dribble shooting, working 15 feet and in, elbows, mid-post, stuff where they can’t really double team me,” he says. “Because I get that a lot.”

There’s your versatility. As for leadership, the self-assured Randle says he takes after his mom. “She’s always been outspoken, never shy to share her ideas,” he says. “I think that’s just been something that’s carried on to me.”

Theirs is a symbiotic relationship, especially as they’ve immersed themselves in the unforgiving crush of attention that is big-time recruiting. “He’s taken the lead on it,” Carolyn says. “He keeps me grounded and patient. For almost a year, maybe more, I would approach him, maybe say something about a certain school. He’d say, ‘Mom, just relax, just enjoy this journey with me. When it’s time to get serious, I’ll let you know.’”

They’ve hit that point now, although Randle insists he’s not in a hurry to make his college choice. Many of his peers understandably have already announced, leaving them free to play their senior year without the distraction of a drawn-out recruiting process. Randle sees it less as drawing things out than simply being thorough: “I get to see what teams will have coming back for next year, what they’ve done this season and what will be the best fit for me.”

With the ’14 Final Four set for Dallas, Randle has all the more motivation to pick a school that allows him to chase his dream scenario: one-and-done, National Championship in his backyard and a David Stern handshake. “Whose dream wouldn’t that be?” he asks. “I’m just going to try to work my hardest and see where it takes me.”