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SportsColumnistsGreg Logan

Julius Randle emerges as the freshman prince

Kentucky forward Julius Randle celebrates with cheerleaders after

Kentucky forward Julius Randle celebrates with cheerleaders after a third round NCAA Tournament game between Wichita State and Kentucky on Sunday, March 23, 2014, at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis. Credit: AP / Chris Lee

ST. LOUIS - The Year of the Freshman could not have begun with a bigger dose of television ratings hype than the Nov. 12 doubleheader at Chicago's United Center that marked the unveiling of Duke's Jabari Parker, Kansas' Andrew Wiggins and Kentucky's Julius Randle. They could have brought in outgoing NBA commissioner David Stern to wave the green flag to start the one-and-done race to be the No. 1 draft pick.

Without a doubt, all three performed well enough this season to justify the avalanche of accolades they received. SportsCenter certainly benefited from all the highlight-reel plays they made.

But as the NCAA Tournament reaches the Sweet 16, only Randle is still standing.

Parker met an ignominious end Friday when second-seeded Duke was knocked off in the second round by 15th-seeded Mercer. He had 14 points but shot 4-for-14 and proved incapable of carrying his team past the Atlantic Sun champion.

Wiggins enjoyed a couple of alley-oop dunks against Eastern Kentucky Friday night, but he bombed miserably Sunday in a loss to 10th-seeded Stanford in which he had four points, shot 1-for-6 and did little to involve himself when Kansas fell behind.

Only Randle was as advertised in Kentucky's 78-76 victory over previously undefeated Wichita State, contributing 13 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. "Julius Randle is a grown man, and he comes really, really hard,'' Wheatshockers coach Gregg Marshall said.

Kentucky coach John Calipari said television commentator Greg Anthony pulled him aside after the game. "He said, '[Randle] played great today. He didn't try to do too much,' '' Calipari said.

None of the three has revealed his plans regarding the draft, but it hardly matters whether they are ready for the pros or would benefit from more college coaching. The money will be there based on their obvious potential.

Wiggins has been touted as the likely top pick, but his readiness is suspect after his performance against Stanford. Kansas coach Bill Self has faulted his passiveness at times, and it was a problem again Sunday.

"He had an off game,'' Self said. "He put himself in position to make plays and didn't make them like he made them the majority of the year.''

Self expressed his doubts that Wiggins will stay in school. "This isn't the worst thing that's going to happen to him in his life,'' he said. "You've got to grow from it.''

Senior forward Tarik Black credited Wiggins for giving his best, but added, "I hope today taught him that valuable lesson that every night you're not going to be the superstar that everybody's putting the pressure on you to be. You have to bounce back the next time and keep your head up.''

Wiggins seemed stunned that he could play so poorly in such a big spot, but going against the Cardinal defense was tougher than a dunking contest. Asked to put his season in perspective, he said, "I just learned a lot. I got a lot better. But today, I just laid an egg. I didn't bring it for my team. I let a lot of people down.''

Randle lifted his team up, but it should be noted that he had plenty of help from the other former McDonald's All-Americans on his roster who are sharing the same experience. "I don't really look at it as pressure,'' he said. "I know I have great teammates and they have my back out there. So I'm really not worried about it.''

Randle, Wiggins and Parker will find their pot of gold in the NBA, but only Randle still has a chance to get there knowing what it's like to win a title.

New York Sports