Brian Randle Gaining Strength In Israel

Young basketball players dream of one day playing in the NBA, but the vast majority never make it. Besides the rare athletes who do play at that elite level, there are several times as many who are borderline but want to continue playing the game. Like Illinois' Brian Randle, they go wherever they are wanted. It may not be the NBA, but can offer important life lessons.

Brian Randle graduated from Illinois last year after an enigmatic career marred by injuries. A great run and jump athlete who struggled at times with scoring, Randle's injuries prevented him from reaching his full potential. Healthy at last, he now plies his trade with Galil Gilboa Elyon in the Israeli Premier League.

Brian is doing well for a 5-1 team, the one loss being to former Illini Roger Powell's team by three points. He is averaging 16 points and 8 rebounds a game. Playing for Coach Oded Katash has been ideal for Randle.

"It's been good. Outside of being in the NBA and making a ridiculous amount of money, this is one of the best situations I can be in. We've got a good team with a lot of young guys who like to play.

"We've got a coach who, from the people I've talked to, is arguably THE best player to come out of Israel. He understands players, the game, and when to push and when to pull back. It's just wonderful, and I've really enjoyed it. I couldn't ask for anything better."

Off the court is another story. His meals consist mostly of chicken and rice or canned tuna and rice. While back home recently, Brian stocked up on donuts and took advantage of the cuisine. But he must soon go back to more spartan conditions. He misses more than the food.

"I miss my car number one. I'm driving a Corolla with two hubcaps and key marks all over it. And two, I miss being with my family and friends. It was good to see the coaches and some of the guys, really just to get off the phone."

His phone bill has been enormous but necessary. Being so far away from home in a land with a different culture and lifestyle has made the intelligent Randle even more conscious of life in general. He has come to appreciate things others take for granted.

"Everybody asks me if I get text messages, but no I don't have text messages. I guess I've figured out the value of speaking on the phone instead of being impersonal sending texts.

"Being here (USA), you can get enamored with everything else. And then to be away and feel, not disconnected, but wanting to be around people you actually love. Just to see their face is what really matters."

Brian has dreams of advancement in his present career, but he is philosophical about it.

"I'm not content by any means. I want to enjoy it, and I want to work hard. If the NBA doesn't work out, obviously that's a dream, there's still another outlet with basketball that is as good or catching up to the level of the NBA. Money is money and will come and go. But to enjoy it and still compete at a high level. If I have to do it over there, I'll be good with it."

One thing he must do while in Israel is keep up with Illinois basketball.

"I'm definitely still an Illini. I really enjoy watching these guys to tell you the truth. I enjoy watching the archives and seeing the stats, calling the guys once in awhile, calling Coach McClain, Coach Howard, Coach Weber. It's hard to move on, but when you finally do and get adjusted to it, it's fun to be a part of that history and become a fan again."

After his disheartening senior season, when the Illini ended with a losing record and failed to make the NCAA tournament, he knew his younger teammates would respond in one of two opposite ways.

"I think last year would test these guys to tip one way or the other. If you try to balance an egg on the point of a pin, it's gonna fall to the left or the right, for better or for worse.

"I think for these young guys, most of whom were probably successful in high school, they didn't like the feeling and weren't content with it. So that inner drive mixed with the coaches who have had Final Four success, have put it upon themselves to work hard.

"You can't control what another team is gonna do, but they've done a great job of coming in and being focused and really enjoying playing basketball. I don't think anybody had fun last year until the Big Ten Tournament. So I don't want to say it's surprising. I just think they made the right choice."

Brian Randle actually considered quitting basketball at one point, but he still loves it.

"I thought about stepping away when I was here, to tell you the truth, due to all the injuries. In the 2006-2007 season, I got a preseason Wooden Award and then the groin. I wasn't sure I wanted to keep playing the next year.

"I came back and was still up and down, but I just appreciate the game and I love the game. I think I understand the purity of it. So long as you can do it, do it. Especially because I've been blessed with some of the talents between having ability, being able to communicate and share my knowledge and my love of life in general. There's no reason to stop while you still have the ability to play."

Randle has a good degree and can make a comfortable living in a variety of ways. He doesn't need basketball to be successful financially or personally. But he's willing to ride the wave as long as possible.

"I was talking with my parents. They said as a little boy I had dreams of going to the NBA. I just told them plans change, dreams change. Whether I stay in Israel or a team were to pick me up, I'm kind of rolling with the punches. I'm enjoying basketball, and that's my biggest thing.

"It's really like a means to an end at this point for my future family, for my family now. It's not about getting paid a crazy amount of money, that just comes with it. If you enjoy it and you get better, so be it."


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