LSU has always had its share of tall, lanky freshmen that can jump through the ceiling. This year is no different.
Eighteen-year-old freshman Anthony Randolph was highly recruited out of Woodrow Wilson High School in Dallas, Texas, and was expected to be everything he has proven to be this year for the Tigers – a workhorse that is involved in every play.
He was a first-teamer on the Dallas Morning News Men's All-Area Basketball Team and a fourth-team representative on the Parade Magazine All-American Team as a senior in high school.
The 6-10, rangy Randolph is reminiscent of former Tiger great Tyrus Thomas with his vertical leaping ability and thunderous dunks, but Randolph has the upper hand on the now-Chicago Bull in one aspect – the jump shot.
Randolph ranks second on the team in field goal percentage (48.3 percent) behind Chris Johnson, who has missed almost half the season, and the forward also is second on the team in scoring (14.8 ppg) behind junior sharpshooter Marcus Thornton. He also leads the team by a wide margin in rebounds, averaging nine a game.
"He's an important part of this team," said junior guard Garrett Temple. "He's intense every minute he is in the game and has shown a lot of hustle all year. The games we have been successful in are the games where he has really taken charge."
Randolph is riding a wave of eye-popping performances this year for LSU. The athletic big man has scored in double digits in 20 of the Tigers' 24 games this season. He has picked up SEC Freshman of the Week honors twice this season for his outstanding play.
The freshman almost single-handedly carried the Tigers in the second half of their 85-73 shocking win over the two-time defending national champion Florida Gators Wednesday night. Randolph had 22 points, 15 of them coming in the second half. He tied his season high against Kentucky on Saturday, scoring 24 on 10-of-16 shooting while grabbing 14 rebounds in the 67-63 loss to the Wildcats.
"Anthony Randolph has been playing great for us and he stepped up again today," Temple said after the Tigers' loss to Kentucky. "He came in and put up 24 and 14 against what most people say is the best freshman post player in the SEC in Patrick Patterson. I think Coach Pierre telling him all week about how talented Patterson was and how he is the best freshman big man kind of got him focused and motivated. As a point guard, I have to apologize about not getting him the ball at the end of the game when we needed the points. He was the only guy scoring constantly for us in the game; he should have had the ball when we needed it the most."
LSU interim coach Butch Pierre's motivation may have helped the freshman's performance along somewhat, but an unavoidable voice from press row could have been some of the spark that drove the youngster to a fantastic performance.
For most of the game, and especially late in the second half, the chants and encouragement of former LSU and current NBA great Shaquille O'Neal could be heard across the court from his vantage point on press row beside his former coach and equal LSU legend Dale Brown. The "Diesel" was in town for the NBA All-Star weekend festivities taking place an hour down the freeway in New Orleans.
Shaq's caroling of "Take him down" and "Work him, big man" were surely heard by the freshman throughout the game.
This was especially apparent when the game was tied late in the second half. Randolph picked off a Kentucky pass and glided down the court for a ferocious finishing dunk that sent the fans at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center through the roof. A celebrating Randolph flexed his muscles and let out a roar after the rim rattler and glanced over to see a pleased Shaq pointing right at him with that unmistakable Shaq grin.
"You know, my goals are to just improve every game and to help this team improve week in and week out," Randolph said. "I think it's obvious the last couple of games that we have been improving as a team. It's our top priority and goal to continue to do that. We are going to come out and play hard every game. I'm going to give everything I have, and every chance I get I'm going to try to help this team get better."