Julius Randle was one of the breakout stars of the 2020-21 season, as the Knicks forward emerged as an All-Star, leading the Knicks to the 4-seed in the East in the process. The playoffs didn’t go as planned for New York, as they were bounced by the Hawks in five games in the first round, but listen to Randle tell it, that was the perfect end to the season.
Given his career trajectory, from once part of a hopeful young Lakers core to a player somewhat adrift, with his ideal role unclear, Randle has an appreciation for the opportunity he’s had in New York to establish himself in a place he’s comfortable and show what he can truly bring to a team. As he prepares for a followup campaign to his Year 7 breakout, Randle spoke with Uproxx over Zoom on behalf of Mobil 1 and their new Behind The Drive campaign about last season, how it fuels his drive for next year, the importance of fit for a player’s success, and how being embraced by New York has been so fulfilling.
Now that you’ve had a couple months, how do you look back on last season and the season you had and the Knicks had as a team?
It was two things. One, just to see hard work pays off, but it was also very motivating and it ended perfectly, in a sense, because it motivated me to want more, to push myself even more, and that’s what I did. So, ultimately, I want to come back a better player, I want our team to come back better, and I feel like that’s what we’re going to do. So, like I said it was two things, it was rewarding but it was also very motivating and I’m excited about that.
You mentioned working this offseason to get better, where has your focus been with your game this offseason as you as you get ready for camp?
For me, I don’t think I have to improve him on like 10 things like every year. I try to improve on a couple things and that’s what I did this offseason. You always have things that you expect in the offseason to yourself. Regardless, and that’s to be in amazing shape coming into camp. So I’m going to do that for sure — I have done that — so I’ll be ready for that. But also, you know there’s other things I feel like I can improve on. Obviously I’m not gonna tell you the secrets, [laughs], I’ll just let you see it. But ultimately, I think I’ll be a much better player and our team will be much better for sure.
Last year I think the thing that was obvious was the work you put in on your shooting from the outside. What was the work that went in to that? And then seeing that result in the year that you had shooting from three and from the mid range, what did that mean to you to see that work result in an All-Star appearance and so much success on the floor?
It was just day in and day out improvement on shooting. A lot of reps, a lot of mental focus on it as well and doing things the right way, every day. And that’s a challenge in itself. So, I wasn’t just shooting the ball a lot, I was trying to do things the right way in the same way every day. And I feel like I improved on that and I feel like I’m an even better shooter now, so, I’m excited about that. I think that in the NBA, period, shooting is a premium, but especially at my position and being able to space that floor. So like I said there’s things, shooting was one of the things that I improved on last year. Shooting is a premium. I feel like I was a better shooter, improving my shooting last year, and I felt like I improved on it now. So, excited to continue to do that.
What has being in New York and playing for Thibs this last year shown you about the importance of fit and comfort with a team and a coach? Because you’ve played on a few different teams for a number of different coaches and something seemed to click with this team in particular. What have you learned about the importance of that to your own personal success and having that fit with a group of guys and the coaching staff?
Super important. From top to bottom, honestly, starting with Leon and Wes. Like those guys for me are family. This whole thing is bigger than basketball. And then I established, obviously I had that relationship with Kenny Payne before and him being on the coaching staff. So being comfortable is great and now I’ve established that relationship with Thibs. So, all this stuff is bigger than basketball when the — I guess it is business, but it’s family business and when the person, your boss or whatever it is, cares about you as a person that means something, because you don’t want to let them down. And that’s what it is for me. I’m comfortable here. I enjoy coming to work every day. I enjoy pushing myself with these guys and myself every day, and it’s just a different type of experience that you know you just can’t really explain it, you just got to be in it to experience it and then you will know what I’m talking about for sure.
Yeah. And you have a couple the big additions this year with Kemba [Walker] and Evan Fournier coming in. What are you excited about the most about getting those guys in. welcoming them into that Knicks family, and getting the chance to play with two guys that bring some more dynamic ability to that backcourt?
Yeah, I think those guys fit in perfectly with what we’re trying to do, what we’re building. The biggest thing is, you know those two guys in addition to the rookies and stuff, nobody has an ego. Everybody just wants to give themselves up for the team, help the team improve, and win as many games as possible. And that’s the culture and type of atmosphere that we’re building every day. So those guys fit in perfectly.
You’ve got this partnership with with Mobil 1. How did that come about and how can fans get in on this to win a pair of some custom sneakers?
For me, when I do certain things like this and partnerships like this, it’s very important for it to be authentic to me and who I am and what I’m doing. And that’s exactly what this is with Mobil 1. The big thing is, the name of the campaign is Behind The Drive, and that’s really what it is. Like, what’s behind the drive of Julius Randle. What motivates me as a person, what motivates me as a player. You know what I do on a basketball court, you guys have seen that. I’m going into my eighth year so it’s easy to see who I am as a basketball player, and be able to critique that or praise that or whatever you want to do. But this shows you more who I am off the court. What makes me who I am as a player, as a person, and what motivates me.
One of the big things that we’ve done that was really cool, and it just speaks to the authenticity of the of the campaign and the brand is my man Mache made me these custom one-of-one sneakers, obviously can see the checkered flag for Mobile 1 and stuff like that. But the really cool thing about these shoes is it’s infused with Mobil 1 oil. So it’s just showing you the authenticity of the brand and authenticity of the shoe and just how it relates to me as a player. So you know it’s a one-of-one and it’s really cool because you’re seeing who I am as a player, but fans are able to also you know go on BehindTheDrive.com and they’re able to sign up and have a chance to win some of these shoes as well. So I’m able to interact with fans, and I love doing that. So it’s been a really fun, cool, authentic partnership and I’m just excited to be a part of it and keep it going,
Last thing, you mentioned getting the chance to interact with fans and, Knicks fans have been starved for a long time, and it seems they’ve really embraced you and embraced this team. What has it meant to you to feel that love from New York fans and kind of get to share this ride that you’re on with them?
Yeah, it’s been amazing. Being able to feel that love, you know this fanbase is not just, I would say, the biggest in basketball, but it’s one of the biggest fan bases in sports, period. There’s a lot of New York fans in New York and the country and the world. So being able to put on the blue and orange and experience that love, experience the passion of the fans is truly amazing. These guys, they live and die by the Knicks and they really have a certain level of expectation, win or lose, how you’re supposed to play the game of basketball, how you approach it, what you’re supposed to do. And I feel like when our team, us being unselfish, us coming in playing hard and giving our best and playing full of energy every night. That’s just a brand of basketball that the city can relate to. So, it’s really fun to be able to experience that love. It’s really fun to be able just to be a part of that and there’s no better jersey to put on every night than the Knicks.