Julius Randle’s relentless training during the offseason led to a breakout

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Julius Randle wanted to go to work. That didn’t surprise Tyler Relph a bit. Relph helped train Randle for over a decade, dating back to Randle’s time at Prestonwood Christian Academy in Dallas. Even then, at age 15, Randle understood the value of sweaty equity.

But that was something else. It was different.

When the NBA ended his season in March, Randle flew to his hometown and continued to train, thinking it would be a temporary hiatus. He and Relph fell into an old routine: drills, conditioning, staying alert so the Knicks can play again when the call comes.

It never has been. There would be a bubble in Orlando, and most of the league would go there, but the Knicks were left out. Their season was over. And something clicked inside the man who averaged 19.5 points and 9.7 rebounds in an almost forgettable season.

“Couldn’t he play when all these other guys in the league were playing?” Relph laughs. “It drove him crazy.

Soon after, Relph received a call on his cell phone. Randle.

“Let’s get to work,” he said.

“Of course,” Relph said. “Just tell me where and when.”

Julius Randle
Julius Randle
NBAE via Getty Images

“Stay where you are,” Randle told him. “We are going back to Dallas. We are buying a house. I come to you. Let’s go. ”

Relph laughed at the memory.

“I have known Ju for many years,” he says. “He wasn’t kidding.

He wasn’t. In the past, off-season work would usually be in Los Angeles or New York, wherever Randle was stationed, a few weeks here, a few weeks there. Sometimes they would go on vacation together and he would invariably be up at 6 a.m. to go to the gym, then FaceTime his weight trainer, then off for a 20 mile bike ride through Miami.

“At one point, I thought he might want to relax,” Relph says. “But he never did. Not once. It was different. It was every day.

Some days that meant the two were meeting in a gym at 6 a.m., doing footwork, working on Randle’s shot, 90 minutes of nonstop work. Three or four times a week, this was only the second stop on the route as Randle would open his old high school gymnasium at 5 a.m. to throw jumpers on his own, the first batch of 1200 he was shooting each day, every week, every month, for nine months.

Soon Relph introduced him to a weight trainer named Melvin Sanders, and the two men hit it off instantly.

“Ju likes that you don’t just prepare for his workout, but train with him,” Relph says. “It’s Melvin. And that’s me. Thanks to Ju, I’m in better shape now than when I played in college. I do not have a choice; otherwise I would never follow.

Relph, a native of Rochester, New York, played two years in West Virginia and two years in St. Bonaventure and caught the training bug after injuring his knee after graduating, apprenticing under the Bonnies coach Mark Schmidt. In 2010, he decided to become a personal basketball trainer and moved to Dallas.

It was there he met Randle, who was already a precocious talent, who would have a terrific first year at Kentucky before heading to the Lakers with the seventh pick in the 2014 Draft. He played in Los Angeles for four. years old, moved to New Orleans for a very productive 2018-19 season, then signed a three-year, $ 63 million contract with the Knicks.

“He’s the hardest worker I’ve ever seen,” says Relph. ” From afar. You know, it’s not easy to average 20’s and 10’s and 3’s in the NBA. You don’t do this just by showing up. But even by that standard, it hit an incredible level this summer.

Every day Randle showed up at the gym. Sometimes they had three separate workouts, and these didn’t include the weight sessions with Sanders.

“We only had time,” Relph says, “and he didn’t want to waste anything. We have had nine months. So I said to him, “Let’s be a star. Let’s try to make you one of the best players in the league. We went back to what we were doing. Footwork, tips to make sure he gets to the spots quickly. Again and again. Everyday. ”

Relph stressed the importance of using a dribble, or two, so he could get a shot when he needed it; when he twice saw Randle use this move to free himself from Giannis Antetokounmpo in Game 3 of the Knicks’ season, he screamed in pleasure on television.

Despite all the hard work, the biggest moment of the summer came on July 30, when word got out the Knicks had hired Tom Thibodeau. Immediately, Relph thought it would be a perfect marriage.

“I knew what it was going to be,” Relph says. “I said to him: ‘You’re going to play 40 [minutes] every night. If you play hard, Thibs will let you go. We didn’t know he would want him to be a point forward, but once they spoke and he said it was just perfect. Play all of Ju’s forces.

“It was phenomenal because Julius and Thibs are of the same mindset. They are workers. Neither of them ever really got anything, they had to win it all. They are both the first to work every day. They see it exactly the same way. ”

The payoff, of course, is this season, the Knicks head off to a surprising 5-3 start, Randle averaging 23.1 points, 12.0 rebounds and 7.4 assists. The All-Star Game has already been called off, but Randle’s goal of pushing his game to an all-star level has, so far, gone perfectly.

This thrilled Knicks fans. And brought joy 1,300 miles west, where his friend and trainer will officially open the Tyler Relph Basketball Lab in downtown Dallas this weekend, where his current clients – RJ Hamton, Willie Cauley-Stein and Skylar Diggins-Smith, among them – will be having a home. And where Julius Randle can always go to get a good workout. Although it probably won’t stop at just one.

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