Game Winner – By Kyle Randall

Game Winner – By Kyle Randall

The NBA G League guard shares his story with Sportando and opens up about his career and the grind of being a pro athlete.

This is the face of a man who’s been through a lot. It might not show it physically but if you know my story you see the scars. For those of you who don’t know, here’s a quick glimpse. I started playing basketball when I was four. I decided at a young age that basketball would be my only sport and that the NBA was the only option. Everything I did and every choice I made was for the game. I became consumed by it; some may have even called it obsession. I worked tirelessly and relentlessly on my craft, and the rewards showed every time. In HS I received State POY, I scored over 2,000 points, I was a top 30 ranked PG by ESPN, and I eventually earned a Div. 1 scholarship. In college I started every game as a freshman and sophomore at UNCG, I had my face on posters and billboards, and I was well known throughout campus and the community. For my senior year I decided to transfer to Central Michigan where I led the conference in scoring. Now that college was over, it was time to be a pro. I thought the fun was just getting started. This was the moment I had been waiting for my whole life. My job was basketball; I mean c’mon how cool is it to say that? And it has been a fun journey, but what I never anticipated was the business and political side of the game. It was brutal for me at first. My rookie season was in the NBA D League. A lot of people don’t know this but I had originally been cut after training camp. I had only been cut once before my entire life and I vowed to never let it happen again… but it did, and it hurt. I was devastated. Then I got a call to return. They said they needed a “true PG”. Although my game was more of a scoring guard, I did what they wanted just to be on the team. Little did I know, this would hurt me down the line. I changed my whole game my first year as a pro and guess what? It didn’t even pay off! That D League season was such a grind. It wasn’t anything like what I had envisioned being a pro player was like. As a kid you see the fame, the money, and the status. I didn’t have any of that. After the season I didn’t get any workouts or summer league invites. Year 2 was here and I had no contract offers overseas and none back in the D League. I was gonna be unemployed if I didn’t find something. I chose to go to the Premiere Basketball League, a semi-pro league. The contract would pay me more than I would get in the D League so to me it was a good choice at the time. I needed money and wanted to hoop; this league covered both. I didn’t know anything about league reputation and how much that played a part when looking for your next job (side note: having a good agent is super important. Make sure you do your homework and find the best for you. Some of these dudes just blow smoke and don’t do $#%t). But I soon found out. My team, Rochester Razorsharks, had just went undefeated for the season and won the championship. We were loaded. Probably would’ve beat some D League teams that year honestly. None of that mattered though. When it was time to find a new gig next season, nobody wanted me again. I kept hearing, “you didn’t play good competition last season”, “we’re looking for more established players”, and the list goes on. So now I’m approaching my third season as a pro and the only offer I have is to go back to the PBL. I didn’t want to but I needed the money so I took it. I made a choice that I wasn’t going to let this league hurt me again. I was going to dominate and get a good offer somewhere else. I started out great, averaging close to 16ppg and 6apg through the first four games. Then the unexpected happened and I hurt my groin. It’s a manageable injury, won’t keep me out too long but something in my gut told me that it wasn’t worth it to stay. So I decided to go live with my girlfriend in Washington State. I have no job and no money. She held me down though. She opened her home to me, came to the gym to rebound for me, and most importantly made me feel like family in a foreign place. After living in the gym the rest of that winter/spring, I was going into the summer feeling the best I ever felt. I get invited to work out in front of this agent who was pretty well known. I KILL! He convinces me to go to Serbia for barely any money. He said if I killed over there for one season, my career would take off. So that’s what I did. My first game in Serbia I dropped 32 and it was easy. After that, I was up and down. That season was probably one of the hardest, if not the hardest of my career. I was 6-9hrs ahead of everyone I knew back home. It was already hard enough to communicate needing WiFi all the time but adding that time difference made it even more difficult. My relationship with my girlfriend Raeanne was getting shaky. It was causing me to lose focus from basketball. Then she hit me with one of the realest statements I’ve ever heard: “don’t lose us both”. She was referring to her and basketball. She loved me enough to basically choose basketball for me. I was hurt but I was already in Serbia so at that moment I decided to go into beast mode and stop trying to balance the two. Me and her started talking less and less but my game began taking off again. We get matched up with one of the top teams in the league. I need to play good in this game to solidify I’m one of the best players in the league. 30-ball! It was my best game since the first one I played when I got there. However, on the bus ride back something strange happens. My lower back has the sharpest pain I’ve ever felt and I lose feeling in my left leg. They let me take a week off. It still wasn’t feeling good but I had to play. I refused to sit in Serbia thousands of miles away from the girl I loved and not play. My first game back, I take a bad fall right on my back. I know something isn’t right. On the bus ride back I lose feeling again in my leg. I get it checked out and the doctors tell me I have a pinched nerve and herniated disc. They say I’ll need surgery. I’m like no way, no chance. I leave to come back home to get a second opinion. I was told all I needed was rehab so I stayed. That team still owed me money but I charged it to the game. My health and my relationship were more important.

I wasn’t allowed to touch a basketball for four months. “This was going to be the worst four months of my life,” I told myself. I was so depressed. I had never been out from basketball this long. Basketball was my escape. It was what I used to shield myself from real world problems. It’s what I used when I didn’t have anywhere or anyone else. It was my life! But now it’s gone. What am I going to do? Who am I without it? I thought I was going to be lost without it. The first few days were tough. I let myself sulk for a bit. After a while though, I just gave into the idea of living a normal life. I got a job working valet at a casino, I rebuilt my relationship with my girl, I kicked it with friends more. For the first time in my life I wasn’t a basketball player, and guess what? I was happy! Crazy right? I know, I know I was surprised too. During this rehab process I realized something… I’m more than just a basketball player. If I were to never play the game again, I’d be okay. Just as I’m getting comfortable and settled in this new lifestyle, I get cleared to play. This changes everything. Immediately my old fire starts burning again and I want to go full speed ahead. Thankfully I couldn’t though. My doctor said I needed to ease back into it. Taking it slow allowed me to fall back in love with the sport. I hadn’t felt like this since college. My whole professional career up to this point, I was playing for all the wrong things: money, fame, status, but worst of all because I thought that’s who I was. It was different now though. I already had a job so I didn’t need money, I was no longer in a “spotlighted” career so I didn’t care about fame and I didn’t need status. I was finally playing again just because I loved to hoop. It’s now 2017, the first year for the new NBA G League. My fiancé (yeah, I had to lock her down haha) gave me the go-ahead to go play again. We decided together that this season would be my final one if it didn’t work out. I play the majority of the season for the Lakeland Magic. I’m not fully right from the back injury but I’m coming along. Playing for Lakeland was such a blessing though. Although I wasn’t getting the minutes I wanted, the fans made me feel loved, I had great teammates that turned out to be lifelong friends, and it was a great organization that really cared about all their players 1-12. The front office did me a solid and helped me get to the Delaware 87ers to finish the season. They knew I’d have more opportunities to play there. The timing was perfect too because I was just feeling like my old self again physically. I played my best basketball of the season in Delaware and finished the season strong, turning some heads. I took that momentum from the season right into off-season training. I was feeling strong and confident. Where I live though, a small town called Kelso, WA; there weren’t many places to find high level basketball. I found a few and one was the Isaiah Thomas’Zeekend event in Tacoma, WA. He brings out a ton of NBA and overseas players. It’s definitely a tournament where you can measure yourself up against some of the best; I made sure to do just that. I wanted to make a name for myself and show that I belong right there with these NBA and top overseas guys. I was the only pro on my team and we made it all the way to the semi-finals (I say we make it to the finals too if I don’t catch cramps in the semi’s). Our game before the semis was the best game of the tournament anyways though. We were playing one of Isaiah’s teams (he didn’t play). The court was packed. As we’re going back and forth all game, they decide to make a late addition to their team; it’s Jamal Crawford! If you know me at all, you know I want this matchup. The first thing I say to him is “aye OG I need them shorts!” He was wearing some dope throwback Seattle Supersonic shorts. He responded “nah they’re my only pair, you can’t get these.” So anyways, as the game progresses, it stays close all the way to the end. Back and forth we go until one segment and it feels like it’s just me and Jamal out there. The last three possessions we just go at it. I hit a three, he hits a three. I hit another one, he hits another one. It comes down to this last possession and everybody knows where the ball is going… I NEED DAT! Its standing room only and everyone is on the edge waiting to see what unfolds. I catch the ball on the left wing, take one dribble down towards the corner into a step back fall away three-pointer. As the ball is in the air, I’m totally calm because for some reason I just know it’s going in. SPLASH! The ball hit nothing but net and the gym goes crazy! This was the first picture captured after the game winner. And although I’ve been through a lot, I wouldn’t change my journey one bit. Since that shot I’ve been in the best space of my life mentally. I married the girl of my dreams and I know who I am now. You see, God used my journey to break me. He saw me headed for the wrong things and he needed to intervene. The good thing about God is that he’ll never break you down without giving you all you need to build yourself back up. I know my purpose now. It’s to use this game I love to impact the lives of others in a positive way and to be a witness for Christ. I thank God every day that I don’t look like what I been through. I am more than basketball and all it took was a game winner.

P.S. Yo OG [Jamal Crawford], I need those shorts still!

 

Kyle Randall – Guard for the Delaware Blue Coats

 

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