After years of recruiting efforts on Dambrot’s part and a timely transfer from the University of Memphis,
player and coach will finally see the floor together in 2018
Adam Lindner | Sports Editor
After spending his first three collegiate seasons at UNC Greensboro from 2009-12, Youngstown, Ohio, native Kyle Randall transferred to Central Michigan for his senior season in 2013, where he averaged 18.7 points per game for the Chippewas.
Keith Dambrot, then coaching at Akron, recruited Randall to his Zips team, but to no avail. MAC schools Central Michigan and Akron would meet only once during the 2012-13 men’s basketball season, a 68-56 Akron win on Feb. 5.
Fast forward a few years, and Dambrot was after a different Randall — this time, Kyle’s little brother, Leonard.
A Youngstown resident until his senior year, Leonard said that Dambrot recruited him as early as his freshman year in high school, but once Randall’s father accepted a job in the Phoenix area, Akron was pretty much out of the picture for Leonard.
“From where I’m from, it’s only 45 minutes away from Akron. But … where I’m from, it’s not always a good scenario to be close to home,” Randall said. “My family really didn’t want me to go home.”
Randall would eventually commit to Josh Pastner at Memphis, who would leave for the Georgia Tech job one year later. Tubby Smith replaced Pastner for Randall’s sophomore year at Memphis, a season in which the second-year guard averaged 18.1 minutes per game and 5.2 points on 34.9 percent field goal shooting.
A playmaking guard, Randall was asked to perform as a spot-up shooter under Smith, but only managed to hit 28.8 percent of his attempts from deep.
Ready for a change in scenery, Randall left Memphis after just one season under Smith, at the time becoming the fourth player to depart from the Tigers program since the end of the 2016 season in the process.
The 6-foot-4 guard says he harbors no ill will toward either of his former coaches, and left Memphis as a better individual than he was when he arrived.
For one, Randall said he left Memphis as much tougher than he was prior to showing up.
“Memphis is a rough area. When I got there, I had to grow up a lot — I had never been on my own before,” he said. “It was different. I definitely just appreciate stuff more, too; like, the little stuff. Especially home-cooked meals.”
Now, almost two years since Randall began his sophomore season with the Tigers, he finds himself in Pittsburgh, accompanied by a few familiar faces.
On top of Dambrot, Randall’s family had a preexisting relationship with Dukes assistant coach Rick McFadden, who’s from nearby Struthers, Ohio, and director of operations Steve McNees, who used to play AAU ball with Leonard’s oldest brother, Lance.
“I’ve known him since I was, like, seven or six,” Leonard said of McNees. “It was more, like, family coming into here. … It just felt right.
“My recruiting process wasn’t long,” Randall continued, speaking on his collegiate free agency period following his release from Memphis. “I mean, I definitely had other schools call. But, it made it very easy — I came on my visit [to Duquesne] the week after [Dambrot] got the job, which was two weeks after I decided to announce that I was leaving. And then I had all intentions on committing.
“I could have told him I was committing on the first day of my visit; it wouldn’t have made a difference. I was going to play for him regardless. … Wherever he was going, I more than likely would have went. Guaranteed.”
So now, a relationship that blossomed in northeast Ohio continues to grow two hours away in Pittsburgh, where both Dambrot and Randall will take the next steps in their respective basketball careers.
Already having played two years of college ball and sitting out another, Randall now suddenly finds himself as one of Duquesne’s more experienced players on its roster. Randall said he’s been trying to lead the Dukes’ younger guys by example thus far — something Dambrot echoed.
“Coach talks about it a lot. I’m the oldest guy on the team, so some things — I should get guys to do certain stuff, and lead by example. So I try my best to do that” Randall said.
Dambrot seconded what Randall said about his role so far during the young season, saying, “He’s a talented guy. He just has to relax and not put pressure on himself, do the right things, and he’ll be a good player.
“He’s a gym rat,” Dambrot continued. “He gets in the gym on a consistent basis, and I think that’s probably the best thing that he does. He’s been in a lot of big games — obviously, you know, Memphis is a high-level program, so that’s probably the biggest thing, is just teaching these guys [by example] about how to get in the gym.”
Asked about the thing he’s most excited to be able to get back out on the court and do, Randall said he misses scoring, but for the most part, “I miss more, like, the atmosphere of the game. The feeling of the game is probably what I miss more than anything. Even, — I’m one of those guys, that if my teammate scores, I’ll probably yell just as much as I would yell if I were to score.”
Randall will have to continue to wait until at least Nov. 10, when Duquesne finally returns to action, against William & Mary.
It should be noted that until recently, Randall went by ‘Craig,’ but is now opting to be recognized by his given birth name, Leonard.
“Yeah, it’s kinda fun, too,” Randall said in regard to the preferential name change. “I’m just having fun with it. … We’ll see what comes out of being called ‘Leonard.’”
Going forward, Randall prefers to be referred to as ‘Leonard,’ but also has no problem with still being referred to as ‘Craig’ sometimes in conversation.
Leonard, Craig, Kyle, Lance, what have you — I’d bet Dambrot’s just glad to finally have a Randall on his team.