Cal's Randle has 'main ace' by his side
Home for the Fourth of July holiday last summer, California's star guard, Jerome Randle, was in Chicago with his cousin, who he simply refers to as "Chill."
An argument between Chill and another man ensued. An altercation was next. And then a life was ended.
That's the way Randle told the story, rather quickly in the hallway of Madison Square Garden after Cal had lost to Ohio State in the consolation game of the 2K Sports Classic in late November.
"I don't think they caught him," Randle said of the assailant. "I actually saw it."
Marchello Henderson, 26, was known as "Chill" to Randle. He was a cousin on his father's side. Henderson was slain after being shot several times at around 11:45 p.m. on July 4. According to news reports, Henderson was one of several people shot while standing on the 5700 block of South Union Avenue; 11 people were shot and killed in Chicago during the Fourth of July weekend, and dozens more were injured from gunfire.
A year earlier, Randle had made the decision to get his younger brother Jeremy Randle, out of the city. The two brothers, separated by three years, were always together as children, and they desperately needed each other.
"I just kept thinking about my brother Jeremy and wondering where he was going to end up," Randle said. "He's tall, a tall black man, and I've seen a lot of people get mistaken and things happen. I didn't want that to happen to my brother. I've lost too many close people in my life."
The Fourth of July slaying was a reminder to him that he made the right call.
"It's just scary," the senior said. "The crime rate in Chicago is growing. There's a lot of pressure there and I didn't want him around those terrible neighborhoods. It's not a good place."
Randle's indictment of the South Side of Chicago is taken through his prism. There's a bit of an edge to Randle. The area he grew up in was rough. He was from a divorced home, one of five children born to Zsa Zsa Miller, who separated from Randle's father when he was 5. As a kid, Randle was picked on for being short; he is generously listed at 5-foot-10 by California's media personnel.
"They would never pick him on the playground," said Miller, who was in New York for the 2K Sports Classic games with Jeremy, 19, and her youngest daughter, 13-year-old Bianca. "They wouldn't pick him because he's such a short guy. Then someone would finally pick him and the other team would regret it. He's had to overcome a lot of criticism and a lot of doubters out there. He's always proving people wrong."
So why not take on the responsibility of having your younger brother live with you for your junior and senior seasons of college as you attempt to lead Cal to a Pac-10 title?
"I've been through all this pressure in my life and there's nothing in this world I can't handle," Randle said. "I've had pressure off the court, growing up on the South Side of Chicago. Playing basketball was my escape to get away from a lot of things."
And he has done it quite well. Randle averaged 25 points per game at Hales Franciscan High in Chicago. That shouldn't come as a surprise, considering how much Randle wanted to be a player.
When he was young, Randle would tape hangers on the doorways of his house, use socks and aluminum foil as a makeshift ball, and stand back as far as he could to shoot baskets in the house.
"We would also take a plastic bag and take the bottom out so we could hear that swish sound," Randle said. "It would be all day. We would get into trouble because we were making so much noise. We were too young to go to the park by ourselves."
When he was older, he got to the park but wouldn't get picked, as his mother said. That stigma of being the short guy stuck with him when he was at high school and then into his early career at Cal, where his scoring average went from 6.5 to 11.8 points per game in his first two seasons under then-coach Ben Braun.
"I don't know why people make such a big deal out of height," Randle said. "I'm playing against guys who are 6-5 and up and I'm still able to do things that I want to do. That's life. I'm all about proving people wrong, and that's Jerome Randle. Jerome Randle is about proving people wrong. I love it. It really motivates me to prove everyone wrong that doubts me, that don't think I can play at this level or the next level."
Yet when Braun was forced out at Cal, Randle was ready to bolt once former Stanford and Golden State Warriors coach Mike Montgomery was tabbed to be the head coach.
Recalled Zsa Zsa Miler: "He said, 'I understand that he's not a point-guard coach' and said, 'Mom, I'm leaving.' And I said, 'No, you're not. You've got to give him a shot and give him a try. All you're hearing is what someone else is hearing. You have to judge him based on your relationship with him.' He said, 'OK, I'll give it a shot.'"
And then, prior to Randle's first season under Montgomery, he made the call to his mother to send for Jeremy. After Jeremy finished high school, Zsa Zsa had sent him to an alternative school for a year. He had matured quite a bit there, Jerome said, to the point that Jeremy's decision-making was at times even better than Jerome's. But Zsa Zsa still had her hands full raising Bianca and Jamie, 17. Her eldest daughter, Ontieria, was also in Chicago with her two children, 7-year-old Jalyn and 6-year-old Darion.
"I appreciated that Jerome thought enough of me," Zsa Zsa said. "But I was worried about how much of a stressful situation this would be for him to have [Jeremy] move out there. I thought about it for a while and thought it could be OK."
Helping each other is the mantra of this faith-based family.
"We're like that," Zsa Zsa said. "If we have one slice of bread, we're going to cut that bread into six pieces so all of us can have bread. There's no second-guessing when it comes to family. We trust one another. We're all that we have."
Jeremy said he looks at Jerome almost as a father figure. Yet Jerome said it is Jeremy who has given him the guidance he needs. Since Jeremy has a job as a salesperson at a local clothing store, it is he who is the main provider and the one who ends up taking the lead on buying dinner (usually pizza) or helping make dinner for the two of them.
Jeremy has been going to Berkeley City College during the day to work on his bachelor's degree. But as much as possible, as was the case in New York in late November, Jeremy is around the team.
"Jeremy needs a jersey or a warm-up or something," said Cal senior wing Patrick Christopher. "He's got more Cal gear than me. He's always in the locker room, controlling the music and keeping us up-to-date."
Jerome's maturity in looking out for his brother has caught Christopher's attention.
"It just shows how much his brother looks up to him and how mature Jerome is for him to take Jeremy under his wing," Christopher said. "That says something for a 22-year-old. That's big to balance basketball, academics and family. It's tougher than a lot of people think and you have to respect him for that."
Meanwhile, Randle gave Montgomery time, and Randle has flourished. He averaged 18.3 points a game as a junior, leading the Bears to the NCAA tournament. He made a career-high 82 3-pointers and shot 46.3 percent on 3s.
He continues to be a step-back 3-point threat this season, averaging a team-leading 19.6 points and 5.1 assists through the first nine games. The Bears were struggling earlier in the season because of injuries to Theo Robertson and Harper Kamp, but Robertson is back and Cal has posted impressive blowouts of Iowa State and Pacific heading into Tuesday's game at No. 1 Kansas.
If the Bears make the NCAAs again, let alone live up to their billing as the preseason Pac-10 favorite, it likely will be due to Randle -- and, Randle could argue, to Jeremy for keeping him grounded.
"I usually don't cry when I go out to see them," Zsa Zsa said. "But when I was out there in September, I hugged them and Jerome came walking toward me and tears were streaming down because I saw how responsible these young men have become and how much they love one another and support one and another."
And it won't end anytime soon. Jeremy said there is no question that he will go wherever Jerome lands for the 2010-11 season, whether that's in the NBA, the D-League or overseas.
"Wherever I go, I need my brother," Jerome said. "He's actually like my big brother because if I'm ever slipping up, I need him there. I'm hard on myself, and that's why I need the extra support from him. He's my main ace. It's priceless to have him with me."
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.
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