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Local Tryout Craig Randall II proving to be an early success story for Long Island Nets

Alec Sturm takes a look at Craig Randall II, a basketball vagabond who’s gone from local tryout to starter with Long Island. What’s next?

Capital City Go-Go v Long Island Nets Photo by David L. Nemec/NBAE via Getty Images

There’s a column on the Long Island Nets’ official roster listed as “acquired.”

Simply put, it’s the mechanism the team uses to describe the way each player listed was brought on to the team. Most of the players fall into typical categories like “returning G League player,” or “Two-Way” contract. Others have their draft rights held by the Nets.

Only one of the players is listed as a “Local Tryout,” Craig Randall II.

Randall ll is a 25-year-old, 6’4” 182-pound combo guard out of University of Tennessee at Martin. A fiery combo-guard, Randall prides himself on bringing energy to Long Island, Brooklyn’s NBA G League affiliate team, whenever he gets the chance.

“Passion, I just enjoy the game, [I’ve] got to make the game fun,” he told NetsDaily. “So whatever I can do to bring energy to the team, whatever I can do to bring excitement to the game, fans, anything. I try to do that.”

Randall is the sole “local tryout” player on the Long Island Nets roster, but as he is quick to point out, it makes no difference. Another member of Long Island’s organization who will argue that’s true? The leading man on the floor: head coach Adam Caporn.

“We knew he was good,” said Caporn post-game after Randall’s rotational debut for Long Island on November 10th. “He’s not just a guy that belongs on that court, he’s a basketball player [who’s] going to have a long career.”

The Nets held two open tryouts in the fall, one in Brooklyn and the other on Long Island. Randall plunked down $200 for the opportunity and attended the Brooklyn tryout, where he — and the rest of the local player pool — was evaluated by Long Island’s front office and coaching staff.

He enjoyed the competitive environment at the Nets’ tryouts, with former G League players and college standouts all trying to make a name for themselves at the next level.

“Oh, it was good. It’s just always a lot just because there’s a lot of guys in there trying to show that they think they [that] belong or that they belong. So you kind of just got to make yourself stand out in different ways, not just [by] scoring,” Randall remarks. “It was fun, though. It’s like one big open gym. And the coaches, they try to see as much as they can when there’s a lot of people in there. We do drills, stations.”

Randall also participated in two other local tryouts for NBA G League clubs, the Memphis Hustle and Lakeland Magic — the affiliates of the Memphis Grizzlies and Orlando Magic, respectively. Unlike the Long Island Nets, those organizations didn’t separate out the best performers from group drills for a “private scrimmage” afterwards. Randall said he appreciated the added opportunity to show off his game.

“So the difference between them and here is we played way more in New York,” Randall told NetsDaily. “So in Brooklyn, they just got to see me live a lot more.”

A three-star recruit in the 2015 high school basketball class, Randall initially committed to Memphis. but transferred to UT Martin after two years playing under two separate head coaches for the Tigers. He only saw the floor for 21 games in his two seasons at Martin, limiting his development.

As he puts it, “[The] last time I played a full season I was a sophomore in college. I haven’t played basketball, like actual games in two years.”

Now back on the floor for Long Island, Randall sees this year as all about getting his rhythm back. “This is the first time I’ve been back playing, like, around this type of competition,” he notes. “So [I’m] just getting my rhythm back, getting my timing back, really just working on being a pro.”

Randall has worked with coach Caporn, along with assistants James Maye, Jimmie Oakman and Lance Harris. “The coaching staff is great,” he says. “All of them really help you, all of them give you their advice. I mean, they’re knowledgeable just because they’ve been around the game. Most of them have played professionally, and they’re always trying to help you.”

Caporn hails from the Basketball Australia Centre of Excellence, where he has trained guards like current Brooklyn Net Patty Mills, Matthew Dellavedova, and Josh Giddey. For Randall, “you just always want to take in what he’s saying, because he’s seen it all.”

Indeed, Long Island’s new head coach comes with an excellent reputation as a developmental coach with Randall playing the role of eager student. As Caporn continues to harp on the importance of picking spots and making the right plays, Randall says he’s ready to soak it all up.

“I’m very big on learning the game,” says the first-year guard. “One of the things that I’ve been taught my whole life is when somebody who’s been there and seen it, [and] they know more than you, why not listen and take it in? So I try to take it in as much as possible.”

On the floor, Randall sticks out as an aggressive scorer who’s happy to shoot from any area and put pressure on the defense. The lefty has struggled to find his stroke from behind the three-point arc to start the year and regularly consults Long Island’s coaching staff on his shot selection.

Still, he believes his money is to be made on the defensive end of the ball. “My game, I play with a lot of passion,” he states. “My motor is very high. I play hard on both ends of the floor. So really, I just try to use my motor as much as possible.”

That aforementioned motor came in handy against the College Park Skyhawks — the NBA G League affiliate of the Atlanta Hawks — on December 11. Two days earlier, the Nets had experienced death by 100 cuts at the hands of rookie guard Sharife Cooper. The 6’1” Auburn product consistently exposed their interior defense. Cooper able to use penetration to open up an outside game time and time again. He finished with 33 points.

On Saturday, however, the Nets were ready. Randall was tasked with chasing Cooper around, and he stayed glued to the slippery guard — even top-locking him in transition. So despite a less-than-stellar shooting night, Randall contributed immensely. Cooper may have scored 27 points, but he turned the ball over five times, fouled out and more importantly, the Nets won.

“It was great,” the Aussie coach remarked post-game. “[Cooper]’s a great player, and we did a great job on him.”

So far this season, Randall’s averaging 10.5 points and 3.4 rebounds, but since entering the starting lineup on November 23, he’s improved his averages to 14 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4 assists per contest.

“One of the reasons for putting him in the starting lineup was just an extra ball-carrier,” Caporn explained. “Craig’s a good two-way guard, so using his ability defensively as well as the ability to share some ball-carrying duties. And Marcus [Zegarowski] is shooting the ball so well [that] Craig can initiate offense and run some things with Marcus.”

As for his new home, Randall says he hasn’t had too much trouble adjusting. Growing up in Ohio, he’s used to the cold weather, and now spends most of his free time shopping at local malls or playing video games at his place. Other than that, he’s in the gym, working.

Randall isn’t one of the half-dozen Long Island Nets players who shared the court in Las Vegas with Brooklyn’s Summer league team. Despite that, he thinks he’s meshed well with the team. “[The] guys were all good to me, just making me feel comfortable when I was here,” he says, despite only knowing one other G League Net before the season.

Long Island forward Justin Jackson grew up playing with Randall on the Pittsburgh-based AAU team PK Flash. Jackson, who’s from Canada, has watched Randall since they were 13.

Jackson says that Randall’s game back in seventh and eighth grade resembles the same shifty guard he knows today: “I mean, he was pretty much the same kind of player: gritty, get[s] after it, defensive player, aggressive scorer.”

As for his growth, “It’s crazy just to think how much [he’s] grown as a player, just coming into himself and his own. I mean, he’s so aggressive,” Jackson asserts. “He’s one of our engines, as you say. Without him, it’s tough to lose a lot of energy on the defensive end, as well as the offensive so he’s a big part [of] our team. It’s crazy just to see the growth that he’s made in such a long time.”

“Engine,” “motor.” A lot of similar terms are regularly used to describe Randall. Others things you’ll hear around the organization include “good kid,” or “great story.” Whether it’s from members of the front office, coaching staff, or teammates, everyone admires his work ethic and attitude.

Long Island’s 3-7 record isn’t stellar, but the team is still focused on building good habits and internal development in the early stages of the season. After all, team records are re-set after the Showcase and then the regular season officially begins.

Entering the year, Long Island’s players were aiming to participate in the Showcase Cup tournament, with prize money going to players on the winning squad. But those early season losses derailed that plan and now, Randall says, “we’re not really too worried about the Cup anymore, it’s out of our control.”

In a way, the first 12 games act as pseudo-exhibition matchups for Long Island players to become accustomed to their teammates. It’s part of a new format the G League instituted this year, essentially a new start in mid-season.

Now, with the Showcase in the rearview mirror, “our biggest focus is just getting better at the stuff that we weren’t good at,” Randall says. “And every day we’re improving, and every game we’re just trying to put it together as a whole. And so I think we’re showing great signs. I think come regular season starting on the 27th we’ll be ready.”

Now, the young Nets are looking to pick up momentum heading into the official start of the regular season. Of course, there’s been significant player movement as prospects traveled back-and-forth between Barclays Center and Nassau Coliseum. With two-way players Kessler Edwards and David Duke Jr. — along with Nets rookies Cam Thomas and Day’Ron Sharpe — in constant motion along the Belt Parkway, the team is trying to nail its identity.

“Right now whatever we’re doing, it’s all about finding our identity,” Randall iterates. “And I think our biggest identity we’re talking about is defense. A lot of [other] teams — they shoot a high percentage on us, but we show spurts where we can get stops [on] a lot of possessions in a row.”

And despite the G league’s priority on development, there are no doubts about Long Island’s plans for the rest of the season: Win.

“I know a lot of people from the outside looking in probably think for the G league in general that we all just want to get to the NBA, and that is our goal, individually and as a team, but we also know that we got to take care of this stuff first,” Randall told NetsDaily. “Like, none of us are gonna make it anywhere if we don’t win games, or we don’t play together.”

Randall states the obvious: every player in the NBA G League is ultimately fighting for the same dream — to one day play in the NBA. Randall is no exception, but he’s open to other possibilities down the line in his playing career.

Though focused on the year ahead, Randall said he’s open to possibly playing in the Australian NBL or Euroleague in the future. No matter where, “so just to play as long as possible, keep doing as much as I can, enjoy it.”

For now, he’s staying grounded, and maintaining a healthy mindset on the day-to-day grind of being a professional minor-leaguer:

“The ball’s not gonna bounce forever. So while it’s bouncing, just love it and enjoy it.”