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Julius Randle: 'Excitement, hunger, anticipation' over Lakers practice

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Not since Julius Randle suffered a season-ending broken leg during his NBA debut last year has the power forward engaged in an organized practice with teammates.

Not until Monday, that is.

Randle, the Los Angeles Lakers' top draft choice in 2014, joined other members of the team's summer league squad for a practice session at the team's facility leading into Friday's game against the Minnesota Timberwolves in Las Vegas.

It marked another step forward for Randle, who has steadily progressed through rehab and recently completed weeks of five-on-five full-court drills.

"It's something I've been thinking about for a long time," said Randle, the former Kentucky standout who was drafted seventh overall last year. "It's excitement and hunger and anticipation."

While he certainly has to shake off rust after playing just 14 minutes in the team's 2014-15 opener before suffering his injury, Randle did open eyes Monday.

"That dude is a beast, man," said Lakers guard D'Angelo Russell, the second overall pick in last month's NBA draft. "I feel like we're going to work the pick-and-roll, transition. Wherever he feels comfortable, we'll adjust to it."

Guard Jordan Clarkson, a second-round pick in 2014 who became an all-rookie first team selection last season, was also impressed by Randle.

"He's a monster with the ball," Clarkson said. "He's fast. He's expanding his game with the outside shot. It's going to be fun to watch."

The 6-foot-9 Randle is listed as weighing 250 pounds on the team's summer league roster and said he has lost about 15 pounds thanks to a healthier diet, which he credited to the team's strength and conditioning coach Tim DiFrancesco.

No doubt, Randle looks slimmer and appears to move quicker up and down the court.

"The credit goes to my coaches for staying on me and not letting this downtime being injured be a step in the wrong direction," Randle said. "I'm taking advantage of it the most that I could. It's also me with my drive and will and people supporting me. The credit goes to all of them."

Lakers forward Larry Nance Jr., drafted 27th overall out of Wyoming last month, said Randle's strength stood out.

"He's a strong dude," Nance said. "I didn't realize that. Walking up next to him, I think I'm about the same height, but then he's got a few pounds on me, and younger I think. He's definitely going to be something special.

"I'm just excited to play with him. He's just someone, as [we're] going through the drills, he's always talking to us, always kind of mentoring us, telling us, 'Hey, this drill is only five minutes; bust your butt and we get a break after this,' little things like that to keep us motivated, keep us going."

"It's something I've been thinking about for a long time. It's excitement and hunger and anticipation."

Julius Randle, on returning to full practice with the Lakers

Randle praised the team's rookies.

"They'll be a great addition to the team. They all play hard, all very smart, have very high basketball IQs, so they'll be fine," Randle said.

As Clarkson mentioned, Randle's shooting -- appearing to have extended his range close to the 3-point line, if not beyond it in the corners -- seems to be one of his biggest improvements.

"He's a stretch [power forward] now, can shoot it," Clarkson said. "When he gets the ball off the rim, he's pushing it as well too. It's going to open a lot of things up in terms of that. He's able to [isolate] guys on the post. If we throw it in there, we know most of the time he's getting a bucket. It really opens the game up a lot for us."

In terms of what forward position he'll play, Randle simply referred to himself as "a basketball player."

He added that he believes he can play all over the court because, in the Lakers' offense, both forward positions do many of the same things.

"I'm not really worried about it," Randle said. "At the end of the day it's the game I've been playing my whole life."

And while Randle said he has improved certain parts of his game, he was coy about revealing any details.

"I don't want to tell you. It's a big surprise. You'll just see when I play," Randle said. "Evaluate yourself."