Take a step into The Grindhouse.
No, not the appropriately-named raucous home of the Grizzlies on Beale Street in downtown Memphis.
This particular Grindhouse is where Chasson Randle has been putting in daily work over the last month to stay on top of his strength and conditioning, thanks to the generosity of his girlfriend’s brother-in-law. In a garage equipped with weight racks, treadmills, and row machines, Randle has had a quality setup to maintain a routine as the NBA continues to figure out its next step amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s like a laboratory if you’ve ever seen I Am Legend,” Randle told Basketball Insiders in an exclusive phone interview.
When he’s not playing virtual Connect 4 with his friends, trips to The Grindhouse and a private basketball gym have allowed Randle to appease the competitive fire he’s desperately missed in games… with himself. Whether it’s beating a previous number of weight reps within a set or recording better times on a bike, he’s found creative ways to keep busy and productive.
“I’m treating this like it’s the summer,” Randle said. “I’m preparing for a new season, even though I do expect the season to pick up and finish out. But even in the summertime, you can play pick-up games, you can play with other people and kind of get a feel for another body. But it’s just different.”
Two-and-a-half months into day nine of what he and his agent, Darrell Comer of YouFirstSports, jokingly refer to as the longest 10-day contract in NBA history, Randle has stayed in close contact with the Golden State Warriors through team meetings over the phone. His closest relationships are with Jordan Poole and Andrew Wiggins, the two guys to his left and right in the locker room, as well as Golden State mainstay Draymond Green.
While the current record obviously doesn’t show what the franchise has accomplished over the last half-decade, Randle senses the same championship professionalism he experienced in the 2015 NBA Summer League as an undrafted free agent — his first taste of pro-ball after four strong seasons at Stanford University.
“Everything was still top-notch professional. They did a great job of treating the new guys who were coming in and kind of engaging them and thrusting them into their culture,” Randle said of the Warriors. “I think that’s the main thing that I’ve gained from them. The culture is very, very strong, and it was then back in 2015. They were professional, but they still knew how to have fun and make the game of basketball a treat to everyone.”
“They do everything to the highest level. The way they communicate, it shows why they’ve been to The Finals five straight years and why they’ve won three of ’em. It just shows the way they treat their players.”
Randle’s professional basketball journey has been anything but a straight line. Following that summer league stint with Golden State, the 6-foot-2 guard signed a contract with CEZ Nymburk to play overseas in the Czech Republic. After both winning a championship in the National Basketball League and competing in the VTB United League, he drew the attention of the New York Knicks in the summer of 2016.
Earning all-tournament honors in Orlando to the tune of 18.3 points, 5.0 assists and 3.0 steals per game with a 55 percent clip from deep, the Knicks offered Randle his first training camp invite in the fall. He was waived after three preseason games, yet remained a part of the organization under its G League affiliate, the Westchester Knicks. In early January, the Philadelphia 76ers came calling and signed him to his first 10-day contract.
Though he sparingly played in spotty minutes for the Sixers, Randle remembers what head coach Brett Brown told him in a practice — something that’s been embedded in his mind during his career ever since.
“’’Participate in your own rescue,’” Randle recalls of the advice. “Sometimes in practice, you can just get caught up in watching what’s going on and trying to figure it out that way, but sometimes you have to get in there and get dirty and ask questions and be as active in your own process.
“And I’m like, man, it really helped me because after that I played well in Philly and I signed a three-year deal with them with those trigger dates. And if it wasn’t for the trade — Nerlens Noel going to Dallas and them getting [Andrew] Bogut and Justin Anderson back — I think I could’ve stuck there, honestly.”
Randle was released by the 76ers as a result of that deal to clear roster space. The Knicks brought him back in to finish the rest of 2017 on a multi-year deal, but he was let go again that September due to another trade as Carmelo Anthony was sent to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Enes Kanter and Doug McDermott. Experiencing yet another unfortunate set of circumstances, Randle ventured back to Europe to join Real Madrid.
Just as his previous overseas stint culminated with a title, so did this one. On a stacked squad led by international superstar Luka Doncic, the club conquered the Euroleague and earned a championship. Though Randle didn’t receive nearly the same playing time as he did in the Czech Republic, teams in the NBA wanted to give him another shot. He returned to the Knicks’ summer league team in Orlando for a second straight year.
The Washington Wizards liked what they saw and extended an invite to Randle in the fall of 2018. He played three preseason games before being waived. He spent time with their G League affiliate, the Capital City Go-Go, for a month until the team released him for the second time in November; but the Go-Go kept his rights and he kept playing. However, a little over a month later, lady luck would finally side with Randle thanks to, ironically, a trade.
When Kelly Oubre Jr. and Austin Rivers were sent away, Washington re-signed Randle to a contract for the rest of the season. For the first time in his NBA career, he had a legitimate spot in a rotation with consistent playing time, demonstrating leadership and an excellent basketball IQ. Patience and smarts translated into Randle’s success, as he knocked down a career-best 40 percent of his threes and recorded 12 double-digit scoring efforts in 49 games with the Wizards.
“It gave me the opportunity to kind of have the full experience or closest thing to the full experience for being on an NBA team and playing a backup role. I enjoyed it,” Randle said. “It was great to be around Brad [Beal] and John [Wall] and Jeff Green and the guys that we had on that team who had been around in the league for a while — great basketball players.
“I was grateful for the opportunity. I think that I really got the chance to show who I could be and who I am as a player, shooting the ball the way I did and being able to run an offense and pick up full-court and try to change the pace of the game.”
Throughout his twisting, turning path, Randle has always been a sponge. He takes bits and pieces of tips from everybody he encounters and uses that to better himself on and off the court. During his time in D.C., he attributes simply observing Beal and Wall being the first ones in the gym and the last ones to leave as an inspiration to his work ethic.
“When I walk into a room, I’m not always the loudest, but you better believe I’m listening to everything. I’m listening and I’m aware of everything that’s going on,” Randle said.
Desiring a more expanded role and a new challenge, Randle elected to go back overseas for the third time in his career — this time around, further east. Agreeing to a one-year deal with the Tianjin Pioneers of the Chinese Basketball Association, he had a plan in mind.
“Just for me to continue to develop my game, hold on a little more responsibility and allow my game to grow,” Randle said. “In China, I had the ball in my hands a lot more, so I’m getting those reps at the point guard position, getting a lot of minutes, seeing a lot of different defenses, seeing a lot of different double teams and having to do a little bit more so I can kind of grow my game.”
This was a short-term decision made with the long-term in mind. Randle figured the combination of lessons he learned from the previous season would manifest itself in his newest endeavor. He made good on that bet.
Averaging over 30 minutes for the first time in any league he’s played in, Randle exploded for 24.7 points, 4 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game. With his usage at a whopping 37.5 percent, he was anything but bashful, attempting over 19 shots per contest, nearly half of which were beyond the arc. By far, it was the most successful stint he’s had in any league yet.
It’s Jan. 21 in Sichuan, China. The Tianjin Pioneers have just beaten the Sichuan Blue Whales, 98-88, a game in which Randle pours in a team-high 20 points on the road. He gets back to the hotel where he sees a fan waiting for a picture and an autograph. After the exchange, the fan delivers Randle a frightening bit of news.
“’Have you heard what’s going on?’ I’m like, ‘No what’s going on?’” Randle remembers. “He’s like, ‘Man, there’s a virus going on in China. It’s very bad. People are dying, getting sick. Be careful.’ And then after that, I’m like, wow, nobody told me about this. This information is new to me.”
As soon as the Pioneers got back to Tianjin the next day, Randle did his research on the virus, now known worldwide as COVID-19. Before he knew it, the team canceled practice. The CBA had ceased operations and players were told not to leave their residences. Concerned that he could be stuck on lockdown in the city, Randle’s representation told him that he had to leave within the next few days.
“That’s what we did. I stayed at my hotel for three days straight,” Randle said. “Luckily, I had food in there in the freezer and the refrigerator. I could whip something up for myself because I didn’t leave at all. At this time, we didn’t know how the virus was being transmitted and stuff, so I was just being super cautious.”
When those three days were up, Randle hopped in a cab with his bags and took a two-hour ride from Tianjin to the airport in Beijing for a direct flight back to the United States. He says it was crowded, although the experience was nothing out of the ordinary. Attendants took his temperature and that was about the only abnormal thing about it.
“It wasn’t like anything you’d see on Contagion or anything like that,” Randle explained. “At this time, it was early though. And I think a few days after that, they were like shutting off the country. So, it was perfect timing. People were trying to rush and get out a couple of days after that, so the timing was perfect and I’m glad it all worked out.”
Before — and while — that was going on, Randle was gaining momentum in NBA circles toward signing a contract with a team. The problem? Tianjin, believing that the season would resume and in fear of losing its top player, wouldn’t allow him to end his deal with the organization. Randle and Comer were extremely agitated with the handling of the situation, so the latter took it to ESPN’s Jonathan Givony and aired out those frustrations on a public platform.
Score a point for Randle and his representation.
“Once [Darrell] got me on the ticker, man, it kinda took over,” Randle said with a chuckle. “It spread like wildfire and [Tianjin] called back immediately and was like, ‘you know what? We’ll let him go. It’s not worth [the bad publicity].”
We’ve officially passed the mid-May mark. Randle is still in California as a part of the Warriors. His family back home in Rock Island, Illinois is doing well. He’ll FaceTime them and stay in contact to make sure they’re up to date on everything going on during the nationwide quarantine.
Rock Island means the world to Randle. It’s where he spent his childhood and teenage years growing up. It’s where he and his teammates won Rock Island High School’s first state championship. It’s where he earned the honor of being named Illinois’ Mr. Basketball. In each of the past three summers, Randle and his close friends have held Dream Big Youth Camp, a free-of-charge event for local kids from the town and surrounding neighborhoods.
“I just basically try to give the kids that opportunity to learn basketball, but also learn other things that’ll help them later on in life,” Randle said. “So we teach them life skills. We had a class that was teaching like what it means to be an active citizen and what that looks like. We teach them decision-making, along with the basketball.
“I look at it like this: I went to plenty of camps when I was a kid and not all those kids ended up playing basketball, but some of those kids became doctors, some of them became policemen, whatever. I wanted to make sure with my camp, every kid could take away something from the camp and better themselves in whatever area they choose to pursue.”
Unfortunately, the annual camp is in jeopardy with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic — but Randle is hoping that sometime in September could work pending on the scenario.
Between working at the Grindhouse, getting shots up and figuring out plans for his camp, Randle has kept plenty busy — but even that isn’t all he’s up to. Since 2018, he has been actively designing apparel for his clothing line company, Volhard, set for launch in August.
“It means perseverance in both Dutch and Africans, loosely,” Randle said. “Really, it’s what I believe is the thing that every common person shares. Everybody’s had to persevere through something — it is imperative to my life and my story — so I wanted to kind of create through clothing and show that message to the world or whoever is willing to buy and support the brand.”
Randle designed every piece with the underrated drawing talent he has. In high school, he envisioned himself creating a clothing line. When basketball came into his life, his mother reminded him to take advantage of all of the gifts he has, not just his athletic side.
“Just be universal. Do a little bit of everything. Don’t be afraid. Take risks,” said Randle while recounting his mother’s wisdom. “And I really commend her for telling me that because that’s the way I live my life.”
Like everybody else, Randle is waiting for the NBA’s next move. Ultimately, he’s heard “mixed reviews” about the league and a return to normalcy.
In a hypothetical situation where things get back up and running, it would take a minimum of two weeks to get into shape. Game speed is totally different than any self-conditioning. But unrelated to those factors — and with safety coming first and foremost, of course — he would love to see The Association come back for reasons beyond his own benefit.
“I think that it would definitely show how resilient and brave the league is and how powerful it could be,” Randle said. “It could be very, very powerful just to kinda unite. Sports is something that unites people and brings people together, and I think that if it came back, it would have the opportunity to do that.”
Whenever that could be, we don’t know quite yet.
What we do know is that Randle is champing at the bit for an opportunity to show the NBA that he can consistently play at a high level on this stage — and if he finds the right fit, he plans on sticking around for good.
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