LOS ANGELES (AP) — Los Angeles Lakers rookie forward Julius Randle is expected to miss the rest of the season after undergoing surgery on his broken right leg.
The seventh overall pick out of Kentucky broke his leg in the fourth quarter of his NBA debut in Los Angeles’ season-opening loss to the Houston Rockets on Tuesday. Randle was strapped to a wheeled stretcher and taken off the Staples Center court after colliding with two Rockets and landing awkwardly with 6:46 to play.
Before Wednesday’s game at Phoenix, the Lakers announced that Randle’s injury was just as serious as it appeared.
Randle’s surgery was performed by Dr. Donald Wiss at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. He is expected to make a full recovery, but the Lakers anticipate he won’t play this season.
“It is heartbreaking,” Lakers coach Byron Scott said after Tuesday’s loss. “I saw him all summer and saw the work he was putting in. I saw the progression he was making, and the steps he was taking to get better. His first game, and he goes down.”
The 19-year-old power forward was the SEC’s top freshman while helping Kentucky to reach the NCAA championship game last season. He was thrilled to be drafted by his favorite childhood team to play alongside Kobe Bryant, one of his idols.
Bryant consoled Randle on the court and after the game in the Lakers’ locker room. Bryant made his own return Tuesday after missing the 2013 playoffs and all but six games last season with two major injuries.
“Even for myself, being a veteran, seeing someone going through something like this is tough,” Bryant said. “But that’s what we’re here for. We’re here to be his teammates and help him through it, take it day by day. … He was progressing just fine. He was improving leaps and bounds.”
After Randle recovered from a broken right foot late in his high-school career in the Dallas area, he appeared to be a budding star while averaging 15.0 points and 10.4 rebounds per game as a freshman at Kentucky. He had 24 games with at least 10 points and 10 rebounds, the most in the nation and the second-most by a freshman in Division I history.
Randle also won fans in Los Angeles for his humble approach to his NBA career and his devotion to his mother, Carolyn Kyles. He chose No. 30 for his uniform because his mother wore it for her college team.
Randle and Steve Nash already have been ruled out for the season by the Lakers, who led the NBA with 319 man-games lost to injury last year during their worst season in a half-century.
Three other Lakers — Wayne Ellington, Ryan Kelly and Nick Young — also missed their opener with injuries. That means the Lakers already are guaranteed to miss 166 games due to injury this season before they play their second game Wednesday night at Phoenix.
Young is expected to be out until December after surgery on a torn thumb ligament, but Ellington and Kelly could be healthy soon.
Randle played one more game in what was supposed to be his rookie season than Blake Griffin, another high-profile power forward chosen with a high draft pick by a Los Angeles team. Griffin missed the entire 2009-10 season with the Clippers after breaking his left kneecap in their final preseason game while landing after a dunk.