Anthony Randolph’s career has been on an upward trajectory ever since he took what is a difficult decision for any American player: making the big leap across the pond and following his dreams in Europe. However, even before he decided to accept an offer to join Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar in the summer of 2014, Randolph knew a little about life on the Old Continent – in fact, he was born here. Randolph’s father was a member of the US military, and he was born on an American airbase in Germany.
"I was born in Wurzburg, but I didn’t even spend a full year there before my family moved and I grew up in Los Angeles," he explained. "I only lived in Germany for a year and I haven’t been back there since, so I don’t have any memories of being there. I only ever remember growing up in LA, and the first time I traveled overseas that I remember was when I went to Beijing with the Golden State Warriors, around the time I got drafted. I was about 18 years old. That was my first real experience of being overseas."
Perhaps the fact that he was born abroad opened Randolph’s mind to the possibilities of life outside the United States, because when the time came to swap California for Krasnodar, he had no hesitation whatsoever in making the move.
"It was just a basketball decision," he said. "I didn’t even think about where it was. I was just recently finished with the NBA so I was looking for a place I felt I could excel. At that time, Lokomotiv was the best place I could be seen and possibly get better jobs down the line. I had a few other offers, but I felt that was the best place for me to go and it worked out perfect."
As players often like to do, Randolph called upon the advice of people he knew and trusted before agreeing to move to Russia: "I did some research so I knew that Lokomotiv played at a good level of competition, and I heard some good things talking to other players. I talked to a lot of people and I knew it was the best basketball decision to make at that time.
"I didn’t know anyone at the club when I signed there, but it wasn’t tough to settle in. We had a few Americans on the team and we became a close group, which really helped my transition. It’s always a learning process, but the beauty is that all basketball players speak some English wherever they come from, so that helped a lot," Randolph said. "The language of the locker room was Russian, but the film study and most of practice was done in English. We had a few Americans like Aaron Miles, Richard Hendrix, Malcolm Delaney and Chris Singleton, and Victor Claver also spoke perfect English. A lot of great teammates."
Looking back, Randolph thought that life on the court provided a bigger process of adaptation than his personal life, saying: "It was a transition. It took me a while to adjust to the game, because they are two totally different types of games from the NBA and Europe. Everything was different – the tactical aspects, the physicality, the way the games are refereed and coached. But once I was able to spend some time on the court, I was able to adjust and everything went smoothly.
"Off the court, Krasnodar is a nice city. It was different to anything I’d experienced before, and I enjoyed my time there. The food, the culture, the way people interact with each other are all different, but that’s the point of traveling – experiencing different countries, you get to see a glimpse into other peoples' lives. A few of my family came out and visited, so they were able to see it for themselves, but they always supported my decision."
Randolph’s two seasons in Krasnodar were highly successful. He was named to the 2014-15 All-EuroCup Second Team after leading the club to a 19-0 start. A year later, he was a key player in the team's historic march to the 2016 EuroLeague Final Four. The team coached by Georgios Bartzokas overcame Barcelona in the playoffs before losing out to CSKA Moscow in an all-Russian semifinal. Randolph was voted to the 2015-16 All-EuroLeague Second Team at season's end.
He has fond memories of his time in southern Russia. "The Final Four is by far one of the best and most special memories of my career," Randolph said. "Nobody really paid any attention to us all season, so the way we were able to reach the Final Four was pretty spectacular. I remember Chris Singleton had a great game in Game 5 of the playoffs against Barcelona; he really pushed us into the Final Four. It was great. As a kid everybody dreams of taking down the big dog, so for us to beat Barcelona, which was the major favorite, was a special accomplishment. It was something I’ll always remember."
Randolph’s success with Lokomotiv naturally attracted plenty of attention, and in the summer of 2016 he was snapped up by Real Madrid – with the opportunity to join the Spanish heavyweight presenting the big man with another straightforward decision.
"It was very easy to come here," he admitted. "I already understood that the club really takes care of their players and that they always compete for major titles every single year. The reason we play is to win, so that made my decision to come here very easy. I’m a little more comfortable in Madrid because the language barrier isn’t as difficult as Russian, but each place has its merits. I’m happy to be here in Madrid and hope to stay for a few more years."
An unexpected turn to Randolph’s career took place last summer, when he accepted an offer to represent the Slovenian national team just in time to enjoy a whirlwind journey that culminated with gold-medal glory at EuroBasket 2017. The chance to play at international level was not something Randolph sought out, but he was happy to get the chance when it was presented to him.
"My agent brought the situation to me. He said it would be a good way for me to get exposure and to get an EU passport, which could help me later on in my career," Randolph said. "So after talking to the federation, I thought it was the best decision. The first time I actually went to Slovenia was July 18 for the start of training camp. I had Luka Doncic there to help me along and introduce me to people, and It was cool to have Luka there – if I had a question, I knew there was somebody I could ask. But everybody on the team was great. It was a really easy transition."
Slovenia’s fairytale success last summer exceeded all expectations, and Randolph was simply delighted to find himself at the center of a rapidly unfolding romantic sports story. "Going into the tournament, our goal was a medal, but we never specified which medal," he said. "But as the competition went on, we started to feel more confident and realized that we had a chance to do something special. Everything was just clicking."
Even though he had fewer natural ties to Slovenia than his teammates, Randolph emphasized that playing on a title-winning team was a wonderful experience – especially when he was able to join in the frenzied celebrations back in his new adopted home nation after lifting the trophy.
"It was amazing!" he said. "Every time you win a championship it’s something you can never forget, and becoming a European champion is something that nobody can ever take away from me. I understood early on, after talking to the federation, just how special it would be to win a medal. But going back and seeing all the fans, the whole country celebrating with us, made it sink in how it was something the country will always remember, and I was able to be a part of it.
"There were people at the airport to greet us when we landed, and then we had a celebration in the city center where there were thousands and thousands of people in the pouring rain waiting to celebrate the championship. It was pretty amazing."
Now Randolph has his sights set on another European title, this time at club level with Real Madrid. And although his remarkable European journey has already provided some special moments, he is too focused on the future to reflect on what he has achieved.
"I don’t have time to look back," he said. "I’m too busy and just living in the moment. I’m riding the wave and taking every day as it comes. When I retire, I’ll sit back and think about it, but not right now."