Randle mentors troubled youth

Road crowds never bothered Stanford guard Chasson Randle. But preparing to stand in front of one audience in particular produced butterflies the size of pterodactyls.

The screaming he heard as he entered the facility didn't come from costume-dressed and body-painted fans trying to get him to miss a free throw. It came from kids up to the age of 17 -- one as young as 9 -- serving time at the Scott County Juvenile Detention Center in Davenport, Iowa.

None of the yells were directed toward him the first time he visited, but the sight and sound of hearing someone being detained made Randle wonder if he was the right person to speak to these kids.

Here he was going to college. And not just any degree-producing university, but Stanford, meaning a successful future was practically guaranteed.

What could he possibly tell these juveniles, some of whom committed very adult crimes and were facing sentences so long it would take them straight into retirement?

"I was nervous as heck the first time I went in there just because you don't want them to look at you as an outsider or someone who is looking down on them for being in the situation they're in," Randle said.

His father, Willie, said his son is the type who would feel comfortable having a conversation with anybody from bureaucrats to the downtrodden. Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins described Randle as having the respect of his teammates although he maintains a quiet leadership style.

"He's one of those guys like E.F. Hutton -- when he speaks you listen; that's kind of how Chasson is," Dawkins said. "When he says something, it's going to have a lot of substance behind it, and he backs up his words."

That's why Harlee Miller, who coached Randle on an eighth-grade team that went 32-0 and serves as a youth counselor at the center, knew he absolutely picked the right person to speak to the group.

When Randle started speaking that first time, the conversation kept going until about 90 minutes had passed. There were no awkward patches of silence, no extended mean-mugging from an unimpressed crowd. They embraced him in the way Miller anticipated because of who Randle is as a person.

"He carries himself to the utmost," Miller said. "When you carry yourself to the utmost, you can just see the confidence that comes out of that kid."

Many of the inmates had already heard of Randle based on his basketball accomplishments. He led Rock Island High School to its first Illinois state title. He shared the state's Mr. Basketball honors in 2011 with Aurora's Ryan Boatright, who helped Connecticut win the 2014 national championship.

They knew of his credentials. What they didn't know was that he cared.

"It brings fulfillment for me being able to go in there and just try to help somebody and try to brighten up their day, whether it's with my words or my actions," Randle said.

His mother, Gwen, had always told him the importance of giving back. He quietly observed how his father and two other of his youth coaches looked out for his teammates. The ones from the single-parent homes, the ones whose dads never came to the games, the ones who couldn't afford even a minimal fee to cover for travel expenses on tournament trips to Chicago or Rockford.

Willie Randle and the other organizers often picked up the tab just so the kids could have a team.

"More than anything, I think he saw how we took care of those kids," Willie Randle said. "He got a feeling of wanting to give a word to the kids and give back."

Some of Chasson Randle's friends and teammates from those youth teams ended up incarcerated in the same detention center he now frequents. That's partly why every summer since leaving his native Rock Island for Palo Alto, California, Randle has returned to the center to visit.

Those interactions inspired Randle to try to do more.

Randle, who earned his bachelor's degree in three years, is spending his senior year working on a master's degree in psychology. His thesis is on improving juvenile offenders' re-entry into school systems.

"Instead of just watching those things, he wants to try to find solutions," Dawkins said. "And that's what I admire about him."

Randle leads the Cardinal in scoring at 16.4 points per game, but the number he's looking to change is 70. That's the percentage of youth who re-enter school from being incarcerated and do not graduate from high school.

He's examining how the youth perceive themselves, how teachers perceive them and where they see themselves in the future.

"It's definitely touching to go in there and see how young these kids are, and you hear their stories -- they're in and out and not able to make a change," Randle said. "It's tough, but you have to realize where these kids are coming from and what they're lacking outside of the correctional facility that needs to change. And that's where we look to change, too."

It's not easy.

A few of the juveniles he first encountered found their way back into the detention center after being released. Randle recalled having a heartbreaking conversation with one inmate on the eve of his 18th birthday, which meant he would be moved to an adult jail. The juvenile had a 75-year sentence.

And yet he still presses forward with a message that there is another way to live despite whatever tough circumstances might exist. Randle is trying to help break the cycle of incarceration one juvenile at a time.

"If you can get one, two or three that have changed, you've changed a million," Miller said. "You're not going to get everybody, but if you can get a few of them to be productive ... that speaks volumes. And he has changed two or three of them that I know of personally."

Miller said he still gets kids who ask about Randle and when he's coming back. They keep an eye out for Stanford basketball now as much as they do the Chicago Bulls or any of the Big Ten teams in their footprint. And they're cheering for Randle to score another 515 points to surpass Todd Lichti as the school's all-time leading scorer. It's a goal Randle would like to obtain.

"Going forward, I want people to think, when they think of Stanford basketball, that Chasson Randle was one of the best to ever come through this program," Randle said. "I think that would be huge if I could do that."

Dawkins said Randle can already be considered one of the best to come through Stanford. And it has nothing to do with basketball.