NBA-Knicks' Randle says maximizing pandemic downtime fueled sensational season

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FILE PHOTO: NBA: San Antonio Spurs at New York Knicks
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By Rory Carroll

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Julius Randle said that instead of being discouraged by the seemingly endless COVID-19 lockdown, the New York Knicks' forward seized on the opportunity to fine-tune his physical and mental game, changes he said led to his MVP-caliber season.

The 26-year-old emerged from the time off better than ever, posting career highs in points, rebounds and assists to lift the long-suffering Knicks to their first playoff appearance since 2013, a feat few saw coming.

"I was able to make great use of my time," Randle told Reuters about his extended time away from the court, which was made longer by the fact the Knicks did not qualify to play inside the NBA bubble last season.

"I was able to hit reset once everything ended last year. We didn't know what was next. As the weeks went on, we realized it was going to be a while before we would be able to get back on the court."

"For me it was about, how do I make that time useful?"

Randle, always one of the league's hardest workers, stepped up his conditioning by focusing on specific facets of his game instead of attempting a complete, top-to-bottom overhaul.

"During the pandemic it wasn't about improving 10 things, 20 things, it was one, two, three things. I was able to take that and see tremendous growth in my game," he said.

He said one of the keys was incorporating virtual coaching app Future into his routine, which enabled him to connect with former Bulls and Bucks strength and conditioning coach Nick Papendieck whenever he felt the urge.

"I was really serious about taking care of my body, getting in the best shape possible, and the Future app definitely helped me do that," said Randle, who has since partnered with the company.

POWER OF MEDITATION

Not content to simply upgrade his physical self, he also finally found the time to embrace meditation, something he had long been curious about and which has since become an integral part of his daily life.

"I meditate before every game, I try to meditate every day," he said.

"Meditation helps you get in the zone. There are so many things that happen throughout the day that maybe before I wasn't prepared for, but now I feel like I am because I can regulate my thoughts. So it has been a huge help."

With so many people hungry to emerge from the pandemic with renewed focus, the NBA's leading contender for the Most Improved Player Award says it is all about maximizing your potential.

"Try to really focus in on what makes you the best version of you," he said.

"It's also about enjoying the journey on a day-to-day basis. And for me that's what I love, I love the process of getting better."

The Knicks host the Atlanta Hawks in Game One of the NBA playoffs on Sunday.

(Editing by Lincoln Feast.)