EVANSTON, Ill. — When Stanford University sophomore Chasson Randle took the basketball court Friday night at Northwestern’s Welsh-Ryan Arena, he was more than 2,000 miles from his school’s own gym, Maples Pavilion.
But through 48 games of his college career, the Rock Island product never had been closer to home.
When Randle’s name was announced, his family, friends and some who barely knew him — and yet made the 185-mile trip from the Quad-Cities to the Chicago suburb — gave him a homecoming welcome like few visiting players in the Northwestern arena ever had received.
“Especially on the road, you usually don’t get that,” Randle said. “It’s usually boos. But for me to hear those cheers and then rooting for Stanford all night long, it was awesome.”
Friday’s game was the first time most of Randle’s family and many from the Quad-Cities had been able to see him play in person since he left Rock Island a year and a half ago. Randle’s dad, Willie, has been to the Stanford campus in Palo Alto, Calif., “six or seven times” to see his son play, and he also went to watch the Cardinal at the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas this fall.
However, for Randle’s sister, Lakisha, and grandmother, Laura, the game at Northwestern was their first chance to see Chasson play in person while wearing a Stanford uniform.
“He’s got family members here from Detroit and here in the Chicago area, and a lot of family members from back home,” Willie Randle said. “It’s kind of hectic. I’ve got a lot of family members that I’m trying to get in. They followed me to the stadium, and I’ve never been here before, you know, so I was just as lost as they were.”
As soon as the game was announced — it’s a four-game series, so Stanford will be back in Evanston during Randle’s senior year — folks from Rock Island and his family made a dash to find tickets.
“Everybody wanted to know, ‘Where can I get my ticket? When can I get my ticket?’ ” Randle’s mother, Gwen, said. “There are a lot of them in the stadium tonight, which we appreciate the support.”
Even though Randle has spent about 18 months away from home, the support has continued for one of the most beloved athletes in recent Quad-City history.
He left Rock Island High School as its all-time leading scorer and rebounder, and he guided the Rocks to their first state championship. He was Illinois’ co-Mr. Basketball, the Gatorade Illinois Player of the Year and the Quad-City Times Athlete of the Year. He won a gold medal with Team USA’s U17 team at the World Championships and attended numerous all-star games and showcase events.
Rock Island hasn’t forgotten about its favorite son, though, and the Randle family is thrilled with the backing.
“People always come up to me all the time and they always tell me how proud they are of him, and how he’s such a good role model for the community,” Lakisha Randle said. “It makes me very happy.”
When it came time to make a college decision, Randle could have stayed close to home and played for the University of Illinois. He grew up an Illinois fan — “Dee Brown and all those guys, Deron Williams, it’s hard not to like those guys,” he said — and given the Illini fan base in the Quad-City area, Rock Island would have undoubtedly preferred to see its star end up in Champaign-Urbana.
“There was definitely a lot of pressure for me to stay home just because of the fact that it’s home,” Randle said. “But it was just the right feeling and the right decision for me to come to Stanford.”
Randle’s family would have welcomed the opportunity to be able to watch every game in person, but they left the decision up to him, even if that meant traveling 2,000 miles to see any of his home games in northern California.
Get breaking news sent instantly to your inbox
“We ultimately left it up to him to make his decision,” Gwen Randle said. “He had to pick the place that was right for him academically, as well as with the sports, with basketball, so it was left up to him. I was happy with the decision.”
In the past 18 months, Randle has turned Stanford into a second home of sorts. He has met Davenport Central High School football legend Roger Craig, who starred for the San Francisco 49ers and now lives in the Bay Area, and he has found plenty of support at the school.
“My family has done a great job of calling and making sure everything is all right, and I have a great support system out there in California with my teammates and my coaching staff and things like that,” Randle said. “It’s great.”
He also has done more than his share to endear himself to the Stanford community on the playing floor, averaging 13.8 points a game as a freshman and 13.6 so far this season. He already is one of the Cardinal co-captains as a sophomore.
When it came time to play close to home, Randle welcomed the opportunity to put on a show for those he used to dazzle at the Rock Island Fieldhouse. He scored eight points and collected six assists in a 70-68 Stanford victory over Northwestern.
“I just heard that there would be a lot of people from my hometown here, and they turned out and did what they said they would do, so it was great,” Randle said. “Anytime you see people from home, you embrace them, and they embraced me tonight, like they always do.”
Friday was probably the last opportunity most people from Rock Island will have to see Randle play in person for the next two years, but even from the West Coast, he remembers his hometown and the people who have backed him for so long.
“I bleed red and gold, and there’s Cardinal in me, too,” he said. “I’ll always be a Rocky guy, and I’m following their season right now and rooting for them, too.”