Monday, March 03, 2008

Freshman of the Year: Julian Royal



The state of Georgia has a long line of talented big men that have paved the way for the stars of tomorrow.

Since the 2004 graduating class, guys like Dwight Howard, Josh Smith, Randolph Morris, Robert Dozier, Luke Nevill, Korvotney Barber, J.J. Hickson, Gani Lawal, Al-Farouq Aminu, Chris Singleton, Howard Thompkins, Derrick Favors and Kenny Hall have fine tuned their skills before making it big in the pro game, the college level and even on a national high school stage.

Milton High School freshman Julian Royal is next.

Royal, a 6-foot-7 power forward, is also the Georgia Hoops Freshman of the Year.

The humble rookie was the clear cut choice for the top player award for the class of 2011 after his sensational debut, posting better numbers than any player his age.

Royal got better as the season went along and gave a preview of good things to come this season under the direction of Milton head coach David Boyd.

"I think I did pretty well this year. It wasn't a bad start for my freshman year," Royal said. "I would have liked to have done a lot better, of course. I would have liked to have gone to state and gone that far."

Talented, yet humble, Royal doesn't come off as a player that knows he has arrived. In fact, the notoriety he has received doesn't seem to much meaning to the well-grounded player.

"It's nice to have because I've worked hard but it doesn't mean a whole lot in the grand scheme of things," Royal said.

What means a lot to him is getting better. That was evident just by watching him work this season. Posting a double-double was a normal occurrence. So was playing step-for-step with some of Atlanta's top players.

"He's playing against really good teams and great players. He knew that if he didn't come to play, he was going to get embarrassed. He played against D1 players all year," Boyd, the coach at Milton, said.

Boyd knows a little something about coaching high-level freshman. He coached Georgia Tech freshman and former McDonald's All-American Gani Lawal at Riverdale as a freshman.

Royal said he hears the comparisons from Boyd as well as from others that watched Lawal fine tune his craft at Norcross for his junior and senior year.

"I hear that all the time," Royal said. "[Coach Boyd] told me that when Gani first started that he wasn't that strong or that athletic so he just worked really hard. That was the thing that coach told me that I had to do – just develop that work ethic."

Boyd said he sees some similarities but notes their differences, too.

"They are about the same size in the ninth grade. Gani was probably a little stronger and a little bit better defender and rebounder. But Julian was a little bit more skilled offensively, ball-handler and shooter. He has a great touch. He can consistently shoot the three-pointer. That wasn't Gani's forte," Boyd said. "They are very similar. If Julian can combine Gani's strength and work ethic with his skill level, then you have something really special there."

Like Lawal, Royal is an engaging young man off the court. His leadership skills were the foundation of a decision Boyd made at the beginning of the year. He named Royal a team captain.

"You never have to worry about him getting into trouble or not doing his work or anything like that. He doesn't have a mean chip on his shoulder," Boyd said. "That's important to me and I think that is why he's going to be a great player because he's a great person and a great student from a great family. You put all of those things together and you're going to be good."

Royal is good. In fact, he is really good. He's so good that his decision to be named the Georgia Hoops Freshman of the Year was the easy choice of all of the classes this season.

The Royal File

Points: 18.3 per game

Rebounds: 11 per game

Blocks: 65

Field goal percentage: 48

Free throw percentage: 67

High points: 29 vs. Chattahoochee

High rebounds: 17 vs. Chattahoochee

Interested colleges: UAB, Duke, Florida, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Georgetown, North Carolina, Southern Cal, UCLA