With Young down low, Florida aims high on defense
DALLAS – Because of his chiseled arms and high school accolades, Patric Young drew comparisons to NBA star Dwight Howard long before he took his first hook shot at Florida.
Young had little, if any, chance to live up to the hype.
And he didn’t. But the senior center has been far from an underachiever for top-seeded Florida (36-2), which plays Connecticut in the Final Four Saturday.
A three-time Southeastern Conference scholar athlete of the year, Young will leave the Gators as one of coach Billy Donovan’s best post defenders.
Donovan puts the SEC defensive player of the year right up there with former defensive stoppers Brent Wright, Donnell Harvey, Joakim Noah and Al Horford.
“He’s as good of a post defender, guarding pick-and-roll, playing low-post defenses, as I’ve had,” Donovan said. “His intelligence level has got a lot to do with it, too. He’s a really smart defensive player. He can see things happening before they happen. That’s really impressive.”
Young hasn’t been too shabby at the other end, either.
The Jacksonville, Fla., native has scored nearly 1,300 points in four years, becoming the 50th player in school history to top 1,000 points. His hook shot has become a staple in Florida’s inside-out offense, and Young posed problems for UConn in the teams’ first meeting this season.
He finished with 17 points and seven rebounds in the one-point loss in early December and could be a factor in the rematch.
Young is averaging 10.8 points and 6.2 rebounds this season – similar to the numbers he posted as a sophomore and a junior. His biggest improvements have come in other areas, especially on the defensive end.
A consistent rebounder and occasional shot blocker, Young does a lot of little things in Donovan’s multiple-look defense. He has the awareness to rotate and double opponents in the paint, the skills to handle all-important communication in pick-and-roll situations, a 240-pound frame that comes in handy when boxing out and the willingness to take charges.
Donovan calls Young “about as unbelievable a kid as I’ve ever coached.”
“A total team guy,” Donovan said. “Unselfish, doesn’t care if he scores, wants to win and cares about his relationships.”
Young credits his defensive prowess to a mindset change.
“Every single day you have a chance to impact the team with your attitude and effort,” Young said. “It took me a little while to understand that it wasn’t always about me. It’s about our team and about winning.
“I knew this was my last chance to do something great here. I just really wanted to give it my best shot by putting in the work during the offseason.”
There was speculation that Young would be a one-and-done college player, a McDonald’s All-American who would jump to the NBA the first chance he got.
Young stuck around, got better every year and improved his draft stock. He’s widely considered a second-round pick in this summer’s NBA draft.
“I don’t think I was mature enough, didn’t have the work ethic I wanted yet, was still trying to figure things out,” Young said. “If I would have left early, I still don’t know if I would be in the NBA right now. I would probably be somewhere in the D-league or overseas right now, trying to figure out how things went wrong.”
Plenty has gone right for Young this season. The Gators have won a school-record 30 consecutive games, including an undefeated run through the SEC. And after three consecutive losses in regional finals, they advanced to the Final Four for the first time since 2007.
It’s been a collective effort, with Young playing one of the starring roles.
“He’s gotten better at his low-post scoring,” teammate Scottie Wilbekin said. “He’s always been a good defender, but this year he’s really done a good job of improving his stamina so he can stay in the game for longer and play that top level of defense for longer periods of time.”
It also has resulted in more hustle plays for Florida’s big man, like the diving save between two defenders at Tennessee in February.
Donovan called it the play of the year. Kentucky coach John Calipari was so impressed that he showed Young’s effort to his team and asked, “What are you willing to do to win a game?”
Young is willing to do just about anything these days, even though he may never live up to the hype.
“I don’t want to take this opportunity for granted,” he said. “Just go moment by moment and know that we’re not going to get this chance again, especially me. All we can experience is the now. We’re not going to let that opportunity get by us. We’re going to go out every single day that we can and make sure we give our best effort.”