Working your way up. It’s a difficult and often frustrating experience that most freshman basketball players go through, particularly at the Division I level. In high school, they’ve always been THE man but when they get to college they often discover life on the end of the bench. Florida’s standout senior center Patric Young is all too familiar with the process. He was a McDonald’s All-American who was rated as high as the #5 center prospect in the country by some recruiting services, but when he arrived in Gainesville he was staring up at a veteran front court, which meant a learning experience. Now that he’s a senior leader, Young remembers how important it was to learn from mistakes when he was the young guy waiting his turn.
“I had Vernon (Macklin), I had Alex Tyus, I had Chandler Parsons,” Young said. “Those guys were seniors that carried me under their wing a little bit. Just coming in right away, being in my position, I was able to watch mistakes as I was making mistakes.”
From a freshman who picked up backup minutes to a senior who is generally considered one of the top two or three defensive centers in the country, Young has developed into the type of player who can beat you with his rebounding, his scoring, his defense or, as he showed Tuesday night in Knoxville, with his court savvy and hustle. With the Gators holding a six-point lead with about 1:30 remaining in the game, Young ran down his own missed shot in the corner, beating two Vols to the ball when he dived head first to clutch the ball, then turned in a single motion to find Kasey Hill to save a possession that helped the Gators go on to a 67-58 win.
“Really, just once I shot it, Young said. “I chased after it and the only chance I could get it is if I dove for it so I dove and grabbed it and snatched it out of the air. Threw it back to whoever was at half court — it was Kasey Hill. I don’t know, it was crazy.”
Twitter went crazy with that play. Young has drawn comparisons to NFL tight ends, swimmers diving into the pool at the Olympics and baseball infielders trying to take away a ground ball in the hole. It was a play he said he made on instinct, but it is instinct that he learned while working his way up through the ranks at Florida.
Young is hoping experience and hustle will pay off Saturday night when the 3rd-ranked Gators (22-2, 11-0 SEC) face 14th-ranked Kentucky (19-5, 9-2 SEC) at Rupp Arena. It’s one of the few arenas where Young has never experienced the feeling of a Gator win. He has an 0-3 record to show for his three trips to the bluegrass. Overall, the Gators are 2-6 against the Wildcats in Young’s three years with the Gators.
Last year, Young and the Gators came oh so close at Rupp only to experience the futility of a last minute loss.
“I think we let one slip out of our hands last year,” Young said. “I definitely think we had an opportunity to win that one. But it would be really special to finally get one and not go my whole career not winning there especially with how well we’re playing right now. We’ve been achieving a lot of goals, but that doesn’t mean anything. But it would just be nice to come away with another win.”
For his Florida career, Young has averaged 7.3 points and 3.0 rebounds per game at Rupp where he’s had to bang against the likes of DeMarcus Cousins, Josh Harrelson, Terrance Jones, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Anthony Davis and Nerlens Noel. It’s tough enough to go to Rupp to face a Kentucky program that always has the advantage of the Adolph Rupp mystique but it’s even tougher since John Calipari arrived, bringing in a yearly infusion of future NBA talent. While Young has been around for four years to help the Gators get to three straight Elite Eight games, he’s had to go against Kentucky’s unique revolving door of youthful talent that makes the Wildcats so tough to beat.
“Well, it’s been like that almost every year I’ve played against them,” Young said. “It’s nothing new. It’s all I really know in playing Kentucky. The only seniors I remember, the older guys they had were (DeAndre) Liggins and Darius Miller. They come out running and gunning.”
Saturday night, Florida will take to the court in front of a charged-up sold out crowd in excess of 23,000. College Gameday will be on hand. As of Thursday night, 14,000 tickets had been distributed to Kentucky fans for the event Saturday morning. The Wildcats already lay claim to the two largest Gameday crowds in history: 22,144 in 2010 and 15,087 in 2013. Young and the Gators aren’t worried about the frenzied atmosphere.
Why? Simple, they’ve got experience.
“Well, we’ve been in any type of situation you can think of on the basketball court,” Young said. “With our experience, we can get through it. We’ve probably already been through it before. It won’t be anything new to us. We’ll be able to lift each other up.”