Patric Young ready for bigger Gator role
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- The chiseled body is God-given, Patric Young believes. Reps in the weight room certainly helped mold him, but the Florida big man with the broad shoulders is blessed with a 6-foot-9, 245-pound frame and the ability to muscle his way around on the court.
Sheer brute strength made Young a McDonald's All-American and helped him earn a scholarship to play in his home state for a Billy Donovan-led program with a national championship legacy. After a freshman season on a Gators team that fell only a few points short of the Final Four, he appears ready to jump into the starting lineup now that an all-senior frontcourt has departed.
But for all his physical gifts, Young nearly collapsed under the weight of his own lofty expectations while he came off the bench as a freshman. For a time, not meeting them led to an attitude that he said was disrespectful toward the coaches who ultimately came to the rescue and rebuilt his confidence.
"Maybe saying something under my breath," Young said of his behavior. "That's not me anymore. I've grown up a lot from that. You got to learn from your mistakes."
Young contributed 3.4 points and 3.8 rebounds in 17.8 minutes per game, but for a player considered to be an NBA prospect, it didn't come quickly enough at first. He said in his first few months at school he listened to the outside influences, paying too much attention to the well-meaning praise from friends and fans on his Facebook and Twitter pages rather than his coaches.
On Christmas Eve, Young tweeted, "u need 2 get the ball more says #oneofmyfollowers yes I kno it is very frustratin we play much better when the ball is inside." Looking back on those days, Young is now able to patiently explain his emotions in terms a reporter can understand.
"When you hear it over and over ... if 500 people came in and told you you're the best writer in the world, you're going to start believing it, right?" Young said. "You're going to be the next best thing. You're going to be one-and-done. You should be starting over Vernon Macklin. You should play 30-35 minutes a game. People say stuff like that.
"I was so mentally blocked that I couldn't understand what I was doing wrong and how it was hurting my team, and coaches had to sit me down and break that down for me, and I understood from that point on forward."
Donovan had brought Young into the program with visions of the Jacksonville native developing into a physical presence not seen since Joakim Noah and Al Horford led the Gators to back-to-back national titles. But while Young's offensive game might have been slow to develop in his own mind, he also got down on himself.
The coaches found that to be wholly unnecessary and called him in for a meeting. "It was like, 'You need to fix this,'" Young recalled. "I wasn't allowing myself to be coached. I wasn't being very respectful. I thought I knew it all."
"There's a lot of people, being an in-state guy, that think he's going to come in here and make this monstrous impact," Donovan said. "And when it doesn't happen, it's almost like it falls on him, and I think it affected him and it bothered him because I think he's such a good kid. It was almost like he felt like he was letting a lot of people down. He was letting Florida down. He was letting people in Jacksonville down. He was letting me down. He was letting his teammates down.
"It was just a matter of getting him to understand as a young guy it's always a learning process, a growing process. It's not going to be instant gratification."
Young came back to campus after the holidays and better accepted his role, finishing the season as the team leader in blocked shots. He played one of his best games against UCLA to help send the Gators to the Sweet 16, coming through with eight points, four rebounds and two blocks on a big stage in Tampa.
He's awfully thankful he got a talking-to from Donovan and a reminder that no matter how athletic he is, learning the nuances to the college game will take time and effort.
"It shows that he has a deep concern and care for me," Young said. "He sees something in me that I can be something. He knows my parents very well and knows my background, and when he saw those things, he was like, 'Where's this coming from? This isn't the guy we recruited.' He just had to help me break out of that habit, and I became the man that he foresaw when he recruited me."
Young, who said didn't consider declaring for the NBA draft after the season, is currently playing with USA Basketball's U-19 world championship team in preparation for a big season at Florida now that Macklin, Chandler Parsons and Alex Tyus have left a void to be filled. Florida guard Scottie Wilbekin, after noticing how Donovan's prodding in practice led to an improved work ethic, is predicting Young's emergence as an intense team leader.
Donovan again has asked for patience, as Young's growth is expected to come incrementally.
"He's got to understand that if people think all of a sudden he's going to score 25 points and grab 15 rebounds and that's the expectation of him, he's going to probably be disappointed," Donovan said. "But what can he do to get better? What can he do to impact our team? What does he have to do to improve? Those are the things he needs to focus on. Then he needs to let his talent take over and the chips fall where they may."
Said Young: "I just accept what people tell me, that I'm going to be a great player and things like that. The way I view it, I feel like I haven't reached my potential, and there's a lot of room left for me to grow. I'm never going to be satisfied. I'm always going to want to keep getting better and being hungry and do whatever I can to help my teammates.
"I guess I'll buy into the expectations when I'm able to lead my team to 10 straight [NBA] championships or something ridiculous like that."
Diamond Leung covers college basketball for ESPN.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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