I’ve long been a fan of James Young. Before the season started, I was the guy saying “Watch out for James Young. He’s like a taller Doron Lamb.” While that’s not really a great comparison, I was happy when NBA folks started noticing Young’s potential, saying he could be drafted in the top 5 next year. Telling people that “I called it” makes me happy, because I’m so often wrong. It’s like having the title line in Star Wars. It’s not important, but it makes you feel that way. Plus, did anybody actually have the title line in Star Wars? (“Boy, I sure do hate all these Star Wars.” -Yoda)
But last night’s game was a perfect exhibition of freshman frustration: for James Young, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Actually, to be fair, it started as the worst of times and quickly switched to the best of times before the woes of the
Industrial Revolution Louisville defense wreaked too much havoc. If you’ll remember, before the hustle-bound put-backs, before the ten rebounds, before the lockdown D on Chris Jones, there was 0-6. Zero. Of. Six. That’s a lousy number for a scorer, and worse for an offensive cornerstone. But that, along with everything else, is what’s asked of Young, a talented player with more ability than experience.
Like any Dickens novel, the ups and downs are frustrating. Nothing’s worse than disappointment after a bright spot. Enjoy that put-back? How about a botched in-bounds pass to follow it up. When he’s doing all the little things, he’s the quintessential “glue guy,” and his stat sheet proved it–18 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists, and only a single turnover. He led the Cats in all three major categories. But as Mike DeCourcy (Sporting News) points out, sometimes less is more for the mercurial wing:
[Young] redefined his game in the second half against the Cards and operated as a complete basketball player, as a team player, as one who was willing to contribute whatever his team required to defeat a high-quality opponent.
Young averaged nearly a shot per minute in the first half, even as he made less than a quarter of them and his frontcourt teammates were connecting at better than an 80 percent rate. He shot only four times after the break, made two of them, and expended most of his energy making Louisville junior guard Chris Jones disappear at the opposite end of the floor.
Young’s shift from “worst of” to “best of” made the difference in a game where Kentucky was missing its best player. He was allowed to be reckless when Julius Randle was there to clean everything up and make the half-court set look pretty. Or if not pretty, at least effective. But when Young became the go-to guy in the second half, the responsibility elicited a maturity that we could get used to. Smarter shots, tougher rebounding, better teammate–he was excellent.
With his oft-infuriating unpredictability, Young embodies his name. His play can be rash, hasty, and stubborn. But with the selflessness he displayed in the latter parts of last night’s season-spurring win, he just might merit yet another Dickens-ian allusion: Great Expectations.