LEXINGTON — Yes, he is the guy who accidentally and famously hit a crazy shot heard around the college basketball world Monday night during UK’s exhibition contest with Montevallo, becoming a YouTube sensation.
That “play of the night” certainly made Wildcat freshman James Young a much bigger media star now than he was before.
About a month or so ago, when you first thought about Kentucky’s highly-regarded freshman class, you’d probably only mention Julius Randle and the Harrison twins.
The trio of Texans had arrived at UK with more fanfare and have received more pre-season publicity than the other talented newcomers.
Even The Cats’ Pause basketball yearbook is featuring these three freshmen wearing Texas-style cowboy hats on its cover.
But recently, even before his “famous” shot, Young was starting to make some noise, especially after his impressive performances in the Blue-White game last week, scoring game-high 25 points along with seven steals, as well as his team’s two exhibition victories.
Even though the 6-6 swingman, from the Detroit suburb of Rochester Hills, is a rookie superstar, he has been somewhat overshadowed but has begun to show what he can do on the hardwood floor.
The NBA scouts who have attended the team’s practices are very impressed with him, too. One early NBA mock draft, published several days ago, has already projected Young as the No. 7 overall pick in the 2014 draft.
Fortunately for the Cats, the 18-year-old lefty is a very dangerous weapon that they can use against their opponents this winter. In addition to his speed and versatility, he can shoot anywhere and also play sticky defense with his long arms.
Writer Keith Dunlap, who covered Young in high school for the Oakland Press in Michigan, said in an e-mail to this columnist that the youngster will help the Cats in many ways.
“I believe Kentucky fans can expect a player who is very difficult to keep out of the lane on penetration and someone who is excellent at getting to the free-throw line,” wrote Dunlap, who serves as the newspaper’s high school sports coordinator. “He can get hot with his jumper but isn’t a dead-on shooter…yet. Obviously that can change with some work.
“He also seems to be a good teammate who is willing to pass the ball and play within a team concept. He has excellent court vision. With his length he also is a good rebounder and deflects a lot of balls on defense.
“If there is something that I didn’t see out of him in high school, it was a killer instinct to where he would just take over games. There were times he needed to just be selfish and just say ‘ride my shoulders to victory’ and didn’t seem to do that.
“If he is a pro prospect like people are saying now, then I feel he easily could have done that and led his team further than it got. Then again, I’ve heard he seemed to play with more intensity on the AAU circuit than high school. Because he is on a big stage at Kentucky and there’s a wealth of talent to help take over games with Wildcats, that will work to his advantage.”
UK coach John Calipari has compared Young with a former Wildcat.
“In transition, he’s kind of like Michael Kidd (-Gilchrist),” Calipari said during the Media Day festivities back in mid-October (when he already had 10 team practices). “He is really fast. He’s now not settling for jump shots. So you’re seeing a young man get his head and shoulders by people, take contact, and make baskets, which a month ago he was not going in there.”
Asked about Calipari’s comments on comparing him to the current NBA player, Young said, “I’m just trying to be a team leader. I’m just trying to be me.”
Even though Young is surrounded by loads of talent, he claims that he doesn’t feel overshadowed by his teammates.
“Not at all,” said Young, one of UK’s seven McDonald’s All-Americans on this year’s squad. “I feel like I am just doing me. I am just trying to play my game.”
If you don’t regularly keep up with the college basketball recruiting news, you may be surprised to learn one interesting tidbit about Young.
The 6-6, 215-pound Young didn’t capture the Mr. Basketball honors in his home state of Michigan last spring. He finished third in very close voting behind award winner Monte Morris (who is now at Iowa State) and Derrick Walton Jr. (Michigan) and they weren’t even McDonald’s All-Americans.
In addition, Young was ranked as the No. 6 prospect in his class by ESPNU Recruiting and No. 10 by both Rivals and Scout.
Very interesting, huh?
Dunlap said he believes the youngster’s failure to capture the Mr. Basketball honors was “more politics than anything.”
Transferring to Rochester High School eight miles away (from Troy High) after his junior year probably didn’t help Young’s chances for the basketball award as some folks’ feelings were hurt, added Dunlap.
“Also, the fact he didn’t commit to an in-state school didn’t set well with some voters either,” said Dunlap. “Like I said before, the fact that he seemed to put more intensity and stock into AAU play over high school, that also might have played a role.”
Like most newcomers, Young is adjusting to college life as well as basketball, learning Calipari’s system, and is also trying to be more vocal.
UK seniors Jon Hood and Jarrod Polson, not surprisingly, are showing great leadership for the team along with Randle, Andrew Harrison and Aaron Harrison.
As for Young, Calipari said he is slowly improving in the leadership department.
“He’s a great kid on the court, unselfish,” said the UK mentor. “He’s starting to talk more.”
Earlier this week, it was announced by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association (USBWA) that four UK freshmen — Young, Randle and the Harrison twins — are among the 10 first-year players selected to the pre-season watch list for the 2014 Integris Wayman Tisdale Freshman of the Year Award.
(Randle was also picked to the USBWA’s watch list for the Oscar Robertson Trophy, honoring the nation’s top player.)
Well, needless to say, the Big Blue Nation is certainly very excited to watch Young and his teammates guide the top-ranked Wildcats this winter as they gun for UK’s ninth national title in its storied history.