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Ask UK freshman guard James Young what he envisions for his role on the 2013-14 team, and he has an answer ready.
“If I get the ball, I’m going to score,” he said in a one-on-one interview with KyForward in September. “I feel like that’s what I do best, so why not keep doing it?”
Young arrives at UK as one of a record-setting six McDonald’s All-Americans in the UK freshman class. While Young is listed as a guard on UK’s roster, each of the four major recruiting services ranked him as one of the four best small forwards in the high school class of 2013. UK’s roster lists him at 6-foot-6 and 215 pounds.
ESPN, Rivals.com, Scout.com and 247Sports each rated Young as a five-star prospect. He was ranked as high as the eighth best recruit in the class (ESPN) and no worse than the 11th best recruit in the country.
Despite the lofty recruiting rankings for Young, UK head coach John Calipari was not immediately sold on him as a fit for the Wildcats.
“I always questioned, ‘OK, is he rough enough?” Calipari said in a roundtable interview with local reporters in September.
Calipari’s concerns were alleviated after watching Young play in an AAU event against a team who assigned a “football player” to guard him.
“The guy beat the living crap out of him, and he went inside, he wasn’t afraid, he still scored and it didn’t faze him,” Calipari said. “The dude put him in as a football player to play him and try to beat him up, and he held his own. From that point on, I was sold.”
Young was not on campus at UK for summer conditioning and workouts as he finished his high school academic work.
While he missed most of the pickup games and workouts that have captivated the attention of fans, his teammates are already impressed by what they have seen from Young since he arrived in Lexington for the fall semester.
“He can actually shoot the lights out,” said freshman point guard Dominique Hawkins. “On all his highlights I watched, it was nothing but dunking and mid-range jump shots, but he can shoot from NBA range.”
Young’s shooting ability should give the Wildcats a valuable weapon this season against teams that want to play a zone defense.
Young listed freshmen Andrew and Aaron Harrison and senior Jon Hood as other good shooters on the team. He even noted freshman forward Julius Randle is starting to work on his three-point shot.
“If they go zone, I think they’re in trouble,” Young said.
Calipari compared Young to former Wildcat Eric Bledsoe in his tendency to defer to other teammates at times, but he has instructed the Rochester Hills, Mich., native that he is “as good as any of these guys.”
Young will likely compete with sophomore forward Alex Poythress and Aaron Harrison for a spot in the starting lineup, but he should have plenty of opportunities to showcase his skills even if he comes off the bench.
ESPN NBA draft expect Chad Ford ranks Young as the 20th best prospect for the 2014 draft, but notes he has as much sheer talent as any prospect on the list.
Young says he’s not worried about the draft just yet and instead focusing on winning a national championship.
He does have one game circled on his calendar: UK’s Nov. 12 matchup versus Michigan State in Chicago.
“That’s the game I’m looking forward too,” he said. “I can’t wait. It’s just my home town. I’ve been counting down actually to get to them.”
Young said if he had not chosen to attend UK, he likely would be a Spartan.
What does he want to prove that night?
“Just to show them, I’m a Michigan boy too and I can play,” he said with a smile. “It’s going to be a good game.”
In the weeks leading up to the 2013 UK men’s basketball media day KyForward is previewing the season with a series of stories about the Cats resulting from interviews with players and head coach John Calipari from September. You can see all the stories in the series here.