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By HAL MORRIS, firstname.lastname@example.org
James Young came to Kentucky with the reputation as one of the country’s best shooters. But he’s ready to show he can be much more than that for the Wildcats, and that coach John Calipari is helping him expand his game.
“I’ve just been doing what Cal says, and definitely put that into where my game is,” Young said. “He’s been teaching me how to get more body contact, use my right hand a little more. So I’ve been doing that more and it’s really helped me a lot.
“He makes me dribble a lot to my right and create contact. Guys are much bigger and stronger (in college), so I have to learn to use both hands.”
Using both hands was not an issue in high school for the 6-6 left-handed guard from Rochester Hills, Mich. Young averaged 27.2 points, 16 rebounds and 5.7 assists as a senior. He was a McDonald’s All-American and ranked as one the top 10 players in the country.
Being a lefty also helps Young, who sprained his left shoulder in practice last week, but went 11 of 16 from the floor (3 of 5 from 3-point range) and scored 25 points with seven steals in Tuesday’s Blue-White game.
“It’s a big advantage I guess because most defenders are used to guarding right-handed people,” he said. “When I fake right and go left, I usually have an open shot.”
Calipari said during media day Young had been one of the standouts early in practice, and NBA scouts had take notice.
“Everybody that walks in the building, the guy that they’re saying is the standout is James Young, like every day,” he said. “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. In transition, he’s kind of like Michael Kidd (-Gilchrist). If he’s out ahead, you throw him the ball. Something good will happen. And he has a chance of being a terrific defender.”
Fellow freshman Dakari Johnson said Young’s all-around game has impressed him in practices.
“He’s playing really good. He can shoot the ball, that’s the most impressive thing about him,” Johnson said. “He can do everything really, he rebounds, defends well. He just does a lot of things.”
Young said all the praise he’s had early has been huge for him mentally.
“It just motivated me more to get even better. I’ve been going hard in practices like there’s no tomorrow,” he said. “And I think it’s starting to pay off.”
Defense has been a big emphasis for him and his team early on.
“It’s real tough because everybody’s a good offensive player,” Young said. “They can shoot and score it, so we have to really pick it up.”
Young is expected to be a key part of the highest-rated freshman class ever that has UK in every conversation when it comes to national title talk. But Young said he and his teammates try to stay insulated from everything and tune out the hype.
“We just try not to listen to it as much, and just take it day-by-day,” he said. “We all know where we stand and how we’re playing on the court.”
But is that attitude of keeping a singular focus realistic with the amount of media and fan attention that the Wildcats get?
“It’s going to be hard, but I think we can do it if we just don’t go on Twitter all the time, and Instagram and look at all the feedback,” he said. “If we can just keep our mind focused, I think we can.”
What has Young confident the young Cats can just focus on basketball and not all the noise surrounding the program is the players he plays with every day. Young said his team is very close and can lean on each other.
“We’re more like a family, we’re really close. We hang out all the time off the court, so that helps,” Young, who noted the freshmen became close through last season’s all-star game circuit, said. “When you’re not on the court, you’re with each other talking and laughing. So we’ve always had a strong relationship.”