Mental focus helping Young step his game up

A dominant force for the Florida Gators early in the season, sophomore center Patric Young’s production began to tail off as Southeastern Conference play began.

Not only was he facing tougher competition, Young was also dealing with tendinitis in his ankle that limited him in practice and some games. The biggest body on Florida’s team, he has been noticeably less aggressive getting himself in position offensively and has only grabbed double-digit rebounds twice against SEC opponents.

Head coach Billy Donovan, as he has mentioned previously, said after Sunday’s 74-59 loss to the Kentucky Wildcats that Young’s recent struggles are all in his head and have little to do with any injury.

“It’s all mental for Patric. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with him physically. I don’t think there has been anything wrong with him physically for a while except for the normal bumps and bruises, tendinitis and things like that,” he said. “I do think there is a growth and a maturity that Patric is going through right now, there really is – the length of the season, the wear and tear physically, the expectations that he places on himself.”

Young scored 21 points on 10-of-15 shooting Sunday with nine rebounds and just one foul. He was also a solid presence on the defensive end, doing his best to hold Kentucky’s Anthony Davis off the block

“He took a step forward, in my opinion,” Donovan said.

Though Young posted a career-high 25 points on an even more efficient 12-of-15 shooting performance against Arizona earlier in the season, his game Sunday may very well have been the best he has played during his sophomore campaign.

“He played phenomenal tonight and hopefully he can continue that for the rest of the season,” said senior point guard Erving Walker, who was honored before the game as part of the Senior Day celebration. “When Pat plays like that I think it can take our team to another level. His mindset – he was ready to go against Anthony Davis, who is supposed to be the No. 1 pick. Pat just wanted to prove that he can play against him.”

Young recognized his improved performance even though he saw some areas in which he can improve as the team heads into the postseason tournaments.

“It was really encouraging,” he said. “I thought I gave it everything I had tonight. I had a few mistakes but overall I thought I played well. I think I could have done a better job communicating with our team and trying to lead the guys out there. We were so close when they had a four-point lead and there was a lot of time left in the game.”

He was not the only one on the court to take note of his impressive game. Kentucky head coach John Calipari had some words for Young following the contest, too.

“Patric Young was a beast,” he said after the game. “[If] Patric Young plays like that they’re fine in postseason, they’re fine. Patric, whatever you had for breakfast this morning, eat it [again], because he dominated us. He was really, really good.”

Donovan noted that “trying to get Patric to understand that he can control his mindset in getting him prepared to play” has been an experience that has been rewarding, frustrating and “scratch-my-head” confusing at times this season. It is an aspect of his game that Donovan has discussed all season long, though he thinks that a corner may very well have been turned on Sunday.

“Sometimes mentally when you convince yourself of something, you basically deal with it as truth,” he said. “‘My knee is really bothering me today so we’re going to focus on that the whole entire day.’ His growth and maturing of going through some of that stuff, I don’t know if Patric ever understood how challenging it was going to necessarily be for him. He just figured, ‘OK Vernon [Macklin] and Alex [Tyus] are gone, I’m going to step right in and this is what I’m going to do. I’m big, I’m strong and everything is going to be fine.’

“He got challenged in a lot of different ways by me, by himself, by the competition. There’s been a level of inconsistency because of that. I’m hoping that basically some of the adversity he has gone through and he has had to deal with this year, that there is a growth and maturity for him going forward.

“I thought he was a really big, bright spot for us [on Sunday].”

Young specifically recognized and noted that his improved mental focus was one of the main reasons for his success against the Wildcats.

“I think it was mostly just my mentality coming into the game, asking God if I could have fun out there [Sunday] because I haven’t been having too much fun out there,” he said. “I had an opportunity. He took my pain away. I didn’t feel my knee, didn’t feel my ankle or anything like that. My team was able to find me and I was able to finish.”

Whether or not he can maintain that strong mentality focus for the two upcoming tournaments is something that remains to be seen and will undoubtedly play a major role in determining how far the Gators can go in the postseason.

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Donovan on one major difference between Florida and Kentucky: “Their talent and ability to make a difficult shot was much, much better than our ability to do that.”

» Donovan on what kind of team can beat UK: “It would have to be a real physical team where somebody would have to constantly – there would have to be pressure at the basket constantly. Duck-ins, post-ups and a physical game that is played three-out, two-in, smash mouth basketball. […] I don’t think a finesse team, so to speak, [could win]. I think it would have to be a real physical game.”

» Donovan on where his team goes from here after losing three-straight games: “I’m just hopeful that, at the right time, our guys can understand what is to be taken from the experiences they’ve gone through up to this point in time and if they really buy into and are committed. That’s the biggest thing, being committed to working hard and knowing this is what needs to be done collectively as a group in every situation – approaching practice, being on time, maturity-wise, handling adversity, handling set-backs, handling when things don’t go your way in practice or in a game. Those kind of things now, there needs to be a maturing process to be able to handle the difficulties, the adversities and the challenges.”

» Sophomore guard Kenny Boynton did not earn the start Sunday due to being late for a team meeting earlier in the week. He entered the contest following the first media timeout.

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