An old Jewish proverb states that in times of hardship, one should not ask for a lighter burden but rather broader shoulders upon which that burden can be carried.
Florida Gators senior center Patirc Young – all six feet, nine inches and 240 pounds of him – was born with a frame that allows him to drag pick-up trucks and flip large tires but had to develop the mental strength and internal drive to assume the pressure that has been thrust upon him since his high school days.
Muscular and defined at 6-foot-8, 220 pounds as a senior in high school, analysts could not help but compare him to Dwight Howard more because of how he looked in a basketball uniform rather than by evaluating his actual game.
With size and strength not possessed by most teenagers, Young was physically dominant on the court and earned a five-star rating as a result. The No. 27 overall player in the 2010 recruiting class, he was the first of Florida’s five commitments that cycle.
Nothing he did during his freshman season with the Gators forced any adjustments to those expectations. If anything, Young’s energy and impact off the bench perhaps only fueled the belief that he would be absolutely dominant during his sophomore campaign – if he stayed in Gainesville, FL.
He played in 37 games, starting two, and collected a team-high 31 blocks, seeing 17.8 minutes of court time on average and posting 3.4 points and 3.8 rebounds per game as a reserve behind veterans Vernon Macklin, Chandler Parsons and Alex Tyus.
Young was projected to be a first-round draft selection had he left school, but a combination of things kept him in Gainesville. Not only did he tell his parents he would give college a legitimate shot, he also thought another season under head coach Billy Donovan could improve his offensive game enough where he may become a lottery selection the following year.
Donovan tried to temper the excitement for Young ahead of his second season, noting not just that he would be starting for the first time in his career but doing so after three seniors departed and left a huge hole in the frontcourt. No matter what Donovan said or how much he emphasized this sentiment, forecasts for Young were huge.
Aside from 6-foot-10 stretch forward Erik Murphy, a junior trying to find his role with the team, Florida had no one else who could even substitute for Young at center. Young had no choice but to play 26.5 minutes per game despite it becoming obvious early in the season that the extra court time lessened many of his best traits including his explosion, rebounding and overall effort.
“I think Patric Young, when Vernon and those guys left and moved into a starting role, he didn’t understand how hard and challenging it was…there were times he looked exhausted and didn’t really have energy,” explained Donovan while reminiscing about Young’s career on Friday.
“There were games he played well and he didn’t play well and there were times he would get frustrated or he would get a little disappointed and didn’t channel that intensity and that emotion in the right way.”
Despite being the most efficient shooter and starting center for consecutive seasons, Young only posted six double-figure rebounding games each as a sophomore and junior and combined to register just 10 double-doubles those years.
He also began to wear down during his junior campaign with tendonitis in his knees that forced him to miss practices. Young’s aching body frustrated him, and he even occasionally copped a bad attitude in practice, to his future Hall of Fame coach’s dismay.
Donovan responded by holding Young out of the starting lineup for not being tougher and more resilient, showing him tough love both privately in practice and publicly by expressing some criticisms to the media.
“I thought in a lot of respects [Young’s] attitude was not conducive to our team getting better, improving, growing,” Donovan said on Nov. 29, 2012. “We were not focused on what we should be focused on in practice.
“As a coach, when you make a decision like that, [what] I’d hate to have happen is when someone is viewed or painted in a different light of who they are not. Patric Young is a great kid, represents our school in a great way. I feel like my job as a coach is to bring out the best in Patric Young as a player and right now he was not doing that and he was not… It wasn’t even performance. It was more his effort, his attitude, his disruptiveness in practice that caused me to say, ‘You know what? You’re not starting. We’ll see how your attitude is.”
How did Young respond? By giving consistent effort throughout the ensuing contest, matching a then-career-high with six offensive rebounds and coming away with the No. 1 play on ESPN’s SportsCenter that evening for a big block he delivered during the game.
“Our whole team is a family. Even though we get on each other, the coaches really get on us sometimes but they’re doing it out of love and respect,” Young said afterward. “Coming into the game, I just knew I was going to come in and have a great energy for the team, pick up any slack and do the best I can to try and help us out to get this win.”
Throughout the remainder of the season, Young showed better – albeit still inconsistent at times – effort. Where he really made a difference for UF was on the defensive end where he was able to be a big-time stopper in the post due to his size, strength and lateral movement.
After a third-straight elimination in the Elite Eight, Young was fed up with watching his team crumble when it mattered the most – late in games during his first two seasons and throughout the entire contest in a blowout lost to Michigan in 2013.
He was determined to take everything to the next level during his senior campaign and has done just that even if his numbers are nearly identical to what they were last season.
Young has given Florida fantastic, consistent effort in nearly all 31 of the games he’s played, been a paradigm for his teammates to follow in the locker room and held down a leadership role on the court, especially when times have gotten tough.
No wonder UF is 13-2 this season in single-digit decisions after going 0-6 in such contests a year ago.
“Number one was my attitude – just having the mindset of not getting bored with the process,” said Young on Monday when asked what he changed ahead of this season.
“The process can be boring at times when you do the same things over and over again. You have to start from ground zero every year. You have to embrace that because the foundation you lay early in the season or the offseason is going to bear good fruit hopefully when the season moves along.”
Young now understands the “process” of a player knowing his role on the team and doing what it takes to win not just during games but in practice.
“Every single day you have a chance to impact the team with your attitude and effort,” he explained. “It took me a little while to understand that it wasn’t always about me. It’s about our team and winning.”
This season, rather than seeing the burden he has been asked to carry as an albatross, Young has taken pride in his role as the SEC’s preeminent post defender and his team’s rock in the middle on both ends of the court.
That is one major reason why Florida can boast a program-record 29-2 overall mark and the first 18-0 SEC record in the conference’s history.
So it should come as no surprise with all that on the line Saturday, facing Senior Day at home against a Kentucky team that has received all the praise and attention that Young feels Florida has richly deserved, he went out and posted a season-high 18 points on 8-of-13 shooting and grabbed seven boards to boot.
His wide smile did not disappear during the post-game celebration, not when he met the team in the middle of the court, not when he climbed the ladder and cut down the net, not after the game when he answered questions about how special the occasion was for him and his teammates.
Young is now the one with expectations, well, an expectation – a national title.
He knows more pressure will be on its way to his broad shoulders. A heavier burden, too, should Florida advance to the Elite Eight for a fourth consecutive season.
He is aware that there is no “next year” and additional opportunities for redemption do not exist for seniors in the game of college basketball.
Once the final buzzer sounds on the season, whenever and wherever that takes place, Young will never play another meaningful basketball game alongside Casey Prather, Scottie Wilbekin and Will Yeguete – his teammates, his classmates, his brothers for four years, and now, for life.
This is their last chance.
“The sun is hopefully going to come back up tomorrow and we got to get back to work,” he said Saturday just minutes after cutting down the nets for the last time in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center on the back of his second-straight SEC regular-season title celebration.
“We all love each other. We all push each other. We all compete every single day in practice. We do everything it takes to become great.”
Powerful, physical, dominant, chiseled have all been oft-used terms to describe Young throughout his career, but it took four seasons under Donovan and four years of learning to handle pressure for him to finally understand the true meaning of strength.
Photo Credits: USA Today, Phil Sandlin/Associated Press