At what point did the Florida Gators decide to add a “handle with care” sign to the locker of senior center Patric Young?
A player oft-criticized by head coach Billy Donovan over the last two seasons for his inconsistent rebounding and energy has suddenly become someone treated with kid gloves by one of the most demanding men in the game of college basketball.
“Sometimes we have a tendency to focus on what he could become or what he should become or what he’s capable of,” Donovan said Wednesday, “and a lot of times we really don’t take time to value what he has done and his commitment to try to get better and improve.”
Anyone who has watched videos of Young’s offseason workouts knows he is as dedicated as a student-athlete can be to staying in top physical shape and doing what he can to get better on the basketball court.
But while Donovan was privy to that footage and possesses first-hand knowledge both of Young’s practice habits and desire to improve, he has constantly demanded that the big man rebound better than his 6.4 per game average over the last two seasons, calling him out time and again in public forums.
“I really have felt that I think Patric has got the potential and ability to rebound more,” he said on April 10. “People want to look at his offense, I think he has gotten better offensively. But I think him playing with a consistent motor would not only help him, it would help our team. And I think he has got the capability of doing those things.”
Now, suddenly, Donovan has backed away from criticizing Young while admonishing others that have – basically the media that printed and expanded on Donovan’s own words – over the last two seasons.
He spent a number of minutes diving deep into this abrupt change of attitude during Florida basketball’s annual media day on Wednesday.
“What happens all the time is you come out of high school very, very decorated and people start comparing him to other people. ‘He looks like Dwight Howard. He’s supposed to play like Dwight Howard. He’s supposed to do this. He’s supposed to do that,’” Donovan began.
“And I think for Patirc, one of the things that’s been challenging for him is I think there’s times he really feels good about the progress he has made over his three years here. But I think in a lot of ways everybody always wants more from him or they want to see him do more – score more, grab more rebounds.”
In other words, exactly what Donovan has demanded to see from Young, who he went so far as to bench on Nov. 29 because of his effort and attitude in practice.
“When you see our starting center with two rebounds in 24 minutes of play that clearly, to me, is an effort issue. That is an effort issue,” the coach said on March 11, four months after that game and already deep into the 2012-13 season.
Donovan appears to no longer be concerned with Young’s rebounding or effort. Instead, he prefers to focus on some legitimate positives showcased by the fourth-year player.
“Last year I really felt like Patric really developed into one of the best defensive centers in the country,” Donovan said. “He was really, really good in terms of clogging up the middle. He was really good on perimeter coverages and guarding pick-and-rolls. He really moved his feet. He was a defensive problem, and I thought our defense was really, really good because of what he was able to do.”
He even said Young does not need to expand his offensive game but should instead simply improve at being a dominant post presence and cleaning up around the basket.
“I’m not looking for him to get better. He needs to post up in front of the rim. There’s nothing more he needs to do,” he said. “There’s no reason for him to be shooting 15-foot jump shots. There’s no reason for him to be taking eight-foot jump hooks. He needs to post up at the rim, in the front of the rim. Run the floor and do that. That’s the only thing he needs to do. He needs to master that. If he can master that, he’ll be really, really effective offensively.”
Young has heard all of Donovan’s past criticisms and likely been asked about them ad nauseum. He often agreed with Donovan in that he needed to become a better rebounder and display more consistent effort, attributing the criticisms to his coach pointing out ways in which he could take a step forward as a player.
On Wednesday, Young thanked his coach for understanding how much pressure has been on his broad shoulders. He then looked past Donovan when pinpointing the source of the pressure he has felt despite most of it either originating with – or being spurned on by – Donovan’s own words.
“I really just don’t care about what anyone outside this program has to say about me. I am what I am. No one knows what goes on inside this program, how hard I’ve worked, what the team has gone through,” he said.
“Everyone goes through their own things to get to where they are now, and I believe I’ve had a heck of a process to get to where I am now. I’m just very thankful.”
On the precipice of his final season with the Gators, Young has already put together an impressive collegiate career. He is a two-time SEC Scholar Athlete of the Year who has averaged 10.2 points per game over the last two seasons while carrying a huge burden of being the only true big man on the active roster.
He dedicated himself to the program and his teammates while simultaneously foregoing the NBA, choosing to stay in school and making his family proud by keeping a promise to get his degree. Young has also taken large chunks of time out of his schedule to participate in far more non-profit work than most student-athletes of his ilk.
“I really love being in a position where I can impact other people just with my presence and my personality. Even though I don’t try to, I’ve been able to lift up people’s spirits and I’ve enjoyed every second I’ve been here at the University of Florida,” he said.
“I’ve met unbelievable people and I know once I go pro after this season, it becomes a business. There is no more student life, no more class.”
Like Young noted, business will be at the top of his priority list very soon. As he still dreams about playing on the next level, there is arguably no better coach than Donovan to help him improve enough to reach that ultimate goal.
So while there is nothing wrong with praising Young and putting his career in perspective, Donovan may ultimately be doing the player a disservice by suddenly accentuating the positives and seemingly ignoring the negatives.
Photo Credit: Dave Martin/Associated Press