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Wednesday March 7, 2012Patric Young Responds in a Big Way After Phone Call from Tony Dungy

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- After practice Saturday, Patric Young was summoned to the Florida basketball coaches office. 


The sophomore center was less than 48 hours removed from one of the low points of his UF career; a very difficult, very regrettable practice session. He had responded with a pair of strong and spirited workouts the two days since, but now it was time to ratchet up the reinforcement. 


Young was handed the telephone. The conversation began something like this. 


Hello Patric ... this is Tony Dungy. 


What an enlightening next few minutes they were. 


“It was unbelievable,” Young said. “To think that someone like that would take the time to talk to me.” 


And what a response it inspired.


The very next day, the 6-foot-9, 255-pound Young played maybe the finest game of his career in UF’s 74-59 loss to top-ranked Kentucky, scoring 21 points and grabbing nine rebounds while face-to-face with National Player of the Year Anthony Davis and the best frontcourt in the country. 


Young’s overall performance, effort and energy combined for a stunning contrast from what he put his coaches and teammates through during practice three days earlier. It also provided a glimpse of just how good a locked-in Young and the Gators (22-9) could be going forward -- despite a three-game losing streak to end the regular season -- starting with Friday’s quarterfinal of the Southeastern Conference Tournament against either Alabama (20-10) or South Carolina (10-20) at New Orleans Arena.


“When his head is right, he can do those things,” freshman guard Bradley Beal said. “Pat just has to be focused and mentally prepared and not worried about other things, like his injuries, and just keep playing ball.” 


Consider that the layman’s translation for what transpired Thursday, Friday and Saturday. 


Young’s version was considerably more self-reflective. 


“Oh my goodness,” Young said. “I didn’t know a day could last longer than 24 hours ... but those were some of the longest days of my life last week.”


That’s because Gators coach Billy Donovan made it crystal-clear -- both in front of the team Thursday and in a private meeting Friday -- that Young’s approach had to change immediately. 


Or else. 


“I’d say he was significantly confronted and significantly challenged,” Donovan said. 


“That one day in practice, I don’t know what was wrong,” junior guard Kenny Boynton said of Young. “But he definitely got the message.”


That much was apparent Friday when Young, quite vocal about an ankle sprain bout with tendinitis in his knee this season, ran the court like a gazelle and sprang toward the rim like an antelope. In short, he was great. 


“Does he look like he’s hurt now?” Donovan asked more than once during that practice. 


It was more of the same Saturday against his teammates, then again Sunday -- when it really mattered -- when he made 10-of-15 shots, grabbed five offensive rebounds and basically helped keep the Gators in the game before the mighty Wildcats began pulling away in the final nine minutes. 


In between Saturday on the practice floor and Sunday on the O’Connell Center floor was that phone call from one of the most revered persons in all of sports. Dungy, the Super Bowl-winning coach and motivational master, was made available through Gainesville resident Nathan Whitaker, co-author of Dungy’s best-selling autobiography “Quiet Strength.”


“He shared with me that he had a similar situation when he was a kid; and that, believe it or not, he was hard-headed and stubborn at times and actually quit one of the teams when he was in high school,” Young said. “His dad convinced him that he was only hurting himself. That the games were going to go on. That the players would play, the coaches would coach, the refs would ref -- and that he wasn’t getting any better. It taught him to suck it up, to take coaching better and come at it with a different mentality.” 


The bigger picture: “You can’t take coaching personally,” Young said.


Donovan is no-nonsense during practices, constantly calling players out. Young and his best friend/roommate Will Yeguete, the sophomore forward who is out for the season with a broken foot, had talked about that very subject of late. Young, though, seemed to resist any change. 


“My whole life, I guess I didn’t take coaching very well and now, finally, it’s started to affect me,” he said. “My coach my senior of high school, we butted heads every now and then too. I wasn’t used to a guy getting on me like that.” 


He smiled. 


“And Coach D is 10 times worse. He cusses at you and hurts yours feelings.” 


It’s never personal, though. 


That's the point Dungy hammered home. 


“I know what I’m capable of doing now, if I work at it,” Young said. 


More than anything, that’s the message Donovan wanted Young to take from Sunday’s display that prompted UK coach John Calipari to call Young “a beast.” 


“If he does that in the postseason, they’re fine,” Calipari said. “Patric! Whatever you had for breakfast this morning, keep eating it.”


From Donovan’s standpoint, the message was more like this: Whatever you learned from last weekend, keep applying it.


“He can do that every time on the court, if he wants to,” Donovan said. 


Donovan loves so much about his sophomore post player. Young comes from a close-knit family in Jacksonville, was named SEC Men’s Basketball Scholarship Athlete of the Year this week, is a strong Christian and a star on UF's community-relations speaking circuit. Donovan has asked Young to apply the passion and commitment with which he lives those facets of his life to basketball. 


The request, finally, could be sinking in.  


“Maturity rears its head in a lot of different ways,” Donovan said. “I talk to our guys a lot about internal will. Do you fight harder because you want the outcome [to be] the result you want? Are you willing to fight for those things, not only for yourself but for your team? So there can be a lack of maturity when adversity hits; not understanding how to deal with it.” 


For Young, this season, his personnel adversity was rooted in an inability compartmentalizing his pain. Some might call that being "soft." Some have. 


Young, in fact, read where an unnamed SEC coach said this Seth Davis of "I know Patric Young has had an ankle injury, but it looks to me like he's milking it. I watched him in warmups before our game and he was running around like Carl Lewis."



"How can someone say that?" Young asked. "He doesn't know how I feel." 


Donovan wasn't as direct, but his thoughts weren't too far off those of his mystery colleague, either. 


“It’s that up and down-ness of, ‘I’m tired. I’m sore. My knee hurts. My foot hurts.’ You can’t one minute say that and the next minute jump up and tomahawk dunk," Donovan said. "That doesn’t make any sense.”


For Young, maybe it’s all starting to. 


If so, the timing would be ideal. Among this group of Gators, he is by far the most animated and emotional player on the court. As such, he should be a leader. 


But as Young admitted recently, he first has to learn to lead himself. 


“Leadership isn’t necessarily being vocal. It’s being the most consistent guy that’s committed to doing the right things; that has the credibility because he does everything right,” Young said. “Of course, he’s going to make mistakes, but he has to have the right attitude and take coaching well every day and be willing to do whatever it takes.” 


He nodded. Maybe because he basically was reciting Donovan’s talking points. 


“I’ve been lacking in a few of those places. I’ve put other things above the team,” Young continued. “Now, I’m starting to realize that. The team and winning has to be No. 1 and No. 2 on my list. I think I’ve taken a big step toward being the kind of teammate and leader I need to be.”


A certain phone call helped. Another one may be coming this week. 


Whitaker also wrote another best-seller: “Though My Eyes,” with Tim Tebow. 


“Never talked to him before, either,” Young smiled. “But I hear Coach is working on it.” 


Wonder who’s calling next week.



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