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Thursday March 14, 2013Bring on the Second Season: Self-Reflective Young and the Gators Embark on First Step at SEC Tourney

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- He doesn’t recall what the last one said (perhaps by choice), but  Patric Young knew he’d seen enough. The lure of social media had been not only powerful for Florida’s junior center, but become downright addictive. 

 

“All these people out there just throwing out their opinions about me, about this team,” Young said. “They don’t know what it’s like to be me anymore than I know what it’s like to be them. And they don’t know this team.” 

 

With that, @BigPatYoung4 shut down his popular Twitter account. Facebook, too. And Instagram.

 

So you Gators fans out there waiting for Young to make your birthday with a “retweet,” don’t hold your breath -- and don’t take it personally, either. The man in the middle of the recently crowned Southeastern Conference champions is trying to channel his focus toward far more pressing needs. Good thing, given the time of year and the stakes of basketball in March, starting Friday when the 13th-ranked Gators (24-6) put that title to the test as the top seed in the SEC Tournament against LSU (19-11) at Bridgestone Arena.

 

And say what you want about Patric Young -- and plenty have and will on social media -- when this young man throws all the will and might of his 6-foot-9, 260-pound body into something, it is an absolute joy to behold. 

 

Ask UF’s Office of Student Life, which now has the two-time SEC Men’s Basketball Scholar Athlete after Young claimed the academic honor Tuesday for the second straight year. Ask the local schools, clubs and hospitals Young has frequented during his three UF seasons as one of the Gators’ most active community-service volunteers. Ask those who know Young, the Christian, about his devotion to faith. 

 

And, finally, ask Florida coach Billy Donovan what the very best of Young means to his basketball team. 

 

“He’s an unbelievable teammate who’s very, very unselfish and about all the right things,” Donovan said. “When he’s on the floor and giving his best effort and showing that energy, passion, drive, fire, resiliency and perseverance he takes our team to another level.” 

 

The coach shrugged. 

 

“When he doesn’t, and we don’t get enough out of him, we’re not the same team. We’re just not.” 

 

That’s why Donovan has told, promised and, frankly, even warned Young that he will never take the foot of the accelerator when it comes to challenging his big man. The Florida coaches see maybe the most beautifully sculpted body in the country and wonder why it can’t produce more than 6.2 rebounds per game. 

 

That ranks 14th in the SEC and 307th in the country, by the way.

 

On Monday, two days after the Gators went scoreless the final seven-plus minutes in an agonizing 61-57 loss at Kentucky to end the regular season, Donovan spoke about the fire and intensity -- traits that moved UF to win 11 of its first 12 conference games by an average of 26 points -- now gone missing from his players. 

 

Donovan then wondered aloud how his starting center could play 24 minutes against Kentucky and grab just two rebounds. 

 

There was nothing masked about that message. 

 

“He’s challenging me,” Young said. “Coach wants me to be great and he knows that for me to get where I need to go -- for this team to get to where we want to go -- I need to be a better rebounder.” 

 

Donovan’s scope is so much bigger than rebounding. 

 

Rewind to November, barely three weeks into the regular season, when Donovan took issue with a Young’s conduct during a frustrating practice. On the eve of a big home game against Marquette -- an ESPN-televised Big East/SEC Challenge showdown with more than a dozen NBA scouts in the house -- Donovan benched Young from the starting lineup. 

 

Four minutes into the game, Young checked in and ignited his team with 22 Ray Lewis-like minutes, finishing with 10 points, 10 rebounds, three blocked shots, three steals and two assists in what became a 33-point annihilation of the eventual Big East co-champions. 

 

From that instant, the expectation blueprint had been drawn. 

 

For Young, it’s all about summoning the intangibles; willing them to surface. 

 

“It’s hard. I’m not Dwight Howard. I’m not Jared Sullinger. I’m not Cody Zeller. The game doesn’t come that easy to me,” Young said. “I wasn’t the most talented kid growing up and I had to work for everything I’ve gotten to this point. When I go out there and don’t bring the effort and I’m not able to get myself going, I’m not a very good player. I’m just average. For me to be at my best, I need to be exhausted every time I walk off the court from the effort I give. That’s the only way I’m going to be an effective player.” 

 

Seems so simple. Clearly, Young knows what it takes to be the best he can be. 

 

What’s keeping him from getting there? 

 

“We had a couple tough losses that affected him, affected all of us,” junior forward Will Yeguete said. “He wants to be more efficient, he wants to please Coach and please us. When he doesn’t, he gets down himself. We all try to pick him up.” 

 

Talk about some heavy lifting. 

 

“Sometimes he cares so much about everybody he’s around and how they view him,” said junior point guard Scottie Wilbekin, who along with Yeguete share on-campus apartment with Young. “More than anything else, he wants to do what’s best for the team and when someone points out that he’s not doing something at his best, it affects him.” 

 

Young is an emotional player and person. It hurts to think he let the team down. 

 

Reading what analysts, writers or even fans have to say on that subject and others -- ala Twitter, for example -- is not going to help Young grab rebounds or play hard. Just like reading positive remarks after a good game is going to fuel him the next game. 

 

The motivation has to come from within. 

 

Every practice. Every game. 

 

“I have a responsibility to my teammates to give them my best effort,” Young said. “It eats you up inside because you know deep down that you were trying to get yourself ready to go out there and just couldn’t get going.”

 

Donovan’s job is to push him -- even stalk him -- to get there. 

 

He’s been doing it for three years. 

 

“He’s been better than he was as a freshman and better than he was as a sophomore. Is he where he needs to be? No,” Donovan said. “But I also think in his view and in his family’s view that this is what college is all about. It’s about growing up and maturing in various ways.” 

 

And finding out about yourself. Being self-reflective. 

 

No one could ever accuse Young of not being those things. Why else would his most recent reading material be Bob Knight’s “The Power of Negative Thinking” and Jay Bilas’ new book “Toughness.” 

 

An excerpt from the latter: 

 

“Toughness has nothing to do with size, physical strength or athleticism. Some players may be born tough, but I believe that toughness is a skill, and it is a skill that can be developed and improved. Michigan State coach Tom Izzo always says, "Players play, but tough players win." He is right.”

 

Young wants to rediscover the fun. The game has been too good to him and given him too much not to embrace the way it was meant to be. He says he loves the game. The struggle and the journey is part of its beauty. 

 

The ability to overcome adversity can only make a player, a team, stronger. 

 

Call it the power of negative thinking. Call it toughness. Patric Young wants it for himself. The Gators want it from him. Both need it for each other. 

 

Bring on the second season. 

 

“Last time I checked, we won the SEC, right? That’s something to build on,”  Young said. “We’re trying to get back to being that team that was straight up nasty on defense, holding teams to like 40 points when they had no idea what to do against us. We have to find that spark again.” 

 

The first place Young will look is in the mirror. 

 

 

 

GATORS GAME BOX -- SOUTHEASTERN CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT 

No. 13 Florida vs. LSU 

Tip-off: Friday, 1 p.m. (Bridgestone Arena, Nashville, Tenn.)  

Records: Florida 24-6; LSU (19-11) 

TV: ESPNU (Brad Nessler, Jimmy Dykes and Shannon Spake) 

Radio: Gator IMG Sports Network (w/Mick Hubert and Mark Wise) -- Click here for affiliates) / Sirius 134/XM 199

Game notes: Florida notes   

Need to know: The Gators are the No. 1 seed in the tournament and will face LSU, which defeated Georgia, 68-63 on Thursday afternoon. ... Florida defeated LSU in a lone meeting (by 22 at Baton Rouge)... UF has won the conference tournament three times, all in succession (2005-07). The Gators last reached the SEC final in 2011 when they lost to Kentucky. ... Florida gained the top seed by winning the league’s regular-season title, but the Gators are just 3-3 over their last six games and have averaged just 62.5 points and 10.5 assists per game during that stretch. ... UF is 2-0 on neutral courts this season -- if you want to call them that (the NCAA does) -- having defeated Middle Tennessee State 66-45 at Tampa in November and Air Force 78-61 at Sunrise in December. ... One-tenth of a percentage point separates each of the Gators top three scorers, all seniors, led by guard Kenny Boynton (12.5 ppg, 3.2 rpg), forward Erik Murphy (12.4 ppg, 5.2 rpg) and guard Mike Rosario (12.3 ppg). Murphy was honored as a first-team All-SEC player this week, with Boynton, Rosario and junior center Patric Young (10.5 ppg, 6.2 rpg) checking in on the second team. ... Murphy is coming off one of his best all-around games of the season, finishing with 17 points and a career-high 11 rebounds in Saturday’s 61-57 loss at Kentucky. ... Four different Gators have had double-doubles this season: Young (6), backup forward Will Yeguete (2) and junior point guard Scottie Wilbekin (1). ... While the Gators have fallen off offensively late in the season, their defense remains stout. UF is first in the SEC in scoring defense (53.2 ppg), field-goal percentage defense (.373) and 3-point defense (.291). ... UF backup junior forward Casey Prather (6.5 ppg, 3.9 rpg), playing the best basketball of his career, hails from Jackson, Tenn., which is two hours from Nashville. ... LSU, with sophomore forward Johnny O’Bryant (13.8 ppg, 8.8 rpg) out in front, want an up-tempo game, having finished less than a point behind Florida (72.0 to 71.3) in per-game scoring. The Tigers, though, ranked just 10th in field-goal percentage defense (.423)…Shavon Coleman led the Tigers with 24 points in the win over Georgia, while Andre Stringer had 16, including a key three-pointer in the final minute.  

 

 

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