NCAA Tournament

Young is KU’s instant impact player

Updated: 2012-03-28T16:56:46Z

By BLAIR KERKHOFF

The Kansas City Star

— Not all of Kevin Young’s NCAA Tournament performance has been covered in glory, as Kansas coach Bill Self rolled the mental video clip.

“He made a great move and misses a dunk, hangs on the rim and falls down,” Self recalled.

But wait, there’s more.

“He doesn’t get back, his man scores.”

And …

“He tackles their guy when he sets a ball screen.”

This lousy sequence from Sunday’s 80-67 victory over North Carolina in the Midwest Regional championship game drew a laugh on Tuesday, and wasn’t intended to embarrass.

On the contrary, Young has played so well lately that such a moment can produce a laugh. The 6-foot-8 junior forward has brought value to every postseason game.

He had two points against the Tar Heels, but pulled down eight rebounds, including four of the offensive end, to match his season-best.

Against North Carolina State in the Sweet 16, Young had five points. Against Purdue, five boards. Against Detroit, nine points.

“He’s been great,” Self said. “In the last three weeks or so, he’s pursing the ball as well as anybody we have in program.”

He also takes charges, plays solid defense, and as Saturday’s opponent in the national semifinal knows, can knock down a three pointer. Young hit two in the Jayhawks’ Dec. 10 victory over Ohio State.

Coming off the bench suits Young for this team.

“I kind of like flying under the radar,” Young said.

Takes the pressure off. Let Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey shoulder the burden of expectation.

But Self doesn’t see it that way. He’s grown more comfortable by the game with Young, whose 16.5-minute average playing time in the NCAA Tournament is about five minutes more than his season number.

“He and Jeff are fine, he and Thomas are fine,” Self said. “There is no problem going to him in any situation.”

Young takes season averages of 3.6 points and 2.9 rebounds into Saturday’s game, and the Buckeyes know he’s capable of much more.

When the teams met in Lawrence, Young was coming off a stretch in which he scored 14 points in seven games.

But he played his most complete game of the year against Ohio State, with 14 points, four rebounds and a beautiful assist to Robinson for an easy score. And Young knocked down two of his three triples on the year. There hasn’t been another one in five attempts since.

“I kind of forgot about that game already,” Young said. “I’ve improved on a lot of little things since then, like on defense.”

Young has some of the best springs on the roster. Often he’s kept KU possessions alive with offensive rebounds that happen when he doesn’t have position. Young simply beats the defender to the ball. He calls it part of his basketball resume.

“I’m a hustle player,” he said, “go after loose balls, get extra possessions, set screens, move the ball, score when I have the opportunity to, don’t force anything.”

It was that type of player that attracted the Kansas coaches. Young, from Perris, Calif., played two productive seasons for Loyola Marymount, averaging 10.0 points and 6.2 rebounds in 65 games.

But Young said that while he got along with the coaching staff, he wasn’t satisfied with his career path. He left and attended San Bernardino Community College last year and didn’t play. Some controversy then followed his school choice.

Young signed a non-binding financial-aid agreement to attend San Diego State, but last summer, he decided to attend Kansas instead. Aztecs coach Steve Fisher said at the time that he was disappointed in Young and “equally disappointed in a program and coach I’m very fond of…”

The San Diego State assistant coach who had recruited Young, Justin Hutson, had left for another job, and Self said that the Jayhawks didn’t start the recruiting process until after Young said he wasn’t attending San Diego State.

Kansas was in need of frontcourt players after losing out on the recruiting trail. Later, when recruit Jamari Traylor became academically ineligible, the need grew greater.

And lately, Young has delivered.

“He’s playing the way we thought he would,” Self said. “He does more with the stat sheet than anyone on our team. He finds a way to impact the game as soon as he checks in.”

To reach Blair Kerkhoff, call 816-234-4730 or send email to bkerkhoff@kcstar.com. Follow him at twitter.com/BlairKerkhoff.

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