ARLINGTON, Texas — Its gotta be the fro, right? This must be some Sampson-esque story about the power of some delicately sculpted follicles and the basketball skills that come from them.
By RUSTIN DODD
The Kansas City Star
How else do you explain Kansas senior Kevin Young, the 6-foot-8 human pogo stick with the never-ending supply of energy? How else do you explain a mid-major power forward transferring to a tradition-rich blue-blood and becoming a key catalyst on a top-seeded NCAA Tournament team?
How else do you explain the reverse alley-oops, and the 6.7 rebounds per game, and Youngs starting role when the Kansas Jayhawks face No. 4 seed Michigan in the South Regional semifinal at 6:37 p.m. Friday in Cowboys Stadium.
He makes the easiest plays hard, KU coach Bill Self says, and makes the hardest plays look easy.
Gotta be the fro, right?
Never mind that Young has always been like this, the bouncy child in a multi-cultural family in southern California. Youngs maternal grandparents were born in Puerto Rico, and his step-grandfather was half Mexican and half Irish, and his mother, Alicia Morales, always wanted her son to be friendly and open to everything life has to offer.
Thats just the way I was raised, Young says.
Never mind that Morales always had to get her son on a local basketball court or a running track, lest he return home in the evening with a full tank of fuel to burn.
I thought he had A.D.D. when he was young, Morales says. He was so hyper all the time.
And never mind that Youngs basketball style, an unconventional mix of hustle, athleticism and unbridled joy, fits his eccentric personality. Young is a college senior who enjoys reading up on forgotten Civil Rights leaders and studying the differences between religions. And he once agreed to take part in a KU fraternitys charity event that ended up with Young getting a pie in the face.
Kevin is like the younger brother that finds out something and he has to tell you, KU junior Justin Wesley says. Every little thing he finds out, he wants to tell you about. Even when you dont feel like talking, hell still finish his point and still finish his story.
His personality is just one of a kind. Ive never met anyone that just has as much energy as he does. Hes just always happy all the time.
Its Thursday afternoon inside the KU locker room at Cowboys Stadium, and Kevin Young is just four days removed from one of his best games in a Kansas uniform. He had scored 10 points and grabbed nine rebounds in a 70-58 victory over North Carolina, helping KU reach the Sweet 16 for the third straight year.
But afterward, Self wanted to talk about Youngs defense. He had shadowed North Carolina guard P.J. Hairston all over the floor, forcing the shorter and quicker Hairston into a six-for-17 shooting performance.
But on Thursday afternoon, Young is not talking about any of this. His teammates say that Young is the teams wise-old storyteller, the senior who is always reading up on something thats going on in the world. So Young tells you what hes been pondering lately.
Hes an African-American studies major, so his latest assignment was to read The Autobiography of Malcolm X.
Its part of history, Young says. All the stories. And all the people that have touched this world.
The men behind the scenes. And all the people like that. There were student-athletes that changed their colleges and paved the way for what were doing now.
Youngs intellectual curiosity doesnt stop there. In the span of a few minutes, Young makes reference to Bayard Rustin, a prominent member in the early Civil Rights moment, and talks about his interest in studying the teachings and histories of different religions.
Religion has always been one thing thats always fascinated me, Young says. Theres so many out there. And all of them all have different stories and different tales. And sometimes theyre similar.
Some of Youngs intellectual pursuits have been refined by years of maturity. Five years ago, Young was a senior at Perris High in Perris, Calif. He was one of the better players in the area but was projected as more of a mid-major recruit. He landed at nearby Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles and averaged 9.1 points per game as a freshman and 10.7 as a sophomore. Young, though, wasnt happy with the situation and decided to transfer. He was done with the place, and his grades suffered in his last semester.
Young spent a year at San Bernardino Community College. He didnt play, but he did help the basketball program as an assistant coach. And two years later, when Young threads a high-low pass to Jeff Withey, Self will say that Young can feel like another coach on the floor.
Of course, that may come after Self is finished cursing out Young for throwing a ridiculously bad pass.
He can make plays you cant coach, Self says, and then makes plays like hes never been coached.
Youngs time at Kansas has been fast and furious. When he arrived on campus, KUs coaches werent quite sure if Young would be able to make a major impact. And two years later, he is a starter on a team that still has visions of a second straight Final Four.
I was just thinking about it the other day, Young says. I would have never thought that Id be in two consecutive NCAA Tournaments after the first two years that I had. Its pretty amazing, and I think its pretty cool.
When basketball is over and that could come after a professional career overseas Young says hes like to become a teacher. Young kids, he says. The age where he could make a difference.
I would like to teach, Young says. I think one of the most fascinating things for me is to spark one of the great minds that does change history. I think thats very important for me, just to be able to help children learn about life and just to grow.
But first, there is more basketball. And for Young, that means at least one more night of running and jumping and relentless energy, his afro starring on college basketballs biggest stage.
And on Thursday afternoon, as his mother made the drive down to Texas, she confirmed one thing. No, its definitely not just the fro.
I hate it, Morales says. I really hope he cuts it soon. Maybe at the end of the season.
To reach Rustin Dodd, call 816-234-4937 or send email to email@example.com. Follow him at twitter.com/rustindodd.