Clay Young, a Kansas basketball walk-on listed at 6 feet 5, but according to coach Bill Self might actually be 6-3, more than held his own Saturday when matched defensively against 7-foot-2 Paschal Chukwu of Syracuse.
“I guarded some 7-footers back at juco. But he’s probably the tallest guy I ever guarded,” said Young, KU’s 205-pound senior forward from Lansing High and Kansas City Kansas Community College, after filling in for foul-plagued bigs Udoka Azubuike and Mitch Lightfoot in the first half of KU’s 76-60 victory over the Orange at American Airlines Arena.
Young — he didn’t take a shot but had one assist in a nine-minute first-half stint — was on the court during a 16-4 run in the final 6:21 of the first half. That turned a narrow 19-17 lead into a 35-21 halftime advantage.
“Obviously I don’t know the score when I go in the game. We were up a couple. To go up a couple to 14 at the half … we played solid defense down the stretch,” said Young, who took a charge during his time on the court and also fed Svi Mykhailiuk for a three.
“When I go in the game, as far as what I’m thinking, I’m thinking do whatever I have to do. Do enough. It’s a bonus, extra minutes when I’m in the game. When Doke and Mitch get in foul trouble I’m in there trying to be a glue guy, do what I can, do not make mistakes in there.”
Young played well enough while matched against the 228-pound Chukwu that Devonté Graham (35 points for second straight game) called Young the “MVP.”
“He thinks I was game MVP. I don’t know,” Young said with a smile. “I’m just happy to do what I can.”
Sophomore Azubuike — he finished with six points and nine rebounds while Chukwu had seven points and seven boards — praised Young after the game. Young in all played 12 minutes, thus for the season now has now played seven minutes or more in three contests. Entering the season, his career-high in minutes played in a game was four.
“He did a good job,” Azubuike said. “The refs were calling everything. That’s the game sometimes. You’ve got to work through stretches like that. Clay helped us out a lot.”
Thanks in part to Young, Azubuike was able to play 17 minutes the final half.
“I did OK at times. I had trouble with the (2-3) zone,” said 7-foot Azubuike, who hit all three shots he attempted. “It’s so wide, so big. It was my first time to try to go against that zone. It was different for me to be honest. It was kind of tough. We had three days of practice against the zone which helped. I think we shot the ball well (11 of 31 threes and 49.1 percent overall). It was a good team win.”
Self said Young took the heat off the Jayhawks’ two eligible big men by playing so well the first half.
“I thought at halftime there was no way Mitch and Doke would commit six fouls the second half (after committing two apiece the first half). I didn’t think we were even in foul trouble with those guys the second half,” Self said. “I thought they could play substantial minutes with three fouls. Those guys were able to share 20 (minutes the final half with Lightfoot only being needed for three after five the first half).”
KU will next meet Washington at 8 p.m. Wednesday in the Sprint Center.
More on Graham
Senior guard Devonté Graham, who scored 35 points against Syracuse after scoring 35 against Toledo on Tuesday, became the first KU player since Andrew Wiggins in 2014 to score 30 or more points in back-to-back games. Wiggins scored 41 vs. West Virginia (March 8) and 30 vs. Oklahoma State (March 14) … Graham’s seven three-pointers were the most by a Jayhawk since Mario Chalmers hit eight threes against Texas on March 16, 2008. … At the 2:57 mark in the first half, Graham hit his 200th career three. He is now one of seven Jayhawks to have hit 200 or more shots from beyond the arc. … Graham is fifth on KU’s career three-point list with 206 threes. He moved past Terry Brown (200) and Brandon Rush (205). … Graham played 40 minutes Saturday for the second time in his career. He played 40 minutes against Duke last season.