“I love being in school right now. I like getting my education. I’m learning more from coach (Billy Donovan) and he’s got a lot to offer me. He’s going to help develop me so when I go to the NBA, I’ll already be ready and teams won’t have to worry about developing me anymore.”
Patric Young made that statement on March 11, 2011. A year later, he made the same decision. A year after that, the message still didn’t change.
But Young did.
He grew from the bench player who averaged just 3.4 points and 3.8 rebounds per game to the face of the program who finished the year averaging 11 points and 6.2 boards.
He grew from being the mentee of Vernon Macklin to becoming a mentor himself by passing down his knowledge of the game onto freshman-phenom Chris Walker.
Most importantly to Donovan, Young grew enough during his four years at Florida to recognize his own identity both on and off the court.
With his unique physique and intense work ethic, the Jacksonville native flirted with the possibility of becoming a first-round selection in the NBA draft after his freshman campaign. But after struggling during his next two years to separate himself from the pack of other future-NBA frontcourt players like Anthony Davis and Nerlens Noel, Young decided to stay in Gainesville to fine tune his game and also potentially reach the Final Four, which he finally did Saturday.
And despite falling short of the national championship – the ultimate pinnacle of success – Florida did not lose to UConn for lack of effort from Young.
The senior center recorded a season- and team-high 19 points on 7-of-13 shooting while grabbing five rebounds. But much of Young’s impact was seen beyond the statsheet.
As he has done all season, Young battled for loose balls, hustled for all of his 32 minutes of action and never lost hope.
“I think I was just trying to get the guys just to stay in the moment and just keep pushing on from the past because we have been a team that’s come from behind a lot, especially late in the season,” Young said. “I thought that if we just picked it up a little bit more, just forgot about how we were shooting and just locked in and focused, we could have it come again.”
Even in the midst of the Huskies’ 11-of-12 shooting performance down the stretch that sealed their victory over the Gators, Young put all his energy into a dunk with 4:09 left in the game that kept the basket shaking for about 10 seconds.
The 160-foot video board at AT&T Stadium showed a jumper by UConn’s Niels Giffey when Young cut Florida’s deficit down to six with his slam-dunk. Most of the record-breaking crowd of 79,444 didn’t have a chance to react to the play.
And neither did Young, who simply ran back to other side of the court to prepare on defense.
There was no flash, just gravitas. There was no selfishness, just team focus.
“I think for the first time in my life, I was a part of a group of guys that were really willing to bleed for one another,” Young said. “Guys that were really willing to just do whatever it took to go outside of themselves, to commit to the greater goal.”
As Young sat next to two of his three senior teammates during the postgame press conference, his last words to the public while still wearing his No. 4 jersey weren’t about himself or his upcoming journey to the NBA. Instead – like the past four years – Young was focused on nothing but the Florida Gators.
“One thing I can take from this team is just when you can truly love a group of guys or people like this, you bring out the best out of them and you bring out the best out of yourself,” Young said.
Follow Jonathan Czupryn on Twitter @jczupryn