Before his interest in baseball fizzled and a future in basketball became a reality, Patric Young would start the occasional wrestling match with his dad.
At a time when Young — a current colossus at center for the Gators — was still considered “little” in his father’s eyes, the impromptu bouts were anything but a fair pairing.
As a 6-foot-4 former professional tight end, Robert Young, now 53, could easily handle his son while horsing around.
But there was just one problem: It was more than a playful game to the elementary-school aged, yet ultra-competitive Patric.
“I would have to lay on him to make him stop,” Robert said. “I would tell him, ‘Say uncle! Uncle!’ He would never say uncle, he would never say it.”
Instead, he kept lunging at his dad, year after year, until he entered high school.
By then, Patric was on the fast track to his current 6-foot-9, 247- pound build and becoming every bit the man his father is physically.
Robert soon had enough.
“No, no, I’m not going to even touch him,” Robert said of the prospect of wrestling 19-year-old Patric. “Yes sir, no sir, boy. He would never quit, so we had to quit wrestling around his 10th grade of high school.”
Though Young moved on to the bigger challenge of playing college basketball at Florida, he maintained the same headstrong attitude, almost to a fault, heading into his second year in Gainesville.
While his body is as NBA-ready as perhaps anyone in the country, it’s Young’s mental approach to in-game situations that gets him into trouble at times.
As a much-hyped, five-star recruit out of Jacksonville Providence High last season, Young would get visibly frustrated when things didn’t go right for him on the court. His fouls began increasing as games wore on, as did his responses to taunts coming from the crowd.
Young saw playing time during each of the Gators’ 37 games in largely a backup role behind three veteran frontcourt players. He averaged 3.4 points per game, but was a force defensively with a team-high 31 blocks.
At one point, Young saw he was listed as a potential lottery pick on an ESPN.com NBA Draft story. He asked his dad on a car ride from Gainesville if he should leave and go to the pros after the season was over.
Robert quickly cited academics as a reason to stay at Florida, but it was ultimately Patric’s choice to come back.
“Forget the basketball, I feel like I’ve matured to an exponential level,” Young said. “Before I can become a pro, I have to be a professional. I have to step on the court and be consistent every day, have the right mindset and be coachable every day.”
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It took a while for Young to grow into his body.
His mother, Bennita Young, 52, can recall a lanky, awkward Patric running around in the midst of one of his 6-inch growth spurts.
From an early age, both of Young’s parents decided he would refrain from playing football like his dad, who graduated from Bethune-Cookman and spent three seasons in the USFL. Instead, Young focused on travel team baseball and AAU basketball.
While he could make a throw from third base to first on a rope, Young was not as initially comfortable on the court.
“He would fall down and what not,” Robert said. “And I used to tease him and say, ‘Man, I’m hoping one day you’ll be the ugly duckling, who turns into a swan.’”
By the time he was in eighth grade, Young’s coordination caught up to his body. He began lifting weights with his dad in the mornings at the YMCA. Once he started seeing his body change, he became addicted to the process.
During high school, Young eventually stepped into the HIT Center in Jacksonville, which specializes in high intensity workouts and laid the foundation for his chiseled frame today.
“He was the only one to go every day; the other boys were a little scared and didn’t want to do it,” Robert said. “But he was determined ... He wanted to get himself better and get the team better.”
It was Young’s raw strength, though, that ultimately led to some of the struggles he had last year.
For the first time, Young regularly went up against other players who were just as tough and physical as he was, like Tennessee’s Brian Williams and the Vanderbilt duo of Festus Ezeli and Steve Tchiengang. He couldn’t just take the ball and dominate.
In practice, departed seniors Vernon Macklin and Alex Tyus provided a similar test.
“I was the biggest, strongest guy, possibly, in the state in high school,” Young said. “Those guys that are really physical, it was a different story because I couldn’t do what I wanted to do. I had to work and learn to play smart.”
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After the departure of Macklin, Tyus and Chandler Parsons, Young has been faced with a new challenge whenever the Gators scrimmage and go through drills.
There’s no longer anyone in the frontcourt with the experience or strength to stand toe-to-toe with Young, so his teammates resort to fouling him, which in turn, irritates his competitive nature.
“Guys are grabbing him, slapping him, and it becomes frustrating,” coach Billy Donovan said. “And there’s times when that stuff bleeds over into it affecting him emotionally. And he’s got to learn how to really control his emotions.”
Although Donovan wanted to cut back on the fouls a little, saying Young was being “butchered,” he also knew it was necessary preparation for what Young will see in his sophomore season.
“I’ll get fouled here and there and he’s not going to call it just to see how I’ll react,” Young said. “I’ve grown up a lot in that sense, because last year, I probably would have just completely shut down.”
The Gators are playing what Donovan calls the toughest schedule in his 16 seasons at Florida, featuring nonconference games against No. 3 Ohio State, No. 5 Syracuse, No. 16 Arizona and 20th-ranked Texas A&M.
In that stretch, Young will be called on to be the main defensive presence against Buckeyes center Jared Sullinger, Orange forward Kris Joseph and the Aggies’ Khris Middleton, all of whom are on the Naismith Award Watch List for the nation’s top player.
“The worst thing for Patric (in practice) would be him to get the ball, growl, be mean and all of the sudden, like the Red Sea parts and people just let him go in for a layup,” Donovan said. “He needs this right now. That would be the worst thing for him. He needs this right now because that’s what’s going to happen when we play.”
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Young has been no stranger to new coaches during his career.
After committing to Florida in his junior year while playing at Jacksonville Paxon School for Advanced Studies, a school known for its academics, he decided to transfer to Providence School, a more athletically competitive school, in pursuit of his first state championship.
During his final year of high school, Young played on a prep dream team of sorts that included two other Division-I recruits in Kentucky guard Stacey Poole and UCF power forward Wayne Martin.
“I knew he was going to be the piece that put us off the chart, which is exactly what happened,” Providence High coach Jim Martin said. “That guy was just a fierce competitor and just a natural born leader. Patric was the glue that kept it all together.”
The Stallions lost just one game during their 2A State Championship season and they finished ranked in the top 10 nationally.
While the buzz around Young’s abilities as a player skyrocketed during his last two years, culminating in a Parade and McDonald’s All-American season, it also came with some negative attention from recruiters and college coaches.
“You got a whole lot of mail boxes, a lot of phone calls — a whole lot of illegal phone calls — a whole lot of illegal visits, not too many, but some that would pull him out of class,” Robert said of the recruiting process. “It was getting ugly for a minute.”
The one positive for Young and his parents was their interaction with former UF assistant and current VCU head coach Shaka Smart.
Though he was only at Florida for one season, Smart did all the right things when recruiting Young. Unlike some of the other schools Young was looking at, the Gators’ staff never harassed his family or acted unprofessionally, Robert said.
“I know it’s a job and you want to get some athletes, but Patric just loved that relationship that he had with Shaka,” Robert said. “It was just the thing where we all fell in love with him and that’s why he’s doing so well at Virginia Commonwealth.”
When Smart did leave to take what would become a Final Four job with the Rams, Young still had a good relationship with then-Gators assistant coach Larry Shyatt.
As a man with three older sons, Shyatt was able to step in during games and calm Young when he would get in what Robert called “a mood.” But Shyatt left Florida, too, taking the head coaching position at Wyoming this season.
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Much like his final year with Providence, Young is loaded with huge expectations as both a Naismith and Wooden Watch List candidate on a top 10 team.
On a young squad with a largely unfamiliar coaching staff, he has the chance to take on the leadership role inside the paint that he wasn’t able to grasp as a freshman.
When he sat down during the offseason and watched some of his immature moments and emotional reactions on film, he was taken aback.
“Coach Donovan has shown me that, it wasn’t pretty,” Young said. “I was in disbelief.”
But instead of lingering on his tough transition to college basketball or getting caught up in his own hype again, Young is starting a new season with a fresh perspective.
After finding out his son had been named to the Wooden Award list, Robert texted Patric his congratulations.
“He texted back and said, ‘Dad, I’m not playing for John Wooden, I’m playing for God.’”
Contact John Boothe at email@example.com.
Young has been fouled a lot in practice, something coach Billy Donovan said would help prepare him for UF’s tough nonconference schedule.