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Thursday, Oct 30, 2014
Martin Fennelly Columns

Fennelly: Gators’ Young shines off the court

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Published:   |   Updated: March 20, 2014 at 12:05 AM

ORLANDO – In Gainesville, he’s the Sun King. People look up to him and the fact that he stands 6 feet, 9 inches isn’t the only reason why. It would probably be like that, just like that, if Florida senior center Patric Young wasn’t even a basketball star, though he is.

When the top-ranked Gators begin their NCAA Tournament today against Albany, Young will be in the middle of it all, 240 pounds of him, down low, in the post, the proud SEC Defensive Player of the Year, grinding, trying to outmuscle and outhustle his opponents. If you see two or three guys dive for a loose ball, assume that Young will be one of them, all in, start to finish.

Which reminds us:

Who says NBA hopefuls don’t finish college?

“With the relationships that I’ve built, the memories that I have to look back upon, it’s really priceless and something I’m always going to cherish,” Young said.

He sat in the Florida locker room before practice Wednesday at the Amway Center and talked about the big game.

You know, the Florida women’s lacrosse game he just attended.

“In the rain, in the cold. I got a lot of love from them for that,” Young said with a top-ranked smile.

Yes, Gators lacrosse players loved that Pat Young showed. Everybody loves the gregarious big man wherever he goes. Campus. Hospital visits. School visits. When and where do you need him? Young might be the most popular Florida athlete since Tim Tebow and its most engaging hoopster since the fascinating Joakim Noah. But Noah had an edge. Young is as smooth as his grin.

There was a Patric Young “Beard Night” at a Gators game this season. Students wore fake orange beards for Mr. Lincoln, though Young says he recently trimmed his once sprawling beard at his mother’s request.

“You growing your beard for me, too?” Young asked a facially hairy sports writer.

He’s a telecommunications major. The kid knows how to work a microphone. He learned it in class. Young has learned lots and lots. He has a 3.37 GPA and is an unprecedented three-time SEC Scholar Athlete of the Year.

He’d like to play in the NBA. After that, he’s thinking he might want work for ESPN, or be a minister, or both.

“Whatever God is calling for me,” Young said.

“I think he may be the consummate guy that has really got the full capacity of a college experience,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “He’s very active on campus. He’s going to graduate on time. People really enjoy being around him. He’s active in the community. He represents himself, his family, our program in a first-class manner. He’s on time. He’s reliable. He’s responsible. He likes school. He really likes school. He likes going to class. He gets stimulated academically in a lot of ways.”

Young said, “Well, it’s just college has helped me just to become closest to the man I’d like to be in the future.”

Statistics don’t really tell Young’s story. He averages 11.1 points and 6.1 rebounds ... and there might be no better low post defender in college basketball. Donovan called him as good as anyone he has ever had down low, a group that includes Udonis Haslem and Al Horford.

“I have just like a pride that I’m not going to let a guy score on me.” Young said. “I just know my job is to help us win.”

He arrived on campus in 2010, a touted McDonald’s All-American from Jacksonville (he also sang for his high school choir). He didn’t picture a four-year college career. Maybe not one and done, but he had NBA longings. Still does. He’ll probably get there. He could have left before this.

Donovan said, “After last season he said to me, ‘Coach, I only get one chance to go to college, I get one chance to be a senior, I get one chance to have a senior night and I get one chance to play with these group of guys that I came in here with, and I’m not ready to give that up.’”

Patric Young would love to play in the NBA.

Patric Young loved Patric Young Beard night.

“I never imagined anything like that coming into campus the first time,” he said. “It’s pretty cool that people love me for me and not just because I play basketball.”

Though he does.

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