Rising Star: Kentucky Guard James Young

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James Young #1 of the Kentucky Wildcats reacts against the Connecticut Huskies during the NCAA Men's Final Four Championship at AT&T Stadium on April 7, 2014 in Arlington, Texas. (credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

James Young #1 of the Kentucky Wildcats reacts against the Connecticut Huskies during the NCAA Men’s Final Four Championship at AT&T Stadium on April 7, 2014 in Arlington, Texas. (credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

By Andrew Kahn

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After Kentucky beat Wisconsin on Saturday night to advance to the championship game, John Calipari channeled his inner Nostradamus. “James Young has had 25 point games [this season], which I’ll make a prediction he’ll have in this Monday night game,” he said in his postgame press conference. He turned to Young, seated on the dais with him, and added, “You listening to me? I’m putting a positive seed in your mind right now.”

Calipari was close. Young scored 20 points for Kentucky last night, twice as many as the next highest-scoring Wildcat, in a 60-54 loss to Connecticut. It wasn’t the boldest of predictions considering this was Young’s ninth 20-plus point game and he led Kentucky with 17 in the Final Four win over Wisconsin. But it showed Calipari’s confidence in Young and, just as importantly, the freshman’s ability to rise to the occasion.

When it looked like UConn might pull away, up nine points in the second half, Young delivered. His emphatic dunk—he received a pass well beyond the top of the arc, took two power dribbles with his left hand, and threw it down over the long arms of 7-foot Amida Brimah and 6’9” DeAndre Daniels, drawing a foul in the process—was part of a stretch in which he scored eight of Kentucky’s 10 points and helped cut the deficit to one. He hit 8 of 9 free throws, the only Wildcat that could be counted on to connect consistently from the stripe.

Aaron Harrison has gotten all the attention, and rightfully so, for his game-winning shots throughout this Tournament. But Young has been clutch as well. The 6’6” lefty shooting guard hit the three that put Kentucky up for good against Wichita State. He hit 5 of 11 shots against Wisconsin, including one in the second half that Calipari said “probably won the game for us,” and went 5 of 13 against UConn while adding a team-high seven rebounds.

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On Monday in Dallas, Calipari was asked about Harrison’s big shots. “The biggest thing is he’s not afraid to miss,” he said. “He’s OK with it. He’s comfortable in his own skin. He knows how hard he’s worked. I think we got another guy [who’s] the same way: James Young. James is delirious. He doesn’t pay attention in timeouts. He’s not thinking of anything and he’ll go shoot the ball the same as [Aaron].” It’s just part of Young’s laid-back attitude; he, unlike many of his teammates, had no problem getting a full night’s sleep after the thrilling Final Four victory. “I kind of sleep through everything,” he said.

Young (jersey No. 1, unique hairstyle in case you’re trying to picture him), came out of Rochester Hills, Mich., as the No. 11 player in the country according to the major recruiting services. With the Harrison twins starting in the backcourt, he played small forward for the Wildcats for this season and averaged 14.3 points on 40 percent shooting. He hit 35 percent from deep. It remains to be seen if he is a one-and-done collegiate. ESPN’s Chad Ford has him as the 16th-best NBA prospect. Draft Express projects him as a late first-rounder.

This much we do know: Young has experience hitting big shots for a team that just made a deep Tournament run.

Andrew Kahn is a contributor to CBS Local Sports who also writes for Newsday and The Wall Street Journal. He writes about college basketball and other sports at AndrewJKahn.com. Email him at andrewjkahn@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn

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