ARLINGTON, Texas --- Florida assistant Matt McCall recently posed a question to Patric Young: If he could come back for a fifth year along with fellow seniors Casey Prather, Will Yeguete and Scottie Wilbekin, would he return to Gainesville next season?
"I love this place so much," Young answered, "I probably would."
We're in an age where some players are considered failures if they are still in college by the time they are juniors, much less seniors. And in the so-called year of the freshman in college basketball, there will be at least one player on the AT&T Stadium court in Saturday's national semifinals who had a chance jump to the NBA after every one of his college seasons but said no thanks.
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Young won't be the best player on the court Saturday night, but he has been invaluable during Florida's 30-game winning streak and pursuit of a third national title in the past nine seasons.
Aside from being the SEC's defensive player of the year, a robust 6-foot-9, 240-pound physical specimen who looks like he can play linebacker, coaches say he has served as a role model. A three-time SEC Scholar-Athlete of the year, Young is coach Billy Donovan's third Academic All-American in 18 seasons. He is active in his church and with volunteer work.
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In a year when it's more difficult to take charges because of the new officiating interpretation of the block-charge call, Young is proficient in it, mastering it like an art. And he authored what Donovan has called the play of Florida's season, the much-talked about head-first dive out of bounds to save a loose ball in Florida's Feb. 11 victory at Tennessee.
It has been a long collegiate journey for Young, who fell just a game short of the Final Four in each of his first three seasons. So when a USA TODAY Sports reporter asked him Friday what he had learned about himself from staying in school four years, Young paused and took a deep breath.
"Wow, that's a good one," he said. "The most important thing I learned was that I am not as good as I think I am. That was probably the most important lesson I learned as a freshman. Life is a process, a process of ups and downs.
"To achieve your dreams, you have to stick it through those tough times. You fail when you decide to give up, when you want to stop fighting. When things are tough, when things are against you, you keep pushing. You keep pounding that rock – that's our phrase – because you never know when the rock is going to break. That is something I'll take with me the rest of my life."
Young said that when he arrived at Florida as a McDonald's All-American, he didn't necessarily think college basketball would be easy. But he said that unless you are a John Wall, Derrick Rose or Andrew Wiggins, there's always that reality check when you realize that things are not going as you expected them to.
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Then, he said, comes inevitable frustration and possibly a bad attitude that could stunt your growth as a player. What he has learned is that, as a freshman, you need to have the idea coming in "that you know nothing, that you are a blank slate, that you just need to be a sponge and absorb every time of coaching you can get from players and coaching."
Donovan said that Young probably would have been a first-round NBA draft pick after his freshman season but decided to return to school. Early in his career, Donovan said, Young lacked consistency. Now he appears like a man among boys on the court, and not just because of his sculpted physique.
"You take Tim Tebow and you take the Heisman Trophy and all that, and I get that," McCall said. "But if we are able to win a national championship, I think you have to put Patric Young in that same type of category just because of the type of human being he is."
Most notably has been how Young has mentored promising freshman Chris Walker, who, after a long eligibility battle, finally made his debut Feb. 4. Walker was a college basketball novice, and Young immediately took him under his wing.
Donovan said that Young spent considerable time with Walker, explaining to him "why it's important to stretch, how to go about stretching, how to get yourself ready to play, how to get yourself ready for practice."
With so much attention focused on potential one-and-done college players, Donovan is saddened that some accomplished four-year players may think they are failures if they don't reach the NBA.
"That's kind of maybe a societal issue where we start to deem what success is for a lot of these kids," Donovan said. "And if they don't make it to the NBA, then their college career means nothing. I feel bad that a lot of kids walk off a college campus if they have been there for four years and view themselves as being anything less than successful."
Donovan has no doubt that Young will play professionally, and he believes that will be in the NBA. And Young is wise enough to know that even if he had jumped to the NBA after his freshman season, there is no guarantee that he would still be in the league. He could be toiling in the NBA's Developmental League instead of being two wins away from a national championship.
His professional career could wait. And if he had another year of eligibility, he could be back in Gainesville next season as well.
"Money," Young said with a smile, "isn't everything to me."
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