By Nick Gray | Sports editor
From Rochester Hills, Mich., five-star guard James Young had an embarrassment of opportunity as he was recruited coming out of high school.
The University of Michigan played in the NCAA National Championship last year, and Michigan State won games under the direction of head coach Tom Izzo.
But James Young, the first five-star recruit (per Rivals) in the state of Michigan since the University of Tennessee’s Ramar Smith in 2006, drifted 369 miles south to UK, spurning the two state schools within 90 miles of his hometown.
The guard averaged 27.2 points and 16 rebounds with Rochester (Mich.) High School, a Class A Michigan school.
Young said UK stood out because of head coach John Calipari’s offensive style.
“I love the dribble-drive, and the pick-and-roll makes me feel like we could get some good runs,” Young said. “I feel like the guys we have on our team now can get a lot of people open, and that makes it that much easier to get a good shot.”
Young, who is listed as both a guard and a forward on the UK roster, will battle fellow freshman guard Andrew Harrison for time in the backcourt. Young’s size — 6-foot-6, 215 pounds — also indicates that if the Cats play three guards simultaneously, Young will have the physicality to not be overmatched defensively by small forwards.
Calipari, who expressed his thoughts on his team’s toughness last season, told a story about Young during Young’s high school recruitment from the Peach Jam tournament in August 2012 at Augusta, Ga.
An opposing coach directed a defender, who Calipari said also played football, to cover Young.
“I watched the whole game and the guy beat the living crap out of him,” Calipari said. “And (Young) went inside. He wasn’t afraid, he still scored and it didn’t faze him.”
From there on, Calipari insisted on recruiting Young.
“I’m like, ‘Let’s get this kid,’” Calipari said. “Because that was my only question; when this stuff gets rough, what is he going to do? And he didn’t back away one bit.”
Calipari did suggest Young needed to improve in at least one area.
“His core strength has to improve,” Calipari said. “To play the way we’re playing, when you get the bump you have to be in a position, and your core strength is what leverages you to stay the course … He doesn’t have that yet.”
Young committed to Calipari and the Cats two months after Peach Jam, on Oct. 11, 2012.
In regards to his game, several teammates, including freshman guard E.J. Floreal, said that Young’s biggest asset is shooting the basketball.
“Your natural instinct is to think that someone is not as good as people say … he’s better.” Floreal said. “He can put the ball in the bottom of the net. He’s better than what I’ve heard about him.”
Floreal, whom Young called “my best friend,” said he and Young have grown close during summer workouts.
“Out of everybody, I’m really close with James. When he came, I didn’t know him, and in that first day, we just clicked,” Floreal said.