WALTHAM, Mass. — The lights don’t get much brighter, basketball-wise, than the NBA. The Boston Celtics are hoping that leads to good things for James Young.
Like most Kentucky players nowadays, Young played only one season in Lexington — and it was a mixed season at that. Unlike DeMarcus Cousins, John Wall and Anthony Davis, who dominated the college level en route to becoming NBA lottery picks, Young spent the majority of his freshman season looking literally lost.
As in, he didn’t appear to know where he was supposed to be on the court, and when he got the ball, he didn’t seem sure of what to do with it.
It wasn’t until the NCAA tournament that Young began to resemble the player who was a top-ranked prospect in Michigan. After a rough 3-for-13 shooting performance in the Wildcats’ opening-round win over Kansas State, Young shot 23 for 48 (47.9 percent) the rest of the tournament. He averaged 18.5 points per game in the Final Four and shot 14 for 16 combined from the foul line against Wisconsin and UConn.
That was a far cry from the player who shot 40.7 percent from the field on the season and committed 75 turnovers to just 67 assists.
“I just felt like, during the postseason, I was more focused and more confident in every shot that I took,” Young said Monday after he was introduced by the Celtics, who selected him with the 17th overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft. “Once the big lights came on, I really just wanted to win every game, so I took every shot like it was my last. I think that’s what really helped.”
What also helped was some midseason tinkering with his mechanics. Young was leaning back, landing on one foot and flicking his wrist incorrectly, he said, which helped explain his middling shooting numbers. Despite Young’s statistics, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge tabbed him as a top-11 pick until the Celtics’ second pick rolled around at No. 17 and they realized the Kentucky freshman was still on the board.
“Like all of you, I watched a lot of Kentucky this year with their five dynamic freshmen on the team and a lot of expecations going into this year,” Ainge said. “Many of those games, he was the best player on the court for his team, including the national championship game, on a big stage.”
Like draftmate Marcus Smart, Young fancies himself a tough, winning player who is at his best when the stakes are high. Young has been that way all through high school and AAU, he said, and while his lone year of college had its ups and downs, he feels the way he played toward the end is more indicative of what he can do in the NBA.
“When the big lights come on, there’s just something about it — I love it,” Young said. “Everybody’s watching, there’s lots of pressure, I don’t get nervous. I get the jitters for a little bit, but after that, it’s game on and I’ve just got to go out and perform.”