He’s only been coaching for six years, but Rochester (Mich.) coach John Pleasant has been around college basketball for years because his father, Garth, won 720 games during his collegiate coaching career in Michigan. That’s why he knows just how special his star player, Kentucky signee James Young, is.
“I have seen nothing like him since (former Michigan star) Chris Webber, and that’s been about 25 years ago now,” said Pleasant. “Chris is the only guy in Michigan who can dominate games like James has. He’s really phenomenal.”
He transferred to Rochester this season and in the last eight games before he strained a calf muscle that has him sidelined he was averaging 33 points and 17 rebounds per game. He had 31 points, eight rebounds and four assists in his last game. For the season, the 6-6 Young averages 27.6 points, 15.2 rebounds, five steals and two blocks per game along with six assists — a number Pleasant admits would be even higher if teammates made more shots after getting Young’s passes.
“His injury is not anything serious for his future. With his future, we want to play it safe,” Pleasant said. “The best case scenario is he will be back next week for the tourney if he heals quickly. His PT (physical therapist) is a guy who works with the Detroit Pistons, so we are hoping he heals quickly. But he’ll be fine for the April all-star games.”
That will be the McDonald’s All-American Game in Chicago and Jordan Brand Classic in Brooklyn that James will play in along with four future UK teammates. His injury did make him miss games against the second-ranked team (Romulus) in Michigan as well as No. 8 Rochester Adams.
“The first few games were a little rough this year as we tried to figure things out, but lately he had really been in a groove,” Pleasant said. “Honestly, it has been a delight to coach him. He is so humble. You wouldn’t know he was that type of talent if you didn’t see him play because he would not tell you. If I introduce him and say he is going to Kentucky, he doesn’t like it. He’s as humble as they come. Very quiet off the court, but on the court he has fun and is not as quiet. But off the court he’s humble and goes about his business and enjoys friends like any other teenager.”
High school principal Charles Rowland III couldn’t be happier with having Young, a Mr. Basketball finalist, at his school.
“Since his arrival, James has handled the attention and notoriety which comes with being a top recruit with a great deal of maturity. He is a kind and polite student who has managed to remain humble despite numerous distractions,” Rowland said. “He typically begins the school day at 7:30 a.m. Following school, he works with his academic tutor for approximately two hours prior to meeting with his strength and conditioning coach. Finally, he ends the day at basketball practice from 7-9 p.m.
“What has impressed me most about James on the court is how diligently he works to fit in with his teammates. Although he is a great scorer, he also leads the team in assists. James is an unselfish player and is this makes him fun to play with. Obviously, James has brought a great deal of attention to our school. Rochester is a great school district and our school has traditionally enjoyed phenomenal school spirit. James has represented our school and district in a very positive fashion.”
Both Pleasant and Rowland are certain he’ll do the same for Kentucky.
“He is wonderful kid. Kentucky is getting a really, really good kid,” Pleasant said.
“James has maintained a ‘level head’ throughout what has been at times, somewhat of a media circus. He is very humble and from my observations, he has been exemplary in how he has handled both the local and national attention he is receiving,” Rowland said. “UK will be getting a great young man in addition to one heck of a basketball player.”
Pleasant said Young, like most high school stars, has to improve his defense in college.
“He has to learn to guard better. Now he is so much more athletic than the person he is guarding, he can gamble and still make up for some bad habits on defense with his length and athleticism,” the coach, who plans to be in Chicago to watch Young in the McDonald’s All-American Game, said.
However, Pleasant said that is the only glaring flaw in Young’s play right now.
“He does so much for us. He scores so well. He scores it every way possible. He gets to the rim great.¿He has some amazing finishes (at the rim). But he also shoots the 3. He posts up. He scores in such a variety of ways, but he is also extremely unselfish,” Pleasant said.
“I would say what he does best, though, is just shoot the basketball. He is a natural shooter. Next year with four good players around him he can just catch and shoot — something he can’t do this year with us because the whole gym is guarding him. But he’s played everywhere from the point to the post for us. He’s a true two guard. He is 6-6, athletic and his leaping ability has really improved. He’s getting stronger, and needs to continue to work on that. But he’s the complete package that UK fans are going to love.”