NEW ORLEANS -- Just eight games into his Kansas career, Kevin Young scored 14 points and snared four rebounds off the bench against one of the top teams in all of college basketball.
The forward, however, never boasted about his stat line in the Jayhawks’ 78-67 victory over second-ranked Ohio State back on Dec. 10. Even today, Young has no problem admitting why the performance occurred.
“I probably caught them off guard a little,” the 6-foot-8 Young said. “I honestly don’t think they knew who I was.”
No one did.
Young was a virtual unknown when he transferred to Kansas in August. He averaged 10.7 points for Loyola Marymount as a sophomore in 2009-10 before sitting out last season.
Young worked as a student assistant at Barstow (Calif.) Community College in the fall of 2010 before earning his associate’s degree from San Bernadino CC last spring.
“Me and the coaches [at Loyola Marymount] didn’t see eye to eye on the court,” Young said. “We had our differences. Off the court they were great guys. I’m really fortunate that they allowed me to leave. A lot of coaches could’ve put me in a bad situation.”
Instead, Young was granted his release and he verbally committed to Fresno State. He changed his mind and signed a financial aid agreement with San Diego State and was set to become an Aztec. But then he got a call from Kansas assistant Kurtis Townsend in June.
“He said they were looking for players at Kansas,” Young said. “I talked to my parents about it. My mom thought it was kind of far away, but I let her know there were more opportunities for me to succeed here than there would be at San Diego State.
“The tradition and the winning here is something I wanted to be a part of.”
San Diego State coach Steve Fisher was livid -- both at Young and KU coach Bill Self -- but Young held strong and arrived in Lawrence in August.
Two months later, shortly after the Jayhawks began official workouts, Self told Young he was months away from making a significant contribution.
“I was like, ‘No, I’ll be ready in a week or two, Coach,’” Young said. “He said, ‘I won’t be shocked if you’re not ready until February.’ I thought he was joking, but it took me a while.
“I was used to playing rec ball. I wasn’t used to playing with a lot of structure.”
Young came up big against Ohio State early in the season, but after that his role was minimal until -- as Self predicted -- February. Young had 5 points, 8 rebounds and 4 blocks in the Jayhawks’ Feb. 25 overtime victory against Missouri, which served as a precursor for March.
Through four NCAA tournament games he’s averaging 4 points and 5.3 rebounds.
“He’s so active,” Self said. “He finds a way to impact the game as soon as he checks in. We haven’t had anyone like Kevin in a while.”
As Kansas and Ohio State prepare for Saturday’s rematch in the Final Four, most of the talk centers around first-team All-Americans Thomas Robinson of KU and Jared Sullinger of Ohio State, who missed the teams' first meeting with back spasms.
Still, anyone who has followed Kansas lately knows that Young has a chance to be the X factor once again.
Along with being a strong on the offensive glass, the long, wiry, 185-pound Young can also be a pest on the defensive end, which could be huge against the Buckeyes. Robinson isn’t a good enough defender to significantly limit Sullinger and emerging sophomore Deshaun Thomas, both of whom are lethal both inside and outside the paint. Along with having the length to alter their shots, Young is also athletic enough to chase Thomas and Sullinger and keep them from getting good looks.
Young said the game has “slowed down” for him over the past few months. Self has noticed.
“He’s pursuing the ball as well as anybody we have in our program,” Self said. “I have total confidence going to him off the bench. He does more with the stat sheet than anyone on our team.”
Comments such as those are almost overwhelming to Young. A year ago he wasn’t even on a college roster. Now here he is at the Final Four, a key factor for a team that is two wins away from a national championship.
“I knew from the first time I got in the gym with these guys that they were something special,” Young said.
“I definitely think I made the right decision.”