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October 15, 2013

Young impressing early with play in practice

James Young hasn't surprised himself yet.

The Kentucky freshman swingman knew he could do the things he's done in practice so far, knew he could score and play with speed and intensity. He knew he had the chance to be a knockdown shooter and a lockdown defender.

It seems he's caught some folks off guard with that range of skills.

"I guess I have," Young said at Tuesday's Media Day. "I've just been doing me, actually, going hard every practice. People, I guess, didn't think I was going to come out and show my talent, but that's what I came here to do."

His teammates have taken notice. So too, coach John Calipari said, have the NBA scouts who have visited UK's practices, some of whom are calling Young the standout player so far.

"He is really fast," Calipari said. "He's now not settling for jump shots. So you're seeing a young man get his head and shoulders by people, take contact, and make baskets, which a month ago he was not going in there. In transition, he's kind of like Michael Kidd (Gilchrist). If he's out ahead, you throw him the ball. Something good will happen. And he has a chance of being a terrific defender."

It should come as no great surprise that Young is talented. Rivals ranked him the No. 3 small forward and the No. 11 player in the high school Class of 2013. But on a team that features four players ranked in the 2013 Top 10 (No. 2 Julius Randle, No. 5 Andrew Harrison, No. 7 Aaron Harrison and No. 9 Dakari Johnson), Young can get a little lost in the shuffle.

He shouldn't, those teammates say.

"He can really get to the basket because of his speed, and he's starting to learn how to be physical," Randle said. "And of course, everybody knew when he came here that he can really shoot the ball, and he's been pretty much lights-out in practice. He doesn't miss too many shots."

Young's not concerned with starting -- he figures to be in a battle with sophomore Alex Poythress for time at small forward -- but he might be hard to keep off the floor if he continues to play the way he has in UK's early practices.

"He can really shoot the ball," Johnson said. "That's the most impressive thing about him, and he does everything basically. He rebounds, defends well. He just does a lot of things."

That includes using his length -- at 6-foot-7, he's blessed with a long reach -- to greater effect on defense. Young said he's always been a good defender. Calipari wants him to be a great one.

"I've been doing a lot more defensive stuff here than I have ever in my life," Young said.

He's been working harder, too. Practices demand it.

Young said Kentucky's practices to this point have been physical battles -- "Bloody lips everywhere," he said -- but that so far nobody's backed down. He's not about to.

"Really tough," Young said of UK's first 10 workouts. "Practices day and night. Legs are hurting. But I got to do it. That's my goal. That's what I came here for."

So far, he's doing it well.

Young said he's flattered by the buzz that he has at times been Kentucky's best player. It's not the sort of thing he's heard often. It's nice to hear.

He doesn't dwell on it.

"I try not to think about it as much," Young said. "I keep trying to go day by day, making myself even better than what they think I am. I'm just trying to shock everybody."


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