The Florida Gators have achieved the first ever perfect SEC season at 18-0, won the SEC conference tournament as the top-ranked team in the country and are the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament. They will reside in the South region.
As much as coach Billy Donovan's squad has accomplished to date, though, the task at hand is far from over. With four exceptional seniors leading in the way, including athletic center Patric Young, the Gators are thinking big in seeking a legitimate national title shot.
In an era when many former high school All-Americans are turning professional after one year in college, Young and fellow seniors Scottie Wilbekin, Will Yeguete and Casey Prather have grown together to become one of the most successful teams in recent memory.
A lot of the fun factoids about Young are inevitably intertwined with the impressive, seasoned core of players he's a part of in Gainesville, but his dynamic personality and athleticism do make him unique.
Gene Frenette of the Florida Times-Union profiled Young on Feb. 9 and noted how the big man is the ultimate team player who will sacrifice anything and put forth maximum individual effort for the greater good. Donovan was effusive in praising Young.
"A total-team guy, unselfish, doesn’t care if he scores, wants to win, and cares about his relationships,” said Donovan. “He’s about as unbelievable a kid as I’ve ever coached."
Young also provided his take on why he decided to stay in college for all four years—which seems to be paying dividends on and off the court now:
I think everyone that goes to college should stay in college unless they’re one of those special ones like [former Kentucky star] Anthony Davis. Overall, you should enjoy the [college] process, develop and love your teammates. Once you leave this, you’re not going to be able to experience it again. Every [NBA] pro I’ve talked to has said the same thing — "Once you leave college, it’s not the same as far as friendships, camaraderie." I wanted to experience all of it.
After Florida defeated Kentucky 84-65 on Saturday to cap off an undefeated conference campaign, ESPN's Jay Bilas highlighted how much the Gators shared the ball, which is a big part of why they click so well:
Major difference between Florida and Kentucky: Cats had 10 assists on 23 FG (43%), Gators had 20 assists on 28 FG (71%). UF moves the ball.— Jay Bilas (@JayBilas) March 8, 2014
But Young stands out as a rare specimen who trimmed down to a muscular 6'9" and 242 pounds for his final collegiate season, per Gainesville.com's Kevin Brockway. The report also notes how Young has been named SEC Scholar Athlete of the Year twice.
Thanks to his combination of size and speed, it's even possible that Young could be the next player to make a transition from college hoops to the NFL gridiron as a tight end, if his hands on the practice field are any indication:
As far as what he brings to the hardwood, Young is a tone-setter and a formidable paint presence who can defend the post, hit the glass and use his quick-twitch movements to make game-changing plays at any moment.
Young implied he and his teammates were already looking forward to their ultimate goal following the decisive victory over the Wildcats, per the Tampa Bay Times' Antonya English:
#Gators C Patric Young: "We want to win 9 more games. Three in the SEC Tournament and 6 to win the national championship." #18-0— Antonya English (@TBTimes_Gators) March 8, 2014
Winning is something Young has been accustomed to in his extended tenure with the Gators. As Sporting News points out, he has been part of a senior class that's won 112 games in all—just five short of the record, which will in all likelihood be broken.
Even though he's not the polished offensive player and may fail to carve out a long NBA career because of it, a steady rate of production has worked Young near the top 30 in scoring in program history, according to GatorZone.com:
Patric Young scored his 1,200th career point today (1,216). He is 30 points away from hitting the top 30 on UF's scoring list.— Gator M-Basketball (@GatorZoneMBK) March 8, 2014
Even if reaching the pros doesn't work out, Young seems to have a future in the entertainment industry. It turns out he's full of fun facts—not to mention charisma—as he interviewed students in a fun trivia game in July 2013:
With regard to Young's steady production and improvement as a senior, it's a testament to the type of player he is. Young averaging a career-best 10.9 points but it's not that much higher than his totals from the previous two seasons.
How far will the Gators go in the NCAA tournament?
Despite sporting an experienced nucleus, Florida has fallen in the Elite Eight in each of the last three seasons. Now is the time for Young and Co. to step up and elevate the Gators to the next level. To do that, all the senior must come to play in leading Florida's charge amid the madness of March.
A big, legacy-defining month or so is imminent for Young and Co., and as far as what to expect from him come NCAA tournament time, he should perform as well as ever. This is his last chance to leave a mark on the record books, and with how much Young has embraced his college experience, don't expect him to leave anything on the court.
The only thing that's missing from an otherwise prolific career in Gainesville is a trip to the Final Four—preferably capped off by a national title. Florida has all the pieces in place to do so, and Young is the glue up front on both ends of the floor, holding it all together.
Thus, it's reasonable to expect Young will maintain or slightly bolster his regular-season numbers across the board in the win-or-go-home format of the Big Dance. Almost four years have prepared Young and the Gators seniors for this moment, and now is the time to put all that experience to practical use in their deepest run yet.
Projected NCAA tournament numbers (per game): 12 points, 7.5 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 1.5 blocks, 1.5 steals