In what might be the ultimate sign of respect, Kentucky Coach John Calipari had his players watch — and hopefully learn from — a play Florida big man Patric Young made at Tennessee on Tuesday.
The Gators held only a tenuous grip on a 16th straight victory (one shy of a program record) down the stretch. To get a loose ball near the right corner of the court, Young's body became horizontal to the court as he dived past two Vols to get a loose ball.
With the ball secured, Young passed to teammate Kasey Hill before coming to a stop on the baseline. This enabled the Gators to milk more precious time off the clock in what became a 67-58 victory.
"What are you willing to do to win a game?" Calipari said he asked UK players. "I know what he's willing to do. I saw it."
Calipari noted an ahhh sound he believed he heard from one of the Tennessee players (either Jarnell Stokes or Antonio Barton) as Young literally flew by them for the ball.
"Are you going to make sounds?" Calipari asked the Cats. "Or are you going to dive with him?"
Young suggested the play typified Florida's all-out approach to the season.
"That play is a little microcosm of what it means to really want to win," he said Friday, "and doing whatever it takes.
"It's not always about scouting reports or not always about defensive sets or rotations. A lot of this game is about 50/50 balls and effort."
Pat Dooley, a columnist for The Gainesville Sun, tweeted his dismay that ESPN's SportsCenter did not include Young's dive in its Top 10 Plays daily feature that night.
Although noting that hard-core basketball people would appreciate the dive, Young said he and his teammates do not seek to gain personal glory.
"We don't do what we do to be on SportsCenter," he said.
Florida Coach Billy Donovan called Young's diving effort "an incredible play." Donovan noted that Young had four fouls at the time.
Young has been trying hard on and off the court in his college career. A two-time SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year, he said the urgency that comes with being a senior drives Florida's veteran core of players this season.
"I really want to go off on the right foot, and being able to win the national championship," he said. "This team is really striving for greatness."
When he saw replays, Young was impressed by how he flung his 6-foot-9, 240-pound body through the air. "I was, like, wow," he said.
His father, Robert Young, saw the extraordinary play as in keeping with his son's approach to basketball. "Pretty typical of his attitude," the elder Young said. "He's a hard-working hustle guy. He's going to do everything he can to win."
It wasn't always so. The player's father, a former football tight end for Bethune-Cookman and later teams in the United States Football League, recalled Patric as an eighth-grader reluctantly going along with his father's idea of 6 a.m. workouts at the YMCA before school.
"I wanted to see where his heart was at," the elder Young said. "He hated it. But he saw he needed to do that because it made him better. I think it opened up his eyes."
Fast forward to this season, and the play at Tennessee opened a picture window on Young's heart.
"I think it's going to come down to who wants it more," Young said of Saturday night's game at Kentucky. "I think both teams will start out the game looking the same. But it'll come down to who can do it the longest. Who can do it for 40 minutes. Who can do it when they're tired. Who can do it when they're having a bad game and things aren't going their way."
That team has consistently been Florida this season. With perhaps the example of Young's dive fresh in mind, UK players saw how they can increase their chances of being that team.
"That's what guys do when they want to win," said Dakari Johnnson, one of UK's big men. "It's kill or be killed."
Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com.