Ex-Cat James Young advises UK players not to listen if 40-0 talk resurfaces

jtipton@herald-leader.comJuly 29, 2014 

Former Kentucky wing James Young advised this coming season's players not to pay attention should the seemingly inevitable talk of a 40-0 record resurface. As Young explained Tuesday, 40-0 means 40 and uh-oh.

"Don't listen to it at all," he said during a break in a UK summer basketball camp session. "We kind of listened to it last year, and it kind of got to us. And we had an up-and-down season. Leave the media stuff alone and stay focused."

Talk of an unprecedented 40-0 record erupted before last season when UK added a record six McDonald's All-Americans to a team already counting on the return of two regularly productive players: Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress. There also was speculation that the six McDonald's All-Americans gave UK the greatest class in the history of college basketball.

UK Coach John Calipari did not discourage runaway enthusiasm when he noted how he'd someday like to lead a team to a 40-0 record. And, he added, if a team came up short of such a lofty goal, it would still mean a wildly successful season.

"It was just so big for everybody," Young said of the hyperbole. "... It was just everywhere. It was the talk just about every time on ESPN and stuff like that. It kind of got to us. We were always listening to it and stuff like that. We had to block it out."

UK lost to Michigan State in its third game. Ultimately, Florida, a veteran team, enjoyed the record-breaking success (the first 18-0 regular-season record in Southeastern Conference history), while Kentucky finished second as it struggled to develop consistency.

When asked whether last season's players felt pressured by the 40-0 talk, Young said, "I feel we did a little bit, just to try to please everybody instead of worrying about basketball and just playing."

After a disheartening loss at South Carolina late in the season, Kentucky got on a roll in the postseason. The Cats lost to Florida by one point in the SEC Tournament finals, then fashioned an NCAA Tournament run that included three game-winning shots in the final seconds and did not end until a loss in the national championship game.

When asked about Kentucky's potential in the upcoming 2014-15 season, Young saw good things ahead.

"They have a great team," he said. "They have a lot of 'bigs' they can roll to. ... They have a lot of size, so I feel that's going to mess a lot of people up. They have a great advantage with that."

The big men include veterans Cauley-Stein, Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee, plus heralded freshmen Karl-Anthony Towns and Trey Lyles.

Young also lauded UK's depth. The Cats added "only" four McDonald's All-Americans this offseason. The veteran core includes Cauley-Stein, Poythress, Johnson, Marcus Lee, Derek Willis and Dominique Hawkins.

While seeing success likely, Young tempered his enthusiasm.

"I feel they can do a lot of things," he said before adding, "I'm not trying to put no pressure on nobody, and do all that. But I feel they'll do real good."

No surprise

Young did not feign surprise when asked about so many of his former teammates choosing to return to UK next season. That number includes Aaron and Andrew Harrison, Johnson, Poythress and, perhaps most notably, Cauley-Stein.

Julius Randle and Young chose to enter the 2014 NBA Draft. Each was selected in the first round, Randle by the Los Angeles Lakers and Young by the Boston Celtics.

"You do what you have to do," he said. "Julius (Randle) wanted to go on, and I wanted to go on. It's something we wanted to do since we were little kids. We had the opportunity to do it, and we took a chance."

Young, who was wearing a Succeed and Proceed T-shirt, said UK's postseason run to the Final Four influenced his decision, which suggested satisfaction with what he and Kentucky accomplished in the 2013-14 season.

Concussion update

Young did not play with the Celtics' summer league team. He was recovering from a concussion sustained in a car accident in Los Angeles.

Young said he rear-ended a car that stopped suddenly in front of him.

"It really opened my eyes about things," he said of the accident. "I'm blessed. I'm still here and have a chance to play."

A few days ago, doctors cleared him to return to basketball activities, Young said.

Cal: Chilled or stirred?

A pivotal moment in UK's 2013-14 season came when Calipari reduced his sideline intensity. Or as Young described it at the time, Calipari "chilled."

When asked if UK players should expect a chilled or stirred Calipari next season, Young said, "Probably a little bit of both. It just depends on how they play."

Hair today

Young's hair was closely cropped. He had gotten a haircut last weekend. No, he said with a smile, the Celtics did not order a haircut.

"It's fresh," he said. "Nice cut."

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: UKbasketball.bloginky.com.

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