LAWRENCE — Kevin Young is quiet by nature, the sort of laid-back power forward who once agreed to sit on campus and let regular students heave pies at his face for charity.
But to get an idea of Young’s basketball philosophy, it’s best if you ask about his most prized feature: his shapely, and ever growing, afro. It seems Young’s strategy for getting a haircut sounds a lot like his personality on the basketball floor.
“(You) don’t tell anybody,” said Young, a 6-foot-8 senior. “You just go in there and just get it done.”
For the record, Young isn’t planning any immediate trips to the barbershop. But he will be back in the starting lineup at the four spot when Kansas plays host to San Jose State at 8 p.m. Monday at Allen Fieldhouse.
It will be KU’s first game after a five-day break that included practices on Thanksgiving morning and Friday evening. And it will be the third straight start for Young, who missed KU’s opener while recovering from a broken bone in his shooting hand.
He made his first start last Monday against Washington State in the CBE Classic. And for KU coach Bill Self, it was no mere coincidence that the Jayhawks, 4-1, had their two most impressive performances at the CBE Classic with Young in the starting lineup.
“Our team was better in Kansas City with Kevin playing,” Self said. “I’m not saying it will stay that way forever, but I’m happy with what Kevin does.”
Young’s offensive game can be limited; he scored just six points in two games in Kansas City, and he didn’t record a field-goal attempt in a victory over Saint Louis. But for a team still trying to find the right gear on offense, Young’s impact was glaring.
He was active on the boards — averaging nine in two games — and his presence appeared to provide a lift to senior center Jeff Withey, who tied his career-high with 25 points against Saint Louis. The ball and offense, Self says, simply move better when Young is in the game.
“He’s not scared to make a mistake,” Self said. “He understands better where to look for Jeff. I think there’s no question that Kevin’s presence helps Jeff.”
Still, Self is clear that he’d like more offense from the power-forward spot. The Jayhawks have played with an All-American candidate — first Marcus Morris, then Thomas Robinson — at the four spot for the last two years, and Self says KU is still learning how to play with a complementary player in that role.
This, of course, is another way of saying that freshman forward Perry Ellis still adjusting to the college life.
“I’d like us to be able to get more scoring out of that spot,” Self said. “And, of course, the natural person would be Perry. But he’s gotta go at a pace where he’s comfortable.”
In short, Self is looking more toward the future. He’d still like to see more aggressiveness from Ellis. But it’s more important that Ellis be ready to be an impact player on Jan. 1 than rush his development now.
“I think he’s getting better,” Self said. “I really do; I think Perry’s gonna be outstanding.”
For now, though, Self will go with a three-man committee at the four-spot with Young, Ellis and redshirt freshman Jamari Traylor sharing the offensive load. Ellis is probably the most natural scorer in that group. And Traylor may be the most physical. But Young wants to stay focused on the stuff that may not show up in the box score.
“Just being able to pressure the other team,” Young said, “and being able to pass the ball and set screens … and just do all the other little things.”