KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kevin Young was fiddling with a Rubik’s Cube as he sat in Kansas’ locker room Thursday, waiting for the Jayhawks’ turn on the Sprint Center practice floor.
“It helps me to relax and stay grounded,” KU’s 6-foot-8 forward said.
He quickly had the puzzle in perfect order.
“I’ve got this pattern,” he said. “I can do it in two minutes now.”
As a fifth-year senior, Young has a lot of things figured out.
From the get-go this season, he knew his role was to bring energy, collect garbage baskets and play killer defense.
Young has done it well, which is one reason why KU takes a top seed into the NCAA Tournament. The Jayhawks’ opening show is Friday night against 16th-seeded Western Kentucky.
But over the last two weeks, Perry Ellis’ game has picked up considerably. The freshman forward from Wichita Heights has begun to play up to his talent.
No one is more please about that than Young. After all, it’s Ellis who will have to fill Young’s spot next year.
“I love to see him shine,” Young said. “I know I’m leaving things in good hands.”
Although Young’s minutes haven’t dropped any because of Ellis’ emergence, Young figures an improved Ellis has made him better.
“It gives me more confidence to go a little bit harder,” he said.
Bill Self sees the same thing.
“Since Perry has played really well, Kevin has played even better,” the KU coach said. “I think it’s raised his level.
“Kevin plays with such energy and so hard, hopefully, with shorter spurts, he can play even harder maybe. I’m excited about that.”
But then Self always likes to stir up competition among his players, even with a fairly set starting lineup as he has had this year.
That’s part of the reason Self started Ellis over Young at TCU on Feb. 6.
You know how that worked out. KU played lousy and lost to the Big 12’s worst team.
Self had also hoped the lineup switch would put some confidence in Ellis’ game. That didn’t happen. He was scoreless in 10 minutes.
It would be another month before the light would go on for Ellis.
Meanwhile, Young has quietly gone about his game. Sometimes real quietly.
It might surprise some to know that Young recently scored his 1,000th career point between his stops at Loyola Marymount and Kansas.
“Who would have thought this kid who grew up in the California desert and came to snowy Kansas would get 1,000 points?” Young said, poking a little fun at himself.
“But really, I see my game as making others better. I try to talk to them about what I’ve learned.
“There aren’t many fifth-year seniors in the college basketball world and now I get to put all this knowledge on Perry.”