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Young talent



By and large, this column since its genesis has centered on the Razorbacks, plural. I depart from that this week because the mercurial Hog basketballers have a guy who warrants a little more attention.

B.J. Young doesn't look like much. He is a wispy kid, listed at 6'3" and 175 pounds, and when you watch him lope about the court with an easy grin on his face, it appears that he stands a little bit taller and might even be slighter than his alleged weight. With the way he carries himself, he evokes the word "throwback" in every sense.

In the moribund period beginning in 1995-96 and going forward to present, the Hogs have nonetheless occasionally found themselves with the kind of upper-echelon talent usually needed to disrupt the traditional pecking order of Division I basketball. Joe Johnson was homegrown NBA material, but in his two short years as a Razorback he absorbed unfair criticism for not carrying the team enough, and for possibly being overly concerned with launching his professional career. He left without ever winning an NCAA tournament game, and so did Ronnie Brewer, who had loads of skill and yet very little ancillary support thanks to Stan Heath's many notable recruiting misfires.

Young is not Johnson or Brewer, but in the Anderson template, that is not what is asked of him. He is not a rangy swingman in that Johnson/Brewer mold, but he's tall enough to hoist shots from the perimeter and certainly quick enough to exploit a mismatch. When commentators gush about a player's first step, they envision a player like Young, who has shown many times in his freshman campaign that he can get from the three-point arc to the basket in a blink. 

But we've had players like that, too. Kareem Reid and Courtney Fortson were cat-quick, frustratingly uneven performers. Reid matured greatly over the course of his career and became the school's all-time assist leader, as well as a marginally dependable scorer; Fortson left after two years, his potential unsatisfied due to disciplinary issues and an inability to effectively harness the speed and tenacity that allowed him to play well above his stature.

Young isn't Reid or Fortson, but in the Anderson template, that's not what is asked of him. He has been a relatively competent distributor (54 assists) and rebounder (78), though not at the expense of common sense. Whereas Fortson was bedeviled by foolishness, averaging nearly five turnovers per game over his truncated career, Young has had only one game out of 25 where he surrendered possession five times. He does not launch threes with impunity, attempting just less than four long-range tries per outing, but this isn't a function of lacking confidence in his stroke: his marksmanship from beyond the arc is at a healthy 40.4%. Reid and Fortson barely hit 30 percent of their career three-point tries.

Over the years, of course, we have had shooters. Most notably, Rotnei Clarke was brought in to fill a gaping void that existed since Pat Bradley graduated in 1999 with school and conference three-point shooting records in his hip pocket. Clarke was a prodigious gunner, but early in his career was easily defended man to man. Just when he began to cultivate more offensive dimension, he finally grabbed the bags he seemingly kept packed by the door from the moment he arrived, and headed off to Indianapolis to finish his career at Butler next season.

Young isn't Clarke, but in the Anderson template, that is not at all what he is being asked to be. There was no questioning Clarke's pure shooting acumen, but he left plenty to be desired defensively. Young has the kind of ballhawking mentality that makes him adapt very naturally to the system in place, and his myriad offensive skills make him far more difficult for defenses to negate entirely. He is shooting at a 49 percent clip overall and knocking down three-quarters of his free throw tries, percentages that belie his age.

What will ultimately set Young apart, and define his eventual legacy, is how he complements his marvelous physical skills with leadership, that trait of which Hog teams have been bereft for far too long. He has a quiet way about him and seems almost comically detached at times, but not in a bad way. There's a little bit of that Scotty Thurman swagger in him — he's more athletic than Thurman was, but he has to embrace the big-shot mentality that his current assistant coach used to employ. Everyone knows about the rainbow over Antonio Lang, but Thurman made a career out of creating big moments even in seemingly small games.

Young, for his part, could do worse in his own pursuit of a prototype.

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