Maybe it was Kyle Young’s offensive rebound and bucket on Ohio State’s first possession. It could have been the steal in front of his team’s bench a minute later. Or possibly the follow-up dunk in transition to jam home a missed slam from Andre Wesson.
All we know for sure is that it definitely wasn’t the hair.
At some point during No. 10 Ohio State’s 86-51 beatdown of Stetson on Monday, though, Hatters head coach Donnie Jones saw flashes from Young of a player he hasn’t had on his team in over a decade. Somebody whom he surely wishes he could coach again.
“When I was at Florida, we had a guy named Joakim Noah who was a little taller, but that's what he did,” Jones said after the game.
Yeah, he went there.
Young, leading the Buckeyes with a career-high 15 points while making 5-of-5 shots in Monday's win, likely didn’t lend himself to any glimpses of Noah as a scorer. Neither Young nor Noah were, are or will ever be known as prolific bucket-getters.
The 10 rebounds, one block, one steal and relentless energy are what did the trick.
“Those guys, they show up on the stat sheet sometimes with their rebounds and not always their points, but he brings a different toughness,” Jones said. “He knows his role. He knows who he is. You know what you're getting from him every night. He's a winner, competitor. He just impacts winning. And when you bring those kind of guys on your team, those guys give you a chance in March to go very far.”
When asked about the comparison, Young said he hasn’t ever really had anybody likened to his game.
“That's probably the first,” he said.
Not a bad first, either. Noah was a two-time NCAA champion and second-team All-American before becoming the No. 9 pick in the NBA draft, beginning a career that included two All-Star appearances and a Defensive Player of the Year award.
Dating back to his high school days, Young’s motor has stood out to Chris Holtmann and just about any other coach who has seen him. Name any of the oft-cited cliches that could describe someone with that characteristic – hard worker, lots of heart, hustler, first in the gym and last out, gritty, tough, overachiever, gym rat, glue guy – and they’d all fit Young. Always have, always will.
Young, racking his brain to think, said he doesn’t have a favorite stat to record, and his game backs that claim up. Holtmann could think of one, though.
“He's really about W's, really,” Holtmann said. “He's really about the final score.”
For the rest of his basketball career, Young’s passion will define his game.
Yet early in his junior season, it’s clear that the 6-foot-8, 205-pound power forward has expanded his game well beyond cliches. Ohio State’s guards have tossed him the ball and he’s been able to make plays, putting the ball on the deck in certain situations. He tossed up his first 3-pointer of the season in the second half of Monday's win and drilled it.
“Just got to shoot it confidently,” Young said. “I'm a guy, I just like the game to come to me, so I don't really want to force anything. But yeah, if it's there, I'm definitely going to shoot it.”
Young has begun to make advancements as an offensive player while maintaining near-impossible efficiency numbers.
Through four games, he has scored 47 points, making 19 of his 23 shot attempts. In both the season opener against Cincinnati and on Monday night, Young led the Buckeyes in points, which he never did as a freshman or sophomore. He’s averaging 11.8 points and 8.5 rebounds in the four wins to open the season.
“You can see it's a smoother (free-throw) shot, better touch. He's relaxing more at the line,” Holtmann said. “We have tried to throw him the ball in the post some. He's done a good job. He's got to continue to get better at finishing over size, the kind of size he's going to consistently see. I think that's going to be critical. I don't want to make too much of it. What he's really done is played off of others really well and used his athleticism and his energy to impact the games on both ends.”
To ensure his play doesn’t slip in the coming months, Holtmann has had Young’s long-term health and stamina in his head at times, even just four games into the season.
As Young’s sophomore year dragged on, Holtmann saw his starting power forward physically wear down. A stress fracture in his leg that held him out of a few games only exacerbated the issue. With the addition of E.J. Liddell and the lessened need for him to play so many minutes as a de facto undersized center, Holtmann has optimism that Young’s body will hold up better in the spring.
With that in mind, Holtmann understands the difficulty he’ll face of trying to get his power forward to play differently. After all, taming him might not allow Kyle Young to do Kyle Young things on the court.
“He uses his legs so much, right. I don't know that I can limit it, to be honest with you,” Holtmann said. “Because that's who he is as a player is using his live legs and his energy.”
Everything always comes back to those characteristics. It did for Noah, and it does, too, for Young.