Before the 2020-21 season even tipped off, Kyle Young knew he’d have a decision to make come springtime. The NCAA’s October decision to offer all winter athletes a blanket waiver to extend their eligibility by one year meant the senior suddenly had a chance to play two more seasons of basketball for Ohio State if he so desired.
Young thought about it, as he put it, “pretty much the majority of the year.” For a while, it was in the back of his mind. Toward the end of the season, it started becoming more real.
Then came the concussions. First, he suffered one late in the Feb. 21 loss to Michigan. It kept him out of games for one week. Once recovered, he says he was “feeling great.” But then in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals on March 12, an inadvertent elbow from Purdue’s Trevion Williams left him concussed once more. Young didn’t immediately feel the symptoms that came on three weeks beforehand, but “everything kind of came on” once he got to the huddle on the bench. After getting tested for a concussion behind the bench area, an athletic trainer escorted him to the locker room.
Young didn’t return to that game, missed the next two in the conference tournament and remained sidelined as Ohio State got upset by Oral Roberts in the first round of the NCAA tournament seven days after suffering his second concussion.
“The way everything ended, just not being able to play and stuff like that wasn't sitting right with me,” Young said on Friday. “But also my thought process was kind of like, did I want this to be my last year playing in an Ohio State uniform?”
Any other year, his NCAA eligibility clock simply would have run out and he would have had to move on to begin a professional career. Because of the pandemic, he now had options. Young took some time after the season to speak with agents. His goal was to get to know them, and while they didn’t get too detailed in their plans, they did lay out some possible overseas leagues in which he could play.
To Young, the process was “kind of overwhelming.” He’s as low-key as they come in the sport. Not an attention-seeker on or off the court.
What ultimately helped Young make up his mind was the guys he couldn’t play alongside in the last week of Ohio State’s season, his love of playing college basketball for the school and program that he long ago fell for.
“After weighing out my options, in my heart I love this place and I want to do another year,” Young said. “That's what it came down to – being close to my family and coming back and playing with these guys. This team is amazing. The coaching staff's amazing.”
While Young calls the experience of last season “great” and touts the “special” chemistry the team had, he also doesn’t want to go through what he described as a “COVID year” again. Players constantly got tested for coronavirus, had to keep their distance from those outside of the program and played in empty arenas. It was nobody’s idea of the full college basketball experience.
During the 2021-22 season, the expectation for Young and everybody else on the team will be that they won’t have to worry about coronavirus, testing and playing in “bubbles.”
Young anticipates getting a chance to go out in front of packed arenas. He anticipates playing down the road from his family one last time. And he anticipates being on the floor in meaningful postseason games in a way he couldn’t last season.
“Just being able to have a full year that feels more normal and then just compete in the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments at the level I would like to,” Young said. “It's really about having another year, being able to play in front of Buckeye Nation and these amazing fans and my family.”
Now a little over a month from the end of the season, Young says he feels “back to normal” at 100 percent health. He took some time after the season ended to fully heal before starting to work out again.
The late-season concussions never truly factored into Young’s decision to stay at Ohio State, he says. The now-fifth-year senior admits that multiple concussions can be “potentially very dangerous” for an athlete, but he also “tried to not let that be too big of a factor in my decision just because injuries could happen at any time, anywhere.”
Instead, he let his feelings for Ohio State, his family and the people invested in the basketball program guide his decision.
“At the end of the day, I'm happy with my decision because of how much I love this place, how much I love my teammates, my coaches and I'm close to my family as well,” Young said. “Those are all things that definitely weighed into it. I'm happy with the decision I made.”