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June 17, 2011Florida forward Patric Young understands the expectations that come along with representing his country on the basketball court. He also understands the demands associated with playing for Billy Donovan.
Young, a 6-foot-9 sophomore, soon may get the chance to do both at the same time.
Young is one of 21 players competing for spots on the 12-member USA Basketball men's under-19 national team that will play in the FIBA World Championships on June 30-July 10 in Latvia. Tryouts begin today and run through June 24 at Colorado Springs, Colo.
This opportunity could allow Young to win his second gold medal in as many years. Young helped the United States win the FIBA Americas under-18 championship last summer in San Antonio.
"When you put on that 'USA' jersey, it's a completely different thing because you're playing for your country," Young said. "You want to prove we're the most dominant country in everything and that we need to win every game. There are going to be some high expectations associated with that."
In a sense, Young also will be representing his school and he'll company in that regard. Florida sophomore guard Scottie Wilbekin also is trying out, and Gators coach Billy Donovan will work as an assistant coach during this training camp that runs until the U.S. team leaves for Latvia on June 24. The official U.S. team staff includes George Mason's Paul Hewitt as head coach with Randy Bennett of Saint Mary's and Jacksonville's Cliff Warren as assistants.
This golden opportunity for Young arrives just as he enters a critical phase of his development. Florida returns starting guards Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton, but the Gators' chances of competing for a Final Four bid could depend on how well they replace departed big men Vernon Macklin and Alex Tyus. Young is the most likely candidate to fill the void.
Florida's only frontcourt players who averaged as much as 10 minutes per game last year are Young and 6-10 junior forward Erik Murphy, who has been suspended from the team while he faces misdemeanor criminal trespass charges. Young has the greatest upside of anyone on Florida's roster, though he still has plenty to prove on one end of the floor.
After arriving on campus with an NBA-ready body plus a reputation as a physical and tenacious defender, Young lived up to his billing on defense last season. He posted a team-high 31 blocks despite playing just 17.8 minutes per game. Young's defensive ability explains why he is considered such an intriguing pro prospect. The Web site draftexpress.com projects Young as the No. 8 overall pick in next year's NBA draft.
"I really do embrace my defense, having that ability to turn a guy over and pump my team up," Young said. "It really excites me, being able to race a guy fullcourt and block his shot."
His offense, though, remains very much a work in progress. Young averaged 3.4 points per game as a freshman and scored in double figures just twice.
The Gators didn't need him to score much as a freshman. While Walker and Boynton figure to provide most of the offense again this season, somebody needs to replace the combined 20.4 points that Macklin and Tyus provided last year. Some of that will come from guards Brad Beal, a touted true freshman, and Mike Rosario, a transfer from Rutgers. But Florida doesn't want all of its points to come from the backcourt.
"I'm not going to be the type of guy who makes his own shot off the dribble, but I can take shots out of a pick-and-roll," Young said. "I'm not just going to come in next year and be all about scoring. I'm going to take the right shots and do what's best for the team."
Playing on the U.S. under-19 team won't necessarily help him add polish to his offense. Young notes that the international game offers a different style of basketball than what he sees in the SEC. But the pressure that comes from representing your country should help prepare him for the expectations he will encounter as he enters his sophomore year with Florida having legitimate Final Four aspirations.
Florida overhauled its coaching staff, as former head coaches John Pelphrey (Arkansas) and Norm Roberts (St. John's) came aboard after Wyoming hired away Larry Shyatt and Richard Pitino returned to Louisville. But the actual roster features plenty of familiar faces.
The return of Boynton and Walker means that Florida brings back its top two scorers from a team that went 29-8 and reached the NCAA Southeast Regional final last season. Florida lost 74-71 to Butler in overtime after owning a nine-point lead with just over seven minutes left in the second half.
"As soon as we lost - like the day afterward - we talked about how we have to make it back there," Young said. "We can't be like a few guys before us who got a taste of it and never got a chance to make it back. We're so motivated to get back there and get to the Final Four this time."
Florida will have a tough time getting there without a breakthrough from Young, who must heed the advice Donovan gave him after his freshman season.
"He told me I just need to focus and keep my head on straight - not to listen to all the things I hear about how good I am," Young said. "When people are trying to praise me for things, I have to focus on working hard and getting better for the team."
Young could hear plenty more pep talks from Donovan over the next few days. Not that he's going to need them: The red, white and blue draped across his body should give him all the motivation he needs.
Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.