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Kentucky guard James Young proved his doubters wrong with Final Four performance

  • Kentucky guard James Young, shown here during the second half of the NCAA Championship game against UConn, declared himself eligible for the NBA Draft after one year playing for the Wildcats. Young, a Rochester High School graduate, averaged more than 27 points his senior year of high school for the Falcons. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
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Former Rochester star was the best freshman on the court in Monday's championship game

EDITOR'S NOTE: Scroll through the photo slideshow above for a look at James Young's freshman season at Kentucky. And check out the video of his highlight-reel dunk against UConn at the bottom of this column.

Oh, how far he’s traveled in just a year.

According to some, Rochester’s James Young wasn’t the No. 1, or even the No. 2 high school hoopster in the state of Michigan last winter.

He finished third in the 2013 Mr. Basketball vote – behind Flint Beecher’s Monte Morris (Iowa State) and Harper Woods Chandler Park Academy’s Derrick Walton, Jr. (Michigan) – and endured quite a bit of critiquing in certain area coaching, scouting and media circles.

Now, it’s Young, the University of Kentucky’s silky-smooth 6-foot-7 freshman swingman that is able to have the last laugh.

In fact, he’ll most likely be laughing all the way to the bank very soon.

Young was the best player on the court for Kentucky during the recently-concluded NCAA Final Four in Dallas, leading the Wildcats in scoring in both their semifinal win over Wisconsin Saturday (17 points, five rebounds) and in their loss to Connecticut Monday in the championship game (20 points, seven rebounds).

For the season, he averaged nearly 15 points per outing and was his team’s top perimeter threat.

It wasn’t just any team, either. The 2014 Kentucky Wildcats featured the greatest recruiting class of all-time (a record six McDonald’s All-Americans) and for the first time since Michigan's vaunted Fab 5 in 1992, started five freshmen on a club that advanced into the NCAA title-tilt.

Many around these parts last year contended that Young wasn’t that special and that he would get lost in the “Blue-Chip shuffle” at the college level under head coach John Calipari in Lexington.

Instead, he thrived.

Analysts already have him pegged as an early-to-mid first-round pick in the upcoming NBA Draft this summer and there’s a good chance he’ll be off to the pro ranks in a matter of days.

Strangely, and in some ways, sadly, the people in Young’s own hometown, his own home state, never truly embraced him. At least not in the way it had with others of his ilk in the past such as Chris Webber or Shane Battier in the 1990s.

A portion of it was misunderstanding (the off-the-court politics that surrounded his senior-season transfer to Rochester from Troy that had very little to do with him or basketball). A portion of it was just refusing to see, or not being able to see what was right there before peoples' very eyes.

This is written in all due respect to Monte Morris and Derrick Walton, but they were never the high school player Young was and they will never be the college player he was.

Plain and simple, James Young is a rare breed, a once in a generation talent. Too bad, it took until this year's NCAA Tournament for a lot of Michiganders to realize that and not when he was right here in our midst.

Scott M. Burnstein is a regular contributor to MIPrepZone and The Oakland Press. Make sure to check out his BURNEY'S BYTES blog.

Last Updated: 4/8/2014 11:12:40 AM EST

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