For Immediate Release March 6, 2016
KCKCC's CLAY YOUNG ENJOYING FRUITS OF KU's 12TH BIG 12 TITLE
One of three Jayhawk walk-ons, Lansing grad looking forward to Big 12 tournament
By ALAN HOSKINS
What shapes up as one of the most competitive Big 12 basketball tournaments in recent history is going to be extra big for one Kansas Jayhawk.
"It's going to be a great tournament with so many good teams but because I'm from Kansas City and my family will be there, it's really going to be special," says Clay Young, a walk-on Jayhawk from Lansing who started his collegiate basketball career at Kansas City Kansas Community College. Seeded No. 1, KU is scheduled to meet the winner of Wednesday's Kansas State-Oklahoma State game in quarterfinal action Thursday at 1:30 p.m.
So far the season has been everything Young could have hoped for and more. He's helped cut down the nets on a 12th straight KU Big 12 championship; experienced Late Night at Allen Fieldhouse; played in the Maui Invitational in Hawaii; made the Dean's Honor Roll academically; and lives in KU's new McCarthy Hall with the rest of the Jayhawk team.
"I have my own bedroom but three roommates," says Young, who shares accommodations with starters Frank Mason and Landon Lucas and top reserve Brandon Greene. Under a recent change in NCAA rules allowing student athletes to receive meals, he eats with the team in dining rooms or at the Fieldhouse where dinner is catered after practice.
He's one of three walk-ons but the only underclassman. The others are Evan Manning, son of KU All-American Danny Manning, and Tyler Self, son of Jayhawk head coach Bill Self. Both are seniors. "We're at the end of the bench so we talk a lot more," says Young. "Coming in I obviously didn't know anyone but all my teammates are good guys and we all get along real well."
As a walk-on, Young has played in only seven games but that was not unexpected. "I knew what was expected, get good grades and be a person of good character," he says. "Coach Self pretty much told me straight forward that as a walk-on I would not play much. For the most part I play defense in practice or four on four in half court. I just wanted to be a part of it."
His first (and only) field goal this season came against Holy Cross. "It was a pretty big moment for me. It was a fast break layup and I did a little reverse at the end. It was not my intention, it just happened real fast."
His first point came on the second of two free throws against Chaminade at the Maui Invitational but he's remembered more for the first one – an air ball that brought a grin from Self. "I took some ribbing about that but I made up for it by making the second. It was my first time in Hawaii. Being there playing basketball in paradise is pretty hard to beat but it was a business trip. We were there to win. We did get a few hours on the beach after winning the tournament."
As a 6-5 forward, Young now finds himself much under-sized. "Everyone now is so much bigger, athletic and skilled," Young has found. "You back off and they'll make an open shot; you get close and they drive past you. But the biggest difference is the game intensity – and practice intensity for sure. Coach Self does a good job of doing what you're supposed to be doing. He's looking to win."
Packed houses, especially at Allen Fieldhouse, brings in another aspect. "Playing in Allen Fieldhouse is hard to describe. It's unlike any other arena I've ever played. The first time it hit me was at Late Night at the Phog in October, looking up and see how big it looked and all the people. I told my parents (Tom and Teresa Young) I felt like it was a video game. Iowa State also has a good atmosphere and pretty loud and K-State is very loud. But none has the consistency or the history at Allen Fieldhouse. It's special for everyone who has ever played there."
Young was front and center following KU's win over Texas Tech that clinched a 12th straight Big 12 title, climbing the ladder to cut down a piece of the net. "The whole ceremony and being on the court was pretty unreal," says Young. "I was a little nervous getting on the ladder with everyone looking at me."
As a freshman at KCKCC, Young averaged 10.0 points, 5.6 rebounds and earned Academic All-American recognition only to tear his anterior cruciate ligament in the second game of his sophomore season. The injury probably cost KCKCC a berth in the NJCAA national tournament. Playing with just seven players, the Blue Devils lost in the regional championship game to Hesston. "We were one player short all season and with my experience I think we could have made a big tournament run," says Young.
Even with the injury, he stayed close to the basketball team and earned an Associates in Arts degree. His first semester at KU, he had four A's and one B to make the Dean's Honor Roll. A junior academically, he'll have two more years of basketball eligibility.
He still gets back to KCKCC to watch his younger brother, Trevor, a freshman on the Blue Devil basketball team that just won the Region VI championship for the first time. "Trevor won a ring while playing on the state championship team at Lansing so he told his brother 'You may play at KU' but I've got a ring," says their mother, Teresa. "Now both are getting championship rings this season."
Young will be in the Sprint Center for the Big 12 Tournament for the second time. He played in KU's game there against Oregon State in December. A year ago this time, he was pondering his future. "It just happened last spring. Coach (Kelley) Newton was wanting to make a decision on what I wanted to do. I wanted to go to KU to go to school and I thought why not try to walk-on. Coach Newton had some contacts with the staff and put my name out there, got my foot in the door and I guess they liked me."
But had he not been injured? "I think about that now and then," he says. "I think if I had a successful season at KCKCC, I could have played Division II. I definitely would not be in the position I'm in but I believe everything happens for a reason. I know I would not change a thing; everything has turned out for the best."