COLUMBUS When the NCAA tournament kicks off later this month, Jackson basketball fans will have plenty of reason to tune in.
At least one, and possibly two, former Polar Bears will be in the March Madness field as their team chases a national championship. One, Charleston senior Evan Bailey, is a reserve for a mid-major team leading its conference. Another, Ohio State freshman Kyle Young, has worked his way into the rotation for a team that’s a virtual lock for the tournament and seems destined for a high seed.
"It’s been amazing. The first couple of months here, it was a huge adjustment to college level from high school, but I’m really happy the way things worked out."
Young alluded to the fact the entering his senior season in high school, he was verbally committed to play for Butler. Those plans changed when head coach Chris Holtmann left Butler to take the Ohio State job, with Young electing to follow the coach to Columbus.
Going to a Big Ten school and trying to earn playing time on a team with one of the leading preseason candidates for Big Ten Player of the Year, Keita Bates-Diop.
While his role at Ohio State has been limited on a veteran team, Young has played in all but five games in his freshman campaign. He saw a season-high 22 minutes of action in a mid-February game against rival Michigan and scored a season-best six points in the Buckeyes’ win over the Wolverines in early December.
Getting up to speed at the college level has been a process, one that traces back to the summer, when Young was able to get on the court with some of his new teammates in open gyms.
"Just playing in open gyms with the guys in the summer and noticing the pace was a whole lot different, but guys like Keita really helped me," Young said. "I just realized that I needed to work 10 times hard, spend more time in the weight room in the gym and just always want to get better."
Life off the court has been an adjustment too, mostly from the aspect of time management. College sports take up a larger chunk of time than high school sports, largely due to the extra travel. Midweek road games can mean trips to places such as Iowa, Illinois or Indiana on a Wednesday or Thursday night, upping the degree of difficulty for players to get their school work done while practicing, having shoot arounds or getting ready for a game.
While Young hasn’t finalized his major or zeroed in on what he wants to do once he graduates, he has an eye on working in the sports industry and plans to fine tune his academic plans as he goes along. He spends plenty of time staying in touch with his Jackson coaches and teammates, many of whom follow along and send encouragement when he has a good game or after a tough contest.
Playing at Ohio State has also brought Young’s basketball experience full circle in a way. Entering his senior season at Jackson, his goal was to play two more games at Value City Arena, one in the state semifinals and another in the state championship game last March. In helping lead Jackson to its second state title in program history, he accomplished that goal and walked off the Value City Arena court thinking he had likely played his last game there.
When he changed his commitment to Ohio State, it meant playing his college career on that same court and suiting up there less than a year after winning a state title on the same court, the memories remain strong.
"For sure, there have been a couple different times, whether I’m shooting free throws or in shoot arounds before the game where I’ll catch myself thinking about it," Young said. "I’m always going to have those great memories of that game and winning the title with my friends."
Now that he’s a Buckeye, Young could have as many as four additional years to create memories in Columbus. His hope - and that of his team - is that they also create plenty in the NCAA tournament this season. Whether there is one Jackson alumnus in March Madness or two, it’s safe to say that fans back in Stark County will be rooting for the same thing.
Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
On Twitter: @aharrisBURB