Before Kentucky's Feb. 15 game against then-No. 3 Florida in Rupp Arena, Wildcats coach John Calipari showed his team a video of the Gators' win at Tennessee three days earlier. Calipari specifically wanted them to see a loose ball rebound that senior forward Patric Young grabbed with just under a minute left, which sealed a 67-58 win. It was a remarkable play. After taking the errant shot, Young dove to the floor between two Volunteers, corralled the ball, lifted his feet to stay in bounds and spun his body so he could shovel the ball to a teammate. Upon showing his team full of freshman the play, Calipari drove home his point. He wanted his young team to be more of a Young team.
"I said to them, what are you willing to do to win a game?" Calipari said, recounting the exchange during a press conference later that day. "I know what he's willing to do to win a game. I saw it. Now you look at it."
Plenty of folks have been watching top-ranked Florida this season, but they're not always looking at Patric Young, a 6-foot-9, 240-pound forward from Jacksonville. Young is a three-year starter whose numbers are respectable but hardly overwhelming: He is the Gators' fourth-leading scorer (10.9 ppg) and second-leading rebounder (6.2). In that respect, Young embodies a narrative that runs counter to just about everything we've heard about college basketball. Coming out of high school, he was projected to be a likely candidate to leave college after a year or two to enter the NBA draft. Yet, here he is, a college senior who is in many ways the most valuable player on the nation's best team. Young may have a body that looks like it is carved from marble, but it is his heart and mind that have propelled the Gators to great heights.
Alas, effort and guile don't show up on the stat sheet. And even when those plays are counted, the numbers don't reflect their value. That loose ball dive at Tennessee, Young says, "meant so much more than just a rebound." There is, however, one way that such contributions can be given their proper meaning, and that is by naming Patric Young the captain of the 2014 SI.com All-Glue team.
It's hard to believe, but it was 14 years ago that SI first coined the term "Glue Guy" and named an All-Glue team for college basketball. My colleague Alex Wolff and I came up with the idea for a story that was published in SI's 2000 NCAA tournament preview issue. From there, I have taken up the sticky mantle as a way to salute players whose contributions are difficult to quantify yet impossible to replace. Since that first installment, the phrase "Glue Guy" has become a part of the basketball lexicon, reaffirming the true fan's appreciation of the impact such players have on winning.
It is not the role that Young envisioned as a high school senior, when he was named a McDonald's All-American and was invited to play for USA Basketball's Under-18 national team. Young believed he could step into college and dominate just as he did in high school, so when Florida coach Billy Donovan assigned him a reserve role for most of his freshman season, Young did not handle it well. His attitude in practice was so bad that Donovan called Young into his office midway through the season and delivered a stern warning.
"He said, 'If you don't change, you might as well transfer,'" Young recalls. "That was a starting process for me to let go of a lot of things and become a lot more coachable. I had to do some soul searching."
Young's struggle is all too common in overly hyped high schoolers. "Being a McDonald's All-American can really help you, but it can also hurt you," Young says. "You get to college with all these expectations, even before you've had your first practice, before you've ever been to a class. Coming in, I put those unrealistic expectations on myself. When I wasn't able to fulfill them, it led to frustration."
After averaging 3.4 points and 3.8 rebounds that season, Young was promoted to the starting lineup as a sophomore, yet he continued to bridle at not being a primary option in the Gators' offense. "I was still dealing with wanting to be that guy," he says. The tension continued into Young's junior year. In the season's sixth game, Donovan sent Young a message by removing him from the starting lineup for a game against Marquette. Young responded with 10 points, 10 rebounds, three blocks, three steals and two assists in 22 minutes, helping the Gators to a 33-point win.
That proved to be a turning point. From that point on, Young has learned not only to accept his role, but also to embrace and enjoy it. That has enabled him to put his personal stamp on the basketball team -- and the greater community. Besides being a gifted player, Young is top-notch student who carries 3.37 grade-point average in telecommunications and has twice been named the SEC's Scholar Athlete of the Year. He was the only SEC player named to an Academic All-America team last year as chosen by the College Sports Information Directors of America.
Young is also a man of faith who is active in community service. Last summer, he went on a mission to the Ivory Coast with Athletes in Action; and during a visit to a hospital in Gainesville, he and his fellow senior teammate, Will Yeguete, befriended a four-year-old boy named Kaedyn Ballew who has been fighting leukemia since he was 10 months old. Young also volunteers on a weekly basis as a math tutor at a local elementary school. "It's amazing how much those kids love us and how much they care about basketball," he says. "It's very cool being able to impact them like that."
Young has that same effect on his teammates, for better or worse. "Coach Donovan calls it a blessing and a curse," he says. "The blessing is that I can affect everyone with my attitude, but the curse is, if my attitude isn't good, it brings us down. So I have a responsibility to decide how I'm going to impact this team."
It is no coincidence that on the best team in the country, the player with highest impact is also a man of high character. More than anything else, that is what makes Patric Young a worthy choice to captain the All-Glue team. It has been a long road from trying to be that guy to becoming a Glue Guy, but Young finally got there. Whatever happens in over the next few weeks, he will leave Florida as a winner.
Here is the rest of the 2014 SI.com All-Glue team, followed by a list of all the past winners:
Tekele Cotton, 6-2 junior guard, Wichita State
If you've seen Cotton's redonkulous one-handed jam on a baseline drive at Illinois State earlier this season that garnered more than 300,000 views on YouTube, it might surprise you to hear that when he steps off the court, Cotton is as soft-spoken as they come. His mother attributes that to a childhood illness that robbed him of his hearing until he had corrective surgery at the age of four.
No matter. Cotton has earned his spot on this team by silencing a plethora of guards who are not used to having a defender stick to them like glue. "He's a tremendous competitor," Shockers coach Gregg Marshall says. "He cuts passing lanes. He keeps people in front of him. He contests jump shots. He blocks shots. His jump shot is hit or miss, but if people play off of him, he can hit big shots."
Cotton has also come a long way in addressing that weakness. After a miserable 0-for-10 performance against Creighton last year, Cotton dedicated himself to improving his jump shot. It paid off during the Shockers' run to the Final Four last year, during which he shot 6-for-12 from three-point range. This season, Cotton has been especially efficient in his last six games, making 15-for-27 from behind the arc.
Yet, there's no question that Cotton's lockdown D will be his calling card once again in the postseason. It is one of the main reasons Wichita State went undefeated and enters the tournament as a favorite to make it to Arlington, Texas. Should they pull off that remarkable feat, don't expect Cotton to have a lot to say about it. He's a Glue Guy, after all. He's content to let his game do the talking.
Josh Gasser, 6-3 junior guard, Wisconsin
Badgers coach Bo Ryan is known for giving entertaining, long-winded answers during his postgame press conferences. Yet, he was a man of few words when he was asked in December how his team found the resolve to win grind-it-out, back-to-back games over Virginia and Marquette despite struggling on offense. "Josh Gasser," Ryan replied. Next question.
Gasser has been the answer to many of Wisconsin's challenges this season. Besides always being assigned to guard the opponent's best perimeter player, Gasser is a natural point guard who moved to the wing because of the improvement of 6-2 junior Traevon Jackson. Gasser has adjusted to that role without losing his playmaking efficiency. During the regular season, he had twice as many assists (50) as turnovers (25). Though he has the highest three-point percentage (45.6) among the players in Ryan's eight-man rotation, Gasser ranks fifth on the team in both scoring (9.4) and shot attempts (158).
That Gasser is willing to sacrifice his scoring for the betterment of the team is not a surprise. What is amazing, however, is the way he has bounced back from the devastating knee injury he suffered before the start of last season. Gasser tore both the ACL and meniscus in his left knee, which required major reconstructive surgery and forced him to redshirt. His value as a Glue Guy started soon after he suffered that injury, when he attacked his rehab with the same tenacity he brings to playing defense.
"The way he went through is rehab, all the hours he was in the training room and the weight room, I thought was a real inspiration to the guys," Ryan says. "He's still doing rehab because he has a lot of soreness, but when you watch our games, who takes more charges than Josh Gasser? Who sticks his face more into a crowd? I know we use these words for a lot of players, but it's true. He is by far the glue on this team."
Ryan attributes Gasser's defensive prowess to his "disposition to dominate." It took a while for Ryan to notice that mean streak while he was recruiting Gasser out of Port Washington (Wis.) High. At first, Ryan was unimpressed, but he reconsidered because some of his former players recommended Gasser after playing against him in pickup games. Ryan decided to offer Gasser a scholarship after seeing him sprain his ankle badly in an AAU game, only to return to the game and lead his team to a victory by repeatedly driving to the basket. "He's one of those rare players who truly cares about defense and never takes a possession off," Ryan says. "We could have easily missed on him, but I'm sure glad we didn't."
Justin Jackson, 6-foot-8 senior forward, Cincinnati
It was a hard choice between Jackson and his rangy teammate, 6-7 Titus Rubles. But I have a soft spot for players who take a big leap between their junior and senior seasons. Jackson went from averaging 3.8 points on 42 percent shooting last year to 11.0 ppg on 55 percent shooting this season. On a team that relies on its defense to produce much of its offense, Jackson has been an eraser, a thief and a finisher on the break. He led the American Conference (and ranked 18th nationally) in blocks while also ranking sixth in the conference in rebounds (7.0) and seventh in steals (1.7). And when he makes a big play on either end of the floor, Jackson rocks the best "mean face" in all of college hoops. That's got to count for something.
Coming out of Arlington Country Day High in Cocoa Beach, Fla., Jackson was a quintessential diamond in the rough. He was even a Glue Guy on his AAU team, which featured high-scoring guards Austin Rivers and Brandon Knight. Acting on a tip from former recruiting analyst Dave Telep, Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin found Jackson on the summer circuit and watched him play several games. "He was undersized even back then, but he could really run the floor and block shots," Cronin says. "He takes pride in his defense. He knows how important screening is. He understands the importance of everything that goes on in basketball that doesn't involve scoring."
Like many smaller pivot men, Jackson came to college believing that his best shot at a pro career required becoming a face-up small forward. It took three years, but Cronin finally convinced Jackson that his best hope at a future in basketball was to make himself a demon in the paint. Jackson hit the weight room last summer and worked on his post moves, but it wasn't until he accepted his role mentally that he began to take off -- and take the Bearcats with him. After Jackson got 14 deflections in a win over SMU this season, Mustangs coach Larry Brown said Jackson reminds him of Ben Wallace. "Glue Guys can get paid a lot of money," Cronin says. "Look at Tyson Chandler. That's not just a Glue Guy, that's a max-paid Glue Guy. Justin is an energy guy for us, and he has been one of our main leaders. I don't know where we'd be without him."
T.J. McConnell, 6-1 junior guard, Arizona
I usually don't include point guards on my All-Glue team because the position is inherently glamorous, but McConnell earned his spot by providing a critical, steadying hand on this team full of gazelles.
McConnell is Arizona's sixth-leading scorer at 8.3 points per game, but he could be averaging a lot more if he were on a less talented team. We know this because McConnell once played for a less talented team at Duquesne, where he averaged double-figure scoring during his first two seasons. If anything, his current coach thinks McConnell might be too selfless in this regard. "In an age where every college player seems like he's in a hurry to get to the NBA, T.J. is motivated by playing in the NCAA tournament and being on a championship team," Sean Miller says. "He's really enjoying the college experience."
McConnell has done a masterful job running Miller's offense, ranking first in the Pac-12 (and sixth nationally) in assist-to-turnover ratio. He was especially good down the stretch of the regular season, totaling 38 assists to just six turnovers over his final six games. McConnell has been just as effective on the defensive end, ranking third in the conference in steals with 1.93 per game. "In a lot of ways, I think Nick Johnson is the most outstanding player on the team, but T.J. is the glue," Arizona State coach Herb Sendek said last month. "He makes everybody better."
Miller is not the least bit surprised that McConnell has had this much impact. They are both Pittsburgh natives whose fathers coached against each other at their respective high schools. Miller saw McConnell up close early in his sophomore season, when McConnell had nine points, six rebounds, four assists and three steals in Duquesne's loss to Arizona at the McKale Center. After the game, Miller said to his wife, Amy, "Man, I'd love to have a point guard like that." So when McConnell announced his intentions to transfer, Miller did not need to be convinced the kid could help him win a national championship. Nor did McConnell need to be convinced that Arizona would give him that opportunity.
"Part of being a Glue Guy isn't necessarily what you do on game day. It's what you do every day," Miller says. "T.J. is consumed with winning. He embodies all the qualities you would want in a walk-on, in a sixth man, and especially your top players. We've won a lot of games this season because of our chemistry and our leadership. T.J. has given us both of those things."
Akil Mitchell, 6-8 senior forward, Virginia
Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett believed that Mitchell had potential coming out of high school, but the coach figured it would take some time for Mitchell to develop. Virginia was the only high-major school that offered him a scholarship, and Bennett had some older forwards who were likely to beat him out for playing time.
However, during Mitchell's first season in Charlottesville, a couple of those forwards got hurt. Mitchell seized that opportunity, and his rapid improvement took Bennett by surprise. "We were doing four-man workouts in the preseason, and Akil was just so aggressive. You saw flashes of what he could be," Bennett says. "He was always really quick for his size, but he got stronger and he learned to anticipate. He was just so hungry to get better, and he learned to embrace whatever role would make his team better."
As a junior, that meant being a primary scorer. Mitchell averaged 13.1 points and 8.9 rebounds last season, but the Cavaliers failed to make the NCAA tournament. This season, after the team lost four games in the nonconference, Mitchell and one of his fellow seniors, 6-3 guard Joe Harris, decided they needed to show better leadership and pledged to convince their teammates to rededicate to defense. Mitchell's size, smarts and versatility make him the ultimate asset in Bennett's pack-line, man-to-man D. He has averaged 7.2 points and 7.0 rebounds, but those numbers don't begin to explain his contributions in helping Virginia claim its first ACC regular season championship in 33 years.
"Defensively, he's able to be in two places at once. He can show on a ball screen and get back to his guy," Bennett says. "He's very quick, so he can cover a lot of gaps. He guards multiple positions. He rebounds. He runs the floor. He gets people open on screens. He gets on the offensive glass. Players like him, I call them servants. When the guy doing that is one of your senior leaders, that's a powerful thing to have on your team."
Honorable mentions: Jerami Grant, Syracuse; Briante Weber, VCU; J.J. O'Brien, San Diego State; Denzel Valentine, Michigan State; Grant Gibbs, Creighton; Melsahn Basabe, Iowa; Brian Voelkel, Vermont; Halil Kanacevic, Saint Joseph's; Jordan Fouse, UW-Green Bay; J.P Tokoto, North Carolina; Hugh Greenwood, New Mexico; Dustin Hogue, Iowa State; Amile Jefferson, Duke; Derrick Gordon, UMass; Stephen Van Tresse, Louisville.
Past All-Glue Teams
2008: Stanley Burrell, Xavier (captain); Tory Jackson, Notre Dame; Dave Pendergraft, Gonzaga; Derrick Jasper, Kentucky; Justin Mason, Texas; Wisconsin (glue team).
2001: Sergio McClain, Illinois (captain); Nate James, Duke; Luke Walton, Arizona; Justin Hamilton, Florida; Marcus Toney-El, Seton Hall; Jason Capel, North Carolina.