WALTHAM, Mass. – For so many years the game of basketball came easy – almost too easy – for James Young.
He stood out on a young Kentucky team that played at the highest levels, delivering the kind of performances as an 18-year-old college freshman that catapulted him into the first round of the NBA draft.
To be so young and already having achieved a childhood dream, to be in the NBA, Young was too young to realize how quickly the dream could become a nightmare if he didn't put in the necessary work.
The past couple of weeks have not been easy for Young, aware that the Celtics were torn as to whether they should keep him around this season or waive him.
They choose the former and instead waived his now-ex teammate R.J. Hunter, on Hunter’s 23rd birthday no less.
One of the first acts Young said he planned to do following Monday's practice was to reach out to Hunter, offer words of encouragement to a player he looked upon as a brother, a brother who is in a state of basketball limbo right now which could have easily been the latest chapter in James Young’s basketball narrative.
And that’s why as happy as Young is to still be donning the Green and White, his work towards proving himself to this team, to this franchise is far from done.
You listen to veterans like Jae Crowder, a second-round pick who has come up the hard way in the NBA, they speak of how Young now takes the game more serious.
Even Young acknowledged that he didn’t take the NBA game and the need to work at staying in the league as serious as he should have initially.
“I wasn’t playing as hard (early on),” Young admitted. “I just was satisfied being where I was, being too comfortable. My confidence was down. I have to change that around.”
Crowder, a straight-no-chaser kind of fellow, said as much when I asked him about the changes he has seen in Young.
“He’s taking stuff a little more serious,” Crowder said. “It’s growing up. He came in as a first-round draft pick and was on the borderline of getting cut. I don’t know what else is going to wake you up.”
That’s part of what made this decision so difficult and on some levels, left players with mixed emotions about the decision.
For those of us who followed this team through training camp, there was no question that Young had the better camp.
But the one thing that was never questioned with Hunter, was his work ethic. He made his share of mistakes and missed more shots than a player with a sharpshooter's reputation should, but you never got a sense it had anything to do with him not working as hard as he needed to.
That was among the more notable issues with Young who came into the league as an 18-year-old. That youth probably worked for him as opposed to Hunter who played three years of college basketball and was expected to be seemingly more NBA-ready.
Even though Hunter’s NBA future is on uncertain ground now, he’s too young and too talented to not get at least one more crack with an NBA team.
And by Boston waiving him, he really does become a low-risk, high-reward prospect that an NBA team might want to take a closer look at with their club.
And Young remains a Celtic, doing all that he can to climb up the pecking order which now has him as the clear-cut 15th man on the roster.
He might see more minutes than rookie Demetrius Jackson and possibly second-year forward Jordan Mickey, but Young’s future with the Boston Celtics is still on relatively thin ice.
“I told him this morning, this might be the first time he’s earned anything in his life,” said Danny Ainge, Boston’s president of basketball operations. “He earned this by his play, day-in and day-out. He was given a lot as a young kid with a lot of promise, a lot of potential. We talked about earlier this summer, he had to come out and win a spot with some good competition and he did. He needs to keep doing what he’s doing.”
More than anything else, Young has been consistent in his effort, overall energy and attention to detail. But it remains to be seen if Young has done all that to just secure a roster spot, or has he truly grown up and figured out what has to be done in order to be an NBA player.