Pelicans rookie Patric Young a formidable presence in paint

by Jim Eichenhofer

When New Orleans Pelicans assistant coach Bryan Gates watches 6-foot-9, 240-pound Patric Young play inside the team’s practice facility, he sometimes gets a bit nervous. Not because Gates is intimidated by Young’s chiseled frame, which is similar to a bodybuilder’s. No, Gates jokingly said he’s worried that the city’s other big-league franchise, the New Orleans Saints, might be interested in trying to sign the University of Florida product.

“First of all, keep everybody from across the street away from him,” a smiling Gates said, referring to the Pelicans’ NFL neighbors. “Coach (Sean) Payton and obviously (Saints defensive coordinator Rob) Ryan are not allowed at summer league practice to see big Patric.”

If Young’s intimidating stature weren’t already enough to frighten opponents, he insists he’s also now playing with a “chip on his shoulder” after going undrafted June 26. Following an ultra-successful college career in the SEC with the Gators, the 22-year-old expected to be picked in the late-first or early-second round, but was not selected.

“I don’t want to brag on myself,” Young said when asked Tuesday about his motivation. “But a guy that’s won 120 games, three SEC regular season championships, (been on) numerous winning teams, a guy like that who can establish himself as a well-decorated college player, is a guy that deserves to have his name called in the NBA draft. My phone just didn’t ring (on draft night). I was like, ‘Oh man, I can’t believe this is happening.’ ”

As the Pelicans’ summer league squad continues preparations for Friday’s opening game in Las Vegas vs. the D-League Select team (9:30 p.m. Central), Young sees his undrafted status as a possible blessing in disguise. Instead of being handcuffed to a specific NBA team, Young was able to choose the best fit for him when he weighed his summer options. He and his agent picked the Pelicans partly due to their consistent appreciation of Young’s pro potential.

“Beginning with the combine, this was the team that showed the most interest in me,” Young said of choosing New Orleans. “If they had another (draft) pick, I think they would’ve taken (fellow Pelicans rookie) Russ (Smith) and I. But I was so happy that they really wanted me to just come in here and do what I do best. They see me as a little Ben Wallace, and I’m perfectly happy playing that role. It was a good feeling, feeling as though I was really wanted here. Rather than just being a guy who was undrafted and just gets thrown on a (roster). They really wanted me here the whole time.”

Two weeks after signing with the Pelicans to play on their summer league team, the Jacksonville native will play in an NBA contest for the first time Friday, his initial chance to prove that he was wrongly snubbed on draft night. Young, who averaged 11.0 points and 6.2 rebounds as a Florida senior, sounds determined to start making an impression immediately.

“I have to have the mindset that 29 teams passed up on me,” he said. “I believe in myself that I can contribute to any team in the country. I’m not saying I’m going to come in and score X amount of points, but I can come in and be a guy who is reliable, that can play defense and rebound. I’ve got to have a chip on my shoulder that I was undrafted but deserved to be (drafted). I’ve got to be the most aggressive, angry guy out there, starting with summer league, every single game.”