James Young / Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press
CHICAGO — When James Young decided to attend Kentucky, he wanted to be part of the nation’s most rabid fan base.
He knew he would be in the spotlight — the perfect training ground for the NBA.
He arrived from Rochester High School as part of a legendary Wildcats’ recruiting class, ranked as the nation’s No. 10 prospect in the class by Rivals.com.
He helped his team reach the NCAA championship game and was potent enough to realize the NBA was his next step.
Playing at Kentucky, it was easy to see what that level might feel like.
“We always went after each other with the talent we had, and it made everybody better,” Young said last week at the NBA predraft camp in Chicago.
Part of his college experience was the constant presence of NBA scouts, especially at the start of the year with the Wildcats starting five freshmen amid talk of a 40-0 season.
While that success never happened — the Wildcats had six losses in SEC league play — Young and his teammates improved and made a long NCAA tournament run.
“When the big lights came on, it showed we can play,” Young said. “In the Final Four, every one was just calm and didn’t make it a bigger game. I think that really helped us.
“We definitely talked about the NBA, but not to the point of where we think we’re going to go,” Young added about his teammates. “We just take it day by day.”
But after the season, Young met with his father, “and he told me if I was ready, go ahead and jump.”
Kentucky coach John Calipari told Young nearly the same thing.
Averaging 14.3 points showed Young could adjust and fit in with great players, but he certainly wasn’t perfect. He’s being told by teams that he’s a likely shooting guard, but to play in the backcourt in the NBA there are a few other necessities, so he’s refining his skills.
“Rebounding and being able to defend, so I’ve been working on a lot of balance,” Young said. “It’s changed, and I handle the ball a lot more (in workouts), and I’m getting better with my footwork.”
He drew attention early after declaring as he signed with celebrity and newly minted agent, Jay-Z and Roc Nation Sports — Young even sat by Rihanna at a game while training in Los Angeles.
Yet Young is concentrating on improving his stock, which currently is projected as No. 13 in the Draftexpress mock. He said he’s willing to sit on the bench early if necessary and is trying not to let the pressure get to him.
“Don’t overthink it,” Young said. “Just work out and be yourself. It’s stuff you’ve been doing your whole life, so just enjoy it.”
He’s still a Michigan kid, wearing a Bad Boys sweatshirt this past week and planning to get home in the next few weeks before heading to the June 26 draft in New York.
“It doesn’t really matter where I go,” he said. “I just want to fulfill my dreams.”