Just a kid from Canton, Kyle Young took the court inside LeBron James’ former basketball home Sunday morning feeling mostly fine for pregame warm-ups.
Second-ranked Ohio State was getting ready to face No. 22 West Virginia, and the junior forward figured to factor significantly into his team’s plans to close out nonconference play with a perfect record.
It wasn’t until the Buckeyes got back into their locker room at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse about 10 minutes before the opening tipoff that Young threw up more than once. The symptoms led to the belief that Young had a touch of the flu, and once the medical staff cleared him Young insisted on playing.
He toughed it out and pulled down 11 rebounds in 22 minutes in a loss. But when he threw up after the game, too, the training staff took a further look and learned it was more than a touch of the flu.
Sunday night, hours after the game, Young had his appendix removed. He will miss Friday’s Big Ten game against Wisconsin, and coach Chris Holtmann said Thursday that Young is "game-to-game" while also pointing out that there are no easy answers in trying to replace a player of Young’s caliber.
"It’s always next man up," Holtmann said. "I say that also recognizing the value that Kyle brings to this team, which is significant. I don’t want to minimize that at all. He’s had as good a junior year as anyone has had."
Statistically, Young is having the most productive season of his career, averaging 8.3 points and 6.8 rebounds. Both are career-high numbers, but it’s not just about the stat sheet when it comes to his contributions.
A high-energy competitor, Young makes his contributions by using his athleticism and motor to make an impact at both ends of the court. Playing with an appendix that wouldn’t last the rest of the day did nothing to stop that.
"To throw up four times right before the game and then to come in and get 11 boards? That just shows what type of guy he is," sophomore guard Luther Muhammad said. "That’s motivation for us."
It’s not the first time Young has been sidelined. A stress fracture in his right leg cost him four games last season and significantly affected his availability in games while essentially keeping him out of practice. He spent the summer healing, but he was briefly checked at the hospital right before the season with a stomach issue.
"He’s recovering well," Holtmann said. "It’s something that bothered him a little bit in the past, but the timing on that is always a difficult one. (The team doctor) said it was fine for him to go (against the Mountaineers), and then after the game is when they deemed it was potentially an appendix issue."
The Buckeyes have more depth than a season ago in trying to replace Young, a post player who primarily lines up at power forward but can also play center, but they are currently a bit limited.
Freshman forward Alonzo Gaffney has missed practice time since the West Virginia game with the flu. Holtmann pointed to sophomore Justin Ahrens as a player who will have a greater impact than at any point this season, but he continues to work his way back to full capacity after suffering two herniated discs in his back while lifting weights during the summer.
Freshman E.J. Liddell is likely to assume the bulk of Young’s responsibilities. He has averaged 7.6 points and 4.1 rebounds in 16.8 minutes per game, often entering as one of the first substitutes of the game to give Young a break.
"I’m just anxious to see how we respond with some guys stepping in," Holtmann said. "E.J.’s already played a significant role. It’ll be even more so going forward."