From tragedy to glory, Ohio State's Kyle Young persevered on tough path
First things first: Kyle Young is not broken, nor has he ever been.
This is the week of senior day for the Ohio State men’s basketball team, and Young’s mother, Mary, is enjoying a conversation about her youngest child and all the things that have endeared him to Buckeyes fans. But she wants to make one thing clear.
“We need to stop talking about him like he’s broken,” she says.
Yes, he’s dealt with his share of injuries during his time at Ohio State. But it’s not the injuries, or the lows, that define what Young has been about for the Buckeyes.
As he approaches Saturday's senior day game against Illinois, he’s been defined by the toughness and heart that have carried him from tragedy to glory.
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Through loss, a bond grows
The arc of Young’s college career takes a jarring and emotional loss about a month before his junior season at Massillon Jackson High School. His father, Mark, succumbed to a battle with multiple sclerosis that lasted nearly 30 years and confined him to a wheelchair for his youngest son’s entire life.
Such a devastating loss could have derailed the future plans for a 17-year-old rising basketball star, but that’s not what Jackson coach Tim Debevec saw.
“He’s been through a lot, something that he’s handled pretty well for a young man that lost his father at a young age,” Debevec said. “He grew up quick.
"Not a lot of people go through that, and it was tough for him, but he handled it professionally and he still set his goals high about winning a state championship and being a good player. He worked hard at that.”
As Young was grieving the loss of his father, he was in the midst of a recruitment that had him debating a choice between Butler and a coaching staff he was growing closer with and Ohio State, which was only a two-hour drive away.
The Bulldogs won that battle thanks to the special relationships coach Chris Holtmann and assistant Ryan Pedon built with Young and his family.
“They made it very personal,” Mary Young said. “I would get little texts from Ryan. I would get mail sent to us. (We) never got any of that stamped stuff from Butler. Everything was personalized, like a handwritten note.
“With rules and regulations they could not even come to the calling hours. I know that really hurt Ryan and Chris, because they really wanted to be there for me and for Kyle and my other kids.”
It wasn’t just basketball that bonded Kyle Young, Holtmann and his staff. There also were conversations during that formative time that intertwined their futures, leading Young to commit to Butler and then follow the coaches to Ohio State when Holtmann was hired to replace Thad Matta.
“They were incredible, calling to check up on my family, calling to check up on me,” Young said. “Through the recruiting process, sometimes we didn’t even really talk about basketball, which was nice. They were incredible.”
The changes all happened pretty fast, but the Young family made time for one bonding trip. Four days before Kyle signed with Ohio State and one week before his arrival on campus, Mary and the three Young children all got tattoos reading “YoungStrong.”
Kyle’s is on his left bicep. Since then, he has added more, including a cross on his back with the words “Family Forever” at the top.
It’s an outward sign of the internal emotions Young has felt for the past four years.
Breaking out at Ohio State
Once Young was on campus at Ohio State, Holtmann held an informal news conference roughly a month after getting the job. Inside a conference room at Value City Arena, he touched on all the duties that come with trying to establish a new regime, from the need to hire a new strength and conditioning coach to what he thought of the likes of current players, including point guards CJ Jackson and Braxton Beverly.
He also shared a specific vision for what a player like Young would mean to Ohio State fans who, he said, would love the type of gritty, four-year player they were getting in the Canton native.
“I just love him as a kid,” Holtmann said this season. “I love him as a player. He’s been so important to our program. It’s hard to overstate how important he was in adding on the fly.”
The addition almost didn’t stick. That first summer, Young was so homesick that he considered dropping out, moving home and getting a job. His mom, realizing this, reached out to the coaches to solicit their help. Each of the coaches spent extra time with the freshman, taking him out for meals and strengthening the bonds that would keep him enrolled.
Although he still goes home a lot, it got better.
“After that first year, it went away,” Mary Young said. “Don’t get me wrong: he still literally, he checks in on me every day. He checks in to see that I’m doing OK and what I’m doing and just keeps tabs, which is totally awesome.”
The journey could have gone any number of different ways. Had Holtmann remained at Butler, it’s hard to imagine how Young would have handled four years of being five hours away from home. Then again, had his father not passed when he did, it’s hard to envision how the relationship with Holtmann might have been altered.
To Mary Young, everything transpired the way it was supposed to.
“I’m thinking Mark had something to do with that, because I’ll tell you it was definitely a dream come true,” she said. “Kyle always loved Ohio State. It was a total blessing (to end up there), honestly.”
When he is announced as a starter Saturday afternoon, possibly for the last time at Value City Arena, Young will continue the practice he began in high school. He’ll make the sign of the cross, kiss his right hand and point to the sky, eyes fixed upward.
“It’s my way of pointing up to my dad and knowing he’s watching over me and just recognizing him,” he said.
No doubt he sees.
No. 7 Ohio State vs. No. 4 Illinois
When: 4 p.m. Saturday
Radio: WBNS-FM/AM (97.1/1460)