March 12, 2013 at 12:30 pm

Terry Foster

Rochester's James Young aces his test on, and off, the court

West Bloomfield -- His Rochester High School teammates were in the dressing room, reveling in a 59-43 victory over Romeo in Class A boys basketball regional semifinal.

But 6-foot-6 senior guard-forward James Young remained in the gym, slapping skin, taking photos and getting hugs from dozens of admirers. He reached down to sign autographs from young boys who dream of becoming him some day. A few feet away, University of Kentucky coach John Calipari stood in a back hallway talking to coaches before flying back to Lexington.

This is the good part of being James Young, a top high school player who has committed to Kentucky. But there is also a bad side. Because Young is a player, he must face the player haters who love when he fails and are resentful of his college choice.

He reads hate and anger on websites and on Twitter. He does not necessarily like it but learned this was part of the deal four years ago when he was leaving middle school. During Monday's game the Romeo student section chanted "overrated" when he launched an air ball in the second half.

"It's kind of tough at times. It's a lot of hatred," Young said. "I try to take it all in and be humble, take it game by game. There's a lot of pressure on me. A lot of people are looking at me. I just try to play my game."

Young turned down a scholarship offer from Michigan State but he said MSU fans did not give him much grief for turning the Spartans down. He said his home state was mostly supportive and wished him well at Kentucky.

Wildcats fans watching

Young played on top AAU teams like The Family. And if you don't know what he can do on a basketball court, all you have to do is Google his name to see highlights of his game. Kentucky fans drive up from Lexington to see him play and they have chat rooms devoted to Young and the rest of the recruiting class.

Wildcat nation is passionate about its basketball and treats recruits like rock stars. Young has heard from a number of Kentucky people. They are in constant contact and some even drive up to see him play. He says it's a bit strange for him because he's mostly a quiet kid who loses himself on the court.

"I am not used to it but I am looking forward to it," Young said. "I actually like it because I get to meet new people. It's fun."

Young scored a quiet 24 for Rochester and Arben Camaj added 18 points and four blocks. Guard Drew Cushingberry led Romeo (14-9) with 23 points.

The next stop is Wednesday's regional final against Bloomfield Hills Lahser (18-6), which beat Troy Athens, 70-61, in the earlier game. This is a special game for Rochester, a school that has won just two regional titles in its history.

The key is Young but center Camaj is another special talent. He's 6-foot-8, lanky and tough to deal with around the basket. Coach John Pleasant admits the team needed to adjust to having Young around.

"I would be lying if I said it was not a distraction," Pleasant said. "I think he's great with it. He's as humble as he can be. He handles it very well and our guys have gotten used to it."

Taking it all in

Young gets attention because he's a cold-stone scorer. He can light up a scoreboard, but the word is he will be more of a facilitator at Kentucky. On Monday, he whipped passes to open teammates and played a more team-oriented game.

His life is not like that of a normal student. He has fans, a following and expectations. Young cannot make youthful mistakes because they would end up in the newspaper and on social media. It's pressure but Young is used to it.

"It comes with every good basketball player," he said with a shrug. "There will be a lot of hatred and a lot of smack talk about your game, but you just got to take it all in and let it go."

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Rochester's James Young tries to drive around Romeo's Ryan Romer on Monday in a regional semifinal at West Bloomfield High School. / David Guralnick/Detroit News
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