Noie: Sophomore Jackie Young takes special step for Notre Dame women's basketball team

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

Easing onto the college basketball highway when her journey started over a year ago, Notre Dame sophomore guard Jackie Young was fine to go with the flow.

Just get in the right-hand lane and do the speed limit. Never do much to stray from her lane. Then when it was time, her time, in time, she’d pick up the pace. Show the kind of game that helped her score more points than any boy or any girl in Indiana high school history.

—Last season, Young let then-senior Lindsay Allen lead if someone needed to lead. She let veterans Marina Mabrey and Arike Ogunbawale score if someone needed to score. In a reserve role — 33 games, no starts, 7.3 ppg., 4.6 rpg., 1.4 apg., 21.4 mpg., — she was nowhere near the top of the other team’s scouting report. She was good, but not Jackie Young high school good.

“Last year, I could just lean on the older players to do the work,” Young said. “Now it’s up to us to come out and play each night.”

Right from the start of this season, it was a different Jackie Young. She drove the ball to the basket and finished. She found open teammates and they finished. She battled in traffic and secured rebounds that few 6-foot guards had any business securing. She had one good game. Then another. And another. She planned last summer to have a bigger and better season. She has.

“From the first workout, it just translated over,” she said of her offseason. “I was able to play how I played in high school and do the things that I’m best at doing.”

Which basically is, everything. Anything. Take note of her prep career points — 3,268 — and it’s easy to assume that Young just looked out for Young. She scored a lot because she must have shot a lot. Like, all the time. But the first time Irish coach Muffet McGraw watched her play a game in person, Young scored six points. McGraw left the gym in Southern Indiana that night perplexed.

McGraw liked a lot about her game, but ... six points? Um …

A crusher McGraw quote of Young’s potential could be inserted here, but not yet. There’s more ground to cover. It'll arrive in time. Like Young.

McGraw also noticed a difference in Young when preseason practice commenced. She was stronger. Faster. Determined. More confident. With everything. That’s the player McGraw saw in high school.

“When she came back, nobody could stop her,” McGraw said. “She was unguardable.”

Young scored a then-career high 21 points with eight rebounds early in the year at Oregon State. In three games at the Gulf Coast Showcase in Estero, Fla., Young averaged 19.3 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.6 assists to haul home tournament most valuable player honors. She was rolling. So were the Irish. Through November. Through mid-December, despite a loss to No. 1 Connecticut (payback could come next week, but that’s for then).

Fighting through

Then came the injury.

The elbow. In practice. To her face. More specifically, to her nose.

Crack!

A broken nose required Young to wear a mask. The first one, before a custom-fitted clear mask was done, she likened to that of a baseball catcher. It was bulky and bothersome and made it hard for Young to see much of anything. The more she wore it, the more it seemed to attract contact. Like a magnet. Every game. She couldn’t wait to get rid of it. Same with the second one, which she played with per doctor’s orders for two months. She played all right with it, but again, it was like a beacon for stray elbows.

The first game she was cleared to play mask-free in late February against North Carolina State, it was gone. Young then finished with 22 points, six rebounds, five assists and four steals.

“Everything was back to normal and I was able to enjoy the game,” she said.

The nose is healed but will have to be re-broken and set sometime in the offseason. That's the future. Young has other matters on her mind. Like helping drive Notre Dame (31-3), the top seed in the Spokane Regional past No. 4 Texas A&M (26-9) on Saturday (4 p.m., ESPN) and into the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.

Young is one of only seven healthy scholarship players available for Notre Dame, which has been crippled by injuries this season. Senior center Kathryn Westbeld is expected to play despite a cranky left ankle. The team leader in minutes (1,156), Young is one of only three (Mabrey, Ogunbawale), to start all 34 games. Could she use a break? Sure. Could she afford to play fewer than her team-high 34.0 minutes a game? Yep. But that’s not going to happen. Not this week. Maybe not next.

“We don’t have time to be tired,” Young said. “This is the best part of the season. We’re just living in the moment.”

Money time

Young’s thriving in that moment. She’s playing her best on the biggest stage. During last week’s opening two NCAA rounds in South Bend, she averaged 18.5 points, eight rebounds and 4.5 assists in 37.5 minutes. That’s up from her four-game NCAA average of 9.2 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.5 assists in 28.5 minutes as a freshman.

Her 24 points in Sunday’s win over Villanova were a career high.

Time for that money quote from McGraw? Not yet. It’s close. But another one will have to do. For now.

“She’s just doing so many things,” McGraw said. “She fills the stat sheet.”

Scoring comes easily, but not from the typical guard spots. Guards are supposed to be good from distance, but Young all but ignores the 3-point arc. She does much of her work near the rim like a power forward. She’s made only nine 3-pointers all season and is rebounding at a ridiculous rate. She’s had four games of at least 10. For a guard, that’s good. Really good. If she’s not converting from in close (52.5 percent field goal percentage) she’s getting to the foul line (101-for-130) and shooting a solid percentage (77.7).

“I’m just doing whatever I can to help us win,” said Young, averaging 14.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and 3.7 assists. “Some days it’s scoring, some days it’s rebounding, assists. Some days it’s all three.

“Knowing that my team needs me is motivating to come out and have a good game.”

Back when the Irish had the depth to play man defense, Young often guarded the other team’s best perimeter player. She also added backup point guard responsibilities to relieve pressure off Mabrey. It isn’t an easy job. She has to see the floor, sense where pressure’s coming, make the right play at the right time and then also get her game going. It’s a lot. She loves it.

Which finally brings us to one more McGraw quote. THE quote.

McGraw said it to Young after the Atlantic Coast Conference all-league squads were announced. Young managed only honorable mention. McGraw felt she deserved more, but more may be coming her way. A lot more.

“I think,” McGraw said, “she’s going to be, maybe, the best player to ever play here.”

Boom!

McGraw sees it. Senses it. As for that college hoops highway, Young’s ready to move into the left lane and step on the gas. No stop signs. No speed limits. Open road awaits.

tnoie@ndinsider.com

(574) 235-6153

Twitter: @tnoieNDI

Notre Dame guard Jackie Young has had a special sophomore season and could be line for even more her next two seasons. (AP Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)

WOMEN’S BASKETBALL

2018 NCAA Tournament

Sweet 16

WHO: No. 1 seed Notre Dame (31-3) vs. No. 4 Texas A&M (26-9).

WHERE: Veterans Memorial Arena (12,638), Spokane, Wash.

WHEN: Saturday at 4 p.m.

TV: ESPN.

RADIO: Pulse FM (96.9/92.1)