Oakwood’s Katelyn Young exceeding expectations at Murray State

Photo of Murray State freshman and Oakwood graduate Katelyn Young. Photo provided by Murray State athletics.

In an era of increasingly position-less basketball, former Oakwood great and current Murray State freshman forward Katelyn Young stands apart from most peers on the hardwood.

A throwback post player with nifty footwork and a complete all-around game, the 6-1 Young, Murray State’s second-leading scorer at 13.7 ppg and rebounding leader (9.5 rpg as of Jan. 27) , is surpassing the expectations of not only herself, but also the people who had plenty of confidence in her.

“I wasn’t expecting to make a huge impact like I wanted to right away,” Young said. “I wanted to play some good minutes and everything, but I was not expecting this.”

The Racers lacked a true, big-bodied, tough forward of Young’s caliber in Rechelle Turner’s three-year tenure as Murray State head coach.

That has changed with Young.

“We didn’t have a whole lot of inside presence, and it takes a while once you take over a program to try to put pieces together,” Turner said. “We knew we needed someone that could score on the inside, defend on the inside and rebound the basketball. We wanted someone that we knew had the ability to also make the other people around her better, and [Young] does that.”

Murray State opened its season against the then-ranked No. 11 Kentucky Wildcats. Young hardly looked like a freshman making her collegiate debut, scoring a team-high 14 points and grabbing 14 rebounds in a 86-60 loss.

“I was super excited because it was Kentucky and everything,” Young said. “Definitely really nervous because it’s your first game ever in college and also playing at Kentucky, they are a top-10 team and everything … the nerves were definitely flowing.”

Not that Young wasn’t used to being the focal point of a team’s success. A four-year run of remarkable success at Oakwood yielded Young four consecutive all-state basketball honors from the Associated Press and Illinois Basketball Coaches Association. She also earned two state medals in track and field (shot put, fifth and third place), as well as varsity letters in softball and volleyball.

For Turner, the recruiting process to land Young meant driving nearly five hours to Oakwood — Murray State is 314 miles from Oakwood, just across the border in Kentucky — and traveling to other states to watch Young play for the Indiana Elite AAU hoops program, as well as compete in other sports. Turner didn’t mind the trips.

Photo of Murray State freshman and Oakwood graduate Katelyn Young. Photo provided by Murray State athletics.

“You just had that feeling that it was meant to be and it was a God thing,” Turner said. “I felt that way all along and spent many hours on the road driving to Oakwood, Ill., to watch basketball and all over the country to chase her around on the AAU circuit. But mostly just because I enjoyed watching her play so much, and every opportunity we got a chance to be around her and her family was just special. We thank heaven for a reason.”

A night on the volleyball floor stands out as much as nights watching Young play basketball.

“One of the most exciting times I can remember is watching her play a big rival in volleyball — it wasn’t even basketball. Just being able to be there and just watch her confidence and her ability to take her team on her back and will them to win. Her competitive spirit and the way she is on and off the floor is just exactly the type of person we want in our program.”

Volleyball helped train other muscles, while shot put helped Young with her footwork. More than anything, she was a multi-sport participant just because she enjoyed the activities.

“The footwork, it was really hard at first to learn just because it was new and everything and it was totally different,” Young said. “I feel like it helped with footwork in basketball.”

When the Coronavirus pandemic took hold in the spring, Young went from thinking about spring sports to instead spending time on her basketball game, particularly on extending her shooting range.

Working on the fundamentals was nothing new for a small-town kid who associates her upbringing with doing things the right way.

“I came from a very small town so there was limited people and everything, but that definitely helped with fundamentals and getting my confidence and everything,” Young said. “I was on a pretty high-level travel ball team so we played some pretty good competition. That was more showing my game, how good I can be good against good competition.”

For the Racers, Young continues to wow on the hardwood. She scored 27 in her third collegiate game in a win over Indiana State, she’s already posted four double-doubles and she’s scored double-digits in 12-of-16 games. Murray State is 8-8 overall and 5-6 in Ohio Valley Conference play after a Jan. 28 win over Tennessee State, as Young has averaged 13.4 points, 9.8 rebounds and 1.4 steals for the season. She even won three-consecutive MVC Freshman of the Week awards to start the season, only the second player in history to do so.

As Murray State has moved into conference play, OVC foes have started to learn how to better defend Young. She has noticed few players will play her straight up, now aware that the freshman plays beyond her years.

“Being one of then bigger people, just being able to defend down there, that’s a huge part and if we need a quick two, just being able to go to me for a quick two,” Young said.

Turner said that Young has faced some roadblocks, as any freshman does. Accustomed to being the biggest, most physical player night-in, night-out for Oakwood, Young often finds herself matched up against someone bigger and stronger.

So she’s had to adapt, on the floor and off. But basketball has been a great rock amidst everything else.

Photo of Murray State freshman and Oakwood graduate Katelyn Young provided by Murray State athletics.

“I feel like that’s been huge this entire year just because of COVID and everything and playing basketball during this time, it’s been a huge adjustment,” Young said. “Just being able to forget other things, basketball is like your outlet.”

Murray’s population is approximately 19,200 people — far from a metropolis as college towns go. For the Oakwood (population of just over 1,600) native, that’s no problem.

“I came from a small town, Young said. “You kind of do the same things that you did just back home, just hang out. … I’ve been able to go over to some girls’ apartments and watch movies and stuff.”

Not feeling overwhelmed by the move to college was good for Young, who says she feels at home with those around her at Murray State. Still, she does receive regular encouragement and kind words from those back in Illinois.

“I feel like always in a small town you’re going to have huge support because everyone knows who you are,” Young said. “Literally the entire town of Oakwood has been so supportive. And other people, not just from Oakwood, they’ve all been really super supportive and are always behind me, and I really enjoy seeing everyone reach out. It brings back good memories, you could say, from home.”

Turner is just as much excited about what’s to come as she is about what she’s already seen from her start freshman.

“I do believe this is just the beginning of what is going to be an amazing career for her.”

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