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Young's comeback at heart of Lincoln basketball's comeback

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Young's comeback at heart of Lincoln basketball's comeback
Lincoln's Kyle Young shoots a free throw during a nonconference boys basketball game against Normal West on Saturday (Feb. 7, 2009) in Normal. (Pantagraph/Joel Fellers)
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LINCOLN - Arguably the worst feeling for an athlete is helplessness. Kyle Young felt it a lot last year. | Boys basketball regionals preview | Boys basketball regionals pairings

Robbed of his junior season by a nasty foot injury, Young watched as Lincoln High School's basketball team went 13-17, its first losing record since 1990.

"It was really frustrating," he said. "It got to a point where there was nothing I could do."

Ultimately, after having three screws inserted in his broken right foot and undergoing surgery to repair ligament damage, Young was cleared for rehab. His return to the court this season has been at the heart of Lincoln's dramatic turnaround.

The Railers enter this week's Bloomington Class 3A Regional ranked fourth in the state with a 26-4 record. At 6-foot-5 and 215 pounds, Young has provided the post presence they lacked a year ago. His team-high 13.3 scoring average has come on 62 percent field-goal shooting.

"He gives us that big threat inside," Coach Neil Alexander said. "He's had a great year. You take something away from a kid for a while and they realize it. As far as his effort and things in practice, it goes to show that hey, it could be gone tomorrow. He's taken advantage of that and worked very hard."

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Young also has averaged 4.4 rebounds, contributed 50 assists and made 72 percent of his free throws. He said the foot, which he injured at a summer football camp, is "sore every once in a while," but added, "It's always going to be like that."

The pain has not kept Young from being a key to Lincoln's "five-out" offense. It leaves the post area open, with Young moving in and out of the middle to keep opponents honest.

He has done enough damage to free up the likes of sophomore Jordan Nelson (74 3-pointers), senior Louie Schonauer (48), junior Ben Brackney (38) and senior Alex Anderson (33) on the perimeter.

"If I can get the ball inside and score, it really opens up the game because we have really good shooters from the outside," Young said.

Nelson has hit 41 percent from beyond the arc, made 88 percent of his free throws and averages 12.8 points. Schonauer is at 50 percent from 3-point range and Anderson at 42.

"It's real big having Kyle back," Schonauer said. "Now we have something else besides shooters."

Anderson agreed, saying Young "opens everything up."

"If somebody's hitting, we're finding the hot guy," Anderson said. "If more than one guy's hitting, we're tough to beat."

Lincoln is shooting 50 percent from the field and 74 percent from the free-throw line, leading to a 58.5 scoring average. On the other end, the Railers have allowed 43.6 in their trademark zone defense.

They held state-ranked Moline to 33 points and Carbondale to 38 in two recent victories.

"If we want to advance in the postseason, we have to play defense," Anderson said. "We're trying to improve every day."

Alexander confirmed the defense "is getting better." He points to the fact his players are stronger and more experienced than last year, when most saw their first extended varsity action.

Also, senior guard Wes Neece is back after focusing on baseball last year. Neece, who has signed to play baseball at Southern Illinois, provides "strong defensive pressure" off the bench, Alexander said.

"I thought we'd have a good year. They're very competitive guys and they've listened," the 19th-year Lincoln coach added.

"We were 13-17 last year, and there was not one day where we went to practice or the kids were at practice saying, 'I don't want to be here.' It was a fun year. They learned. They worked hard every day."

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