Join Date: Aug 2007
Location: North Philly, PA
Great Article on Thaddeus Young
LULA HALL'S plan for her son, Thaddeus, was to have him get a good education, be a good person and have a good life. If preparing him for that included his spending the summer after his sophomore year of high school at an elite boarding school in Watertown, Conn., so be it.
Oh, Mom knew that young Thad, growing up as something of a star in Memphis, could play basketball. She also knew that Thad's dad, Felton Young, had a good career playing at Jacksonville University and had been drafted by the old Buffalo Braves of the NBA in 1978, but that it all ended suddenly with a knee injury before he ever played in the league.
Though not together at the time, the parents were together on this.
"I will never forget," the 76ers' Thaddeus Young said. "I was very mad at my mom and dad."
"He thought," said Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt, Young's coach for one season, "that he was being sent to Siberia."
The plan put in motion by Lula Hall and Felton Young placed Thad at the Taft School, which includes a 5-to-1 student-faculty ratio and has a curriculum covering 207 academic courses. A burgeoning AAU hoops career was placed on hold, although he was back in time for some tournaments.
"My parents and my counselor at school decided it would be good to stay off my feet that summer, to just try and focus on academics," Young recalled as he took a break this week from the preparation for tonight's Rookie Challenge, the NBA All-Star Weekend event in Phoenix that pits a squad of league second-year players against a team of rookies.
"I actually had some pretty good experiences. It got me ready for life in college and life away from home. But summers were when I would spend time with my AAU teammates, travel to good cities like Las Vegas and Orlando. I wanted to hang on the beach instead of being in Watertown, Conn."
Young grew into a McDonald's All-American and an honors student at Mitchell High in Memphis, and eventually was a first-round draft choice of the Sixers in 2007. Conventional wisdom suggested he would need at least a year, maybe more, before he would be ready to contribute at the pro level. He was ready in 3 months, too late to be named to the Rookie Challenge that season, but enough to start 22 of the final 38 games. And when training camp for this season opened, it became quickly apparent he was the Sixers' most improved player.
With averages of 13.7 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.25 steals, an appearance in the event now is one of the rewards.
"It's the first stage of trying to become an All-Star, the first stage of a long process," Young said. "I'm projected to play in this league for a long time. The main focus is to win championships, but this ranks on my list as another accomplishment."
Young's summer in a boarding school was what piqued much of Hewitt's recruiting interest.
"What I call the 'old' Georgia Tech had some guys who didn't carry their academic weight," said Hewitt, a onetime assistant at Villanova.
Young did. When he was 15, his parents called on a close family friend to counsel them.
"We talked about the possibility someday of the NBA," recalled the friend, Ken Carter. "I laid out his chances as not very good, said that the odds were against it, that he had to prepare for life. My attitude was, if he gets to the NBA, fine. His mom didn't drive him to play ball. He was reminded of his dad more than once; Felton had a torn [anterior cruciate ligament]. At that time, they couldn't fix it."
When Young enrolled in college, Hewitt couldn't be certain how long he'd stay.
"He always wanted to come out after 1 year," Carter said. "Our plan was for him to be totally prepared to play 4 years. If the time came to make a decision, we'd look at it. And when that time came, the conversation was about whether he was mature enough at 19. We asked whether we were throwing him to the wolves, but the conclusion was that he could handle it, that he could handle the rough and tumble of playing with grown men. I'm probably one of his toughest critics. I tell him his skill is just potential, that he has to fulfill it."
Young, though, was already ahead of the curve.
"I did motivational speaking in high school," he said, smiling at the memory. "They'd send me to talk to sixth-graders. I was the success story around Memphis, [called] the best since Penny Hardaway. They were writing stories like 'Books Over Ball,' because I was a great academic student in high school. I always felt that, if basketball didn't work out, I'd have something to fall back on."
Decision time came after one college season.
"People want kids to be instant coffee," Hewitt said. "Thad was a 4 to 5 [power forward or center] in high school, a 3 [small forward] as a college freshman. If he had stayed, as a soph, he probably would have been a first-team All-American, probably top three in the draft."
The word was that Young was a likely pick in the 12th to 20th range after his freshman season. As he went through workouts for various teams, it became more like 12th to 16th. Wait a year, he heard, and he could be Nos. 3, 4 or 5 pick.
"I could stay in school, risk getting hurt," Thad said. "It was a hard decision. I had to really sit there for, like, a whole weekend and think about it. I locked myself in a room."
He chose ball over books, but not really, because he has promised to continue his education. He already plans to serve an internship in a cousin's real-estate development business this summer or go back to school
"The thing I'm most proud of," Carter said, "is that he set some lofty goals for himself, and that he understands what it takes to accomplish them, that he knows he's not there yet."
But Thaddeus Young appears to be more than just on his way. In his grand plan, the Rookie Challenge is merely the next step. *