BOYS BASKETBALL: Mr. Basketball candidate James Young takes attention in stride
BY DAN STICKRADT
ROCHESTER HILLS — James Young heard that there would be some major changes, a fresh start, in his life this past summer.
Already a focal point in the college basketball recruiting scene as a top-10 recruit, Young was told by his mother, Tiplance Vernon, that she would be gaining custody back of her 17-year-old and he would be moving.
Young would also be changing schools…before his senior year…with all of the distractions of getting his grades up…applying for schools…making college visits…fielding phone calls from the big names of college basketball.
This is a lot on anyone’s plate, especially for a high school student-athlete on the verge of his senior year.
Young, who starred at Troy High for three years, would no longer be suiting up in the Colts’ black, red and white. He would be moving less than 10 miles to the north and enrolling at Rochester High.
Despite speculation that he would transfer to a premier parochial school in the Detroit area or attend a prep school out of state, Young was only moving a short distance and staying within the Oakland Activities Association.
“I was already worrying about where to go to college,” said Young, who is ranked in the top 10 in the nation by various recruiting services. “Now I had to switch schools and make new friends. It wasn’t easy.”
Now back in custody of his mother, who purchased a condo in the Rochester Community Schools boundaries in August, Young enrolled at Rochester during the initial week of fall sports practices.
High school teams had already gone through team camps in every sport and individuals all over the country had already attended a variety of sports camps, showcases and festivals.
Young did not have time to get acquainted with his soon-to-be new teammates, let alone practice with them. He played against Rochester last January (Rochester won that game 75-61). As for playing with the Falcons’ returning cast, there wasn’t an abundance of chemistry.
“It was really strange,” said Young. “When I attended the Troy-Rochester football game (in September), I had to figure out where to sit.
“I knew some of the kids, but not well,” he added. “I had to make new friends.”
ALL POINTS MATTER
Young was born in the Flint, Michigan-area and stayed there for a couple of years before his family moved south to Pontiac. Young and his mom eventually moved to Rochester Hills where he attended Rochester Hampton Elementary School for two years.
After his parents split up, Young went to live with his guardian, Shawn Mahone, in the Troy School District. He later entered Troy High as a freshman in the fall of 2009.
There was a rocky start to his high school debut season.
Despite scoring over 20 points in a few games during his freshman season, Young was forced to the bench for the second semester. He was academically ineligible.
“That was really hard,” said Young. “Not being able to play like that. I learned my lesson the hard way.”
Academically speaking, it was long road to recovery for Young. Between Troy and Rochester High, Young has spent plenty of extra time in the classroom, improving his GPA and working on test scores and test preparation. He currently attends a private tutor after school each weekday in Bloomfield Hills, making evening practices late and even having to get shuttled to games sometimes and not taking the team bus.
He is not coddled, but forced to make sacrifices to become eligible at the next level.
There is little extra time for James Young.
“I am doing whatever it takes to be eligible in college,” said Young, who is under close eye by administration at Rochester High.
CENTER OF ATTENTION
Young was exceptional on the basketball court as both a sophomore and junior. Last season, he made the All-State Dream Team by both the Detroit News and Detroit Free Press, the Associated Press Class A All-State First Team, the Oakland Press All-Oakland County First Team, All-North Oakland Area First Team, All-Detroit North and All-OAA White Division, among numerous postseason awards.
Already one of the top-10 all-time leading scorers at Troy, Young averaged 24.5 points, 10.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists in his second season as a full-time starter and third on the varsity. He even posted a 49-point game against state powerhouse Clarkston last season.
He will never have the chance to move his name up the career list at Troy, and he will only be allowed to go after single-game and single-season records at Rochester, which has produced former NBA players Paul Davis and Walker Russell Jr. in the past 15 years — a duo that hold many of Rochester’s records.
At Rochester, he has made an immediate impact for a program that graduated eight players, including three starters for a team that finished 21-2. Rochester was 3-1 through Dec. 29 and ranked in the top 20 in Class A by multiple publications. The Falcons opened the season in the Super 25 by the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News.
“We are blessed to have him,” said John Pleasant, Rochester’s sixth-year head coach. “I know it’s going to take some time. He needs to get used to playing with different guys and they need to get used to playing with him. We graduated eight guys, so we only have about five players that saw (substantial) minutes last season. We have a lot of inexperience on varsity this season.
“But having James could take us from being a good team to a really good team, potentially,” continued Pleasant. “We have a lot of pieces.”
Young just wants to flourish in his new digs, royal blue and white, and surroundings at Rochester High, once a rival enemy and now his new home.
And James Young will attend…Kentucky.
In a private press conference in Madison Heights in November, Young announced that he will attend the University of Kentucky and play for legendary coach Cal Calipari.
The Wildcats are the defending NCAA champions and one of the most recognizable programs in the history of college basketball.
It’s not that Young has an easy choice. Schools from coast to coast had Young on the radar for the past couple of years.
Young, who blew up on the AAU circuit in the summer of 2012 with multiple honors, narrowed his long list down to Kentucky, Michigan State, Arizona, Syracuse and Kansas by the beginning of the school year.
Not a bad list.
“It was a real tough decision,” admitted Young. “I really had to weigh a lot of options. I just thought that Kentucky was the best choice for me. They have had a lot of great players there. I love their offensive system. I think it is the best offense for me to play in.”
Young is part of a stellar recruiting class at Kentucky, which is ranked No. 1 by most recruiting analysts. He is one of five top 30 recruits that have chosen the Wildcats for next school year.
Young has had to deflect all of the extra attention that high-profile recruits have to face, the endorsements, the whispers, the street agents and the runners — the underworld of college basketball.
“It was hard. I had to block out all of that,” he said. “There are a lot of distractions. People were always asking me where I was going to college.”
Playing for the U-18 United States Developmental Team this past summer, Young helped his squad win the Nike Global Challenge in Washington and earned MVP honors for the tournament.
Playing at the Peach Jam this summer, the smooth, athletic, left-hander averaged over 20 points and nearly nine rebounds a contest and shot 46 percent from 3-point range.
His stock, notoriety, media requests, recruiting and distractions all rose up the charts. In terms of high school basketball, he has put suburban Detroit back on the map.
Rochester High has enjoyed plenty of success on the basketball court over the years, except for the state tournament.
Dating back to 1950, the Falcons have only won 12 district crowns and one regional title in some 63 seasons. In district title games, Rochester is only 12-19 in those contests during that long span. Over half of those years, Rochester has lost in the pre-district or district semifinals rounds.
Even last year, Rochester carried a 20-game win streak into a Class A district title match with Lake Orion and lost 48-44 despite beating the Dragons twice in the regular season.
The Falcons had several college prospects on its roster last season, including Taylor Perry, now at Division I Western Michigan.
Looking back over the decades, Rochester has had several college-bound players on its rosters, including a couple dozen that ventured onto the Division I college level. Yet the Falcons have not even won a district crown since 1988.
Before that, it was 1983, then 1979, then 1967.
Since Rochester became a Class A high school enrollment wise in 1958-59, the Falcons have only flown past the district rounds seven times. Five times in the 50s Rochester reached the regionals as a Class B school.
In 1988-89, with perhaps its best team, state-ranked Rochester was upset by Pontiac Northern, 71-68, in triple overtime of a district semifinal. Similar thing happened in 1994, a 52-36 loss to Pontiac Northern despite a lofty top-10 ranking.
This has nothing to do with James Young directly, as he has only been at Rochester for four months. The 6-foot-7 shooting guard would love to change all of this history and tournament roadblocks at his new school, as it will be 25 years come March since the Falcons last won a district title.
“That’s one of our goals,” he said. “We have a lot of talent on this team and we have talked about it. I know it’s been a really long time.”
Although Troy won the OAA-White Division title last winter (Rochester won the OAA-Blue), Young never won a district with the Colts, either. Troy was upset in the district finals by Waterford Mott last season.
Young led Troy to the district finals in 2011, which ended in a 58-53 loss to Pontiac High.
“That’s another reason to win this season. I have never won a district title,” noted Young. “We will not be denied this year.”
Rochester is going after its third straight OAA league title as well, and if the Falcons can accomplish that feat, it will mark the first time since the 1950s that Rochester captured three straight league crowns.
Young would also like to lead the Falcons a few steps further.
In 1950, Rochester reached the Class B Final Four before losing to Grand Rapids Godwin Heights (58-49) in the state semifinals, a team led by future NBA player Art Spoelstra.
“I didn’t know about that. I just want to get Rochester to the (MSU’s) Breslin (Center),” smiled Young, citing the spot of this year’s Final Four in each of the MHSAA’s four classes. “We want to win the state championship and you can’t do that unless you get there. We want to make history.”
Since the adoption of the mega league, the OAA, in 1994-95, there has been several highly-touted basketball recruits from the conference.
Dane Fife of Clarkston, the 1998 Mr. Basketball, went on to play at Indiana and was later a part of the Hoosiers’ 2002 NCAA national runner-up team. Paul Davis, who graduated from Rochester High in 2002, went on to a fine four-year career at Michigan State and played in the 2005 Final Four as a junior.
Both Fife and Davis won the prestigious Mr. Basketball award as seniors. Young is the leading candidate for Mr. Basketball 2013.
“That would be something that I would like to win, but it’s not my focus right now,” said Young. “I just want to help Rochester win games.”
He could help Rochester to become only the fifth school to produce more than one Mr. Basketball. But again, his team focus is prevalent, not individual honors.
James Young, a top-10 national recruit, bound for the University of Kentucky, is on course for a possible future in basketball, as long as he continues to improve in the classroom and on the basketball court.
He has his long-term sights on a professional career, either in the NBA or overseas.
“I would love to play pro basketball someday. But right now I can’t worry about that,” he said. “I just want to help Rochester win basketball games and take us as far as we can go.”
Young’s debut in a Rochester uniform featured 29 points and 10 rebounds in a 52-46 win over North Farmington. He is averaging over 25 points and 15 rebounds a game so far this season. His debut brought a standing room-only crowd to Rochester, the biggest crowd since the Paul Davis days over a decade ago.
The crowds are expected to continue.
ONLY THE YOUNG CAN SAY
James Young began playing basketball when he was 3 years old. He improved rapidly and was addicted to the sport at an early age.
By the time he was seven, Young was already suiting up for The Family in the AAU circles.
“I loved basketball as far back as I can remember,” he smiled. “I was always playing basketball when I was a little kid.”
Young also played football as a wide receiver and was a standout high jumper in track and field by the time he reached middle school in Troy. He could not high jump as a freshman due to his grades and opted not to run track or play football by the time he was a sophomore.
“I knew by the time I was a freshman, that basketball was my sport,” Young laughed. “I just loved playing. I didn’t really have time for anything else.”
Now a certified high school star who is headed for bigger and better things next school year, Coach Pleasant said that Young has humility roots.
“James has been very humble about all of this,” said Pleasant. “I think, at times, he would rather just play basketball and do away with all of the attention. But he has taken it all in stride. It can’t be easy with all of the extra pressure being such a high-profile recruit.”
James Young has already seen the high and lows of a high profile athlete by the young age of 17. He has faced far more than what most high school student-athletes will ever face.
But this could only be the beginning.
(Dan Stickradt is Senior Editor for Digital Daily www.northoaklandsports.com and The Real Deal sports and coupons magazine, as well as a freelance writer for multiple media outlets, including State Champs! High School Sports Show website. He is a 20-year veteran sports journalist based in Oakland County, Mich. He can be reached by email at [email protected]. Follow on Twitter @LocalSportsFans.)