by Scott Kindberg
October 3, 2012
Young Got Better With Age
He was my neighbor 40 years ago on Jamestown's westside, he drove a Volkswagen and he played for a high school basketball team that was better - at least from an 11-year-old's perspective - than what any collegiate or pro organization could put on the hardwood.
To me, Jim Young was a star.
What I didn't know was that he was just beginning to crack the surface of his potential. For during that winter of 1971-72, a three-month stretch during which the Jamestown Red Raiders captured the imagination of a community, packed their wonderfully cramped gym on a nightly basis and came home with a Section 6 championship - the ultimate, and only, prize in those days - Young, an athletic, but raw, player was still learning a game he came to relatively late by athletic standards.
So while Terry Chili, the 6-foot-10 center, and forward Mark Edstrom, one of best athletes to ever walk the JHS hallways, garnered much of the attention that season, it was Young, an admitted work in progress, who averaged 15 points per game and ran the show from the point.
Once a 5-foot-1 freshman at Lincoln Junior High School, Young grew a foot by the time he started his sophomore year at JHS. With the physical growth, came improved skills on the court and by the time his senior season rolled around, he was poised to take his game to even greater heights.
I was fortunate to have a front-row seat, because Young, who lived three houses away, would give me rides in his VW to the antiquated JHS gym, a venue that held maybe 800 people. When we arrived in the school parking lot - 90 minutes before the varsity tip-off - the line snaked down Second Street and, by game time, there was no room to accommodate even one more person.
I didn't have to worry about finding a seat, though. I just followed Young past all the fans, walked through the door - I still can smell the popcorn - and down the stairs to my seat, which was just below WJTN's broadcast location. Program in hand, I entered the names of the JHS team into by scorebook and anxiously awaited the start of the varsity game.
Not surprisingly, I paid especially close attention to how Young was doing, and in virtually every game he excelled, including 25 points against Pittsburgh Schenley and 18 more against Hutch Tech in the Section 6 semifinals.
The sectional championship game against Kenmore West at Buffalo State didn't start out as one of Young's better games, though. In fact, when the Red Raiders reached their locker room at halftime, they trailed, 23-14, and Young was scoreless.
"I remember telling Jim Young that if I'm going to play someone who's not going to shoot, I could have played,'' JHS coach John "Dutch" Leonard told me 15 years ago. "Then he got 12 points in the second half and we scored 42."
Jamestown won the game, 56-46.
Ironically, that game could have served as a metaphor for Young's hoops career, which kept getting better and better the longer he played.
The beneficiaries of this admitted work in progress turned out to be St. Lawrence University and, later, the Loughborough All-Stars, a professional team in England.
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Young arrived at St. Lawrence in the fall of 1972, but didn't begin making a meaningful impact on the varsity squad until his sophomore season.
"I was really a role player my first year,'' he said. "After that, I pretty much ran with it for 2 or three years.
How good was Young?
I'll let the SLU sports information office provide the details:
"Rookie" was a key player on teams that compiled a 65-32 record during his four seasons and won two league titles in addition to making two NCAA tournament appearances. He helped the team set a record for wins in a season as a sophomore, leading it to a 17-6 record and improved that record during his junior year as the Saints won 20 games for the first time in their history. He averaged 12.8 points for his career with a high single season average of 23.9 points per game as a senior. He set the record for points in a game, with a 48-point night against St. John Fisher as a senior and had 241 career assists in addition to setting records for free throw percentage and free throws in a season. He was captain of the team as a senior. Jim scored 1,233 career points which ranked second on the all-time list at the time of his graduation. He was an All East selection as a junior and senior and also earned all-conference honors.
Wally Johnson, SLU's sports information director for 38 years, offered this further assessment in an article he wrote for The Post-Journal in 1976.
"Who would have guessed that Young, who scored a total of 23 points in 13 games his freshman year, and averaged only six points per game as a sophomore, would finish his career with ... St. Lawrence basketball records and as its second-leading scorer in history.
"And who would have thought that a guard would establish the record for field-goal percentage in a career? Usually it is a center or a forward whose longest shots sometimes stretch to 15 feet, but a guard who shoots from everywhere?
"But shooting and scoring have been Young's forte in the past two seasons."
As a junior, Young scored 547 points in 26 games, a 21.0 average, and improved on that as a senior (23.9) despite playing 10 games with ankle injuries which left him, according to Johnson, a "shadow of his former self."
But by the end of his final season, though, Young finished in a "blaze of glory."
He scored 48 points, which was then a SLU single-game scoring record, in leading the Saints to a 111- 69 win over St. John Fisher. The next afternoon, Young poured in 36 points against RPI.
That body of work earned Young, a 1976 SLU graduate, induction into its athletic Hall of Fame in 1999.
But it was the 48-point explosion that was his defining moment.
"It was a lot of run and gun and foul shooting,'' he recalled. "It was just one of those games where I went off. Everybody gets you the ball at the right time.''
He was so hot that with 12 minutes remaining, he had already scored nearly 40 points. During a timeout, his buddies on the bench wondered why Young was still in the game with his team up by 20. Evans pulled Young aside and told him he was a couple buckets away from the school record. When he broke the mark, the game was stopped and Young was presented a ball to commemorate the achievement.
"My friends on the bench were saying, 'This is really special. We should go for 60 or 70 points,''' Young recalled. "This was our record. I didn't really care (personally), but these guys were my closest friends and they thought they were breaking the record. That's the way they took it."
But Evans sent Young to the bench shortly after his 48th point, because the game was well in hand by that point.
As it turned out, it wouldn't be the last time that Young put up huge numbers.
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After graduating from St. Lawrence in 1976, Young spent two years running a chain of restaurants in Vermont, but was wooed back to the hardwood by Evans, who would later coach at the U.S. Naval Academy and the University of Pittsburgh. As a guest coach at a kids camp in England in the late 1970s, Evans met the owners of many professional teams in Great Britain.
One man Evans met with was the owner of Loughborough of the English Basketball Association, who was in need of an American shooting guard. A phone call was set up between Young and the owner and a deal was made to bring the Jamestown native to Great Britain.
So what if Young had to cancel his planned trip around the world? At that point in his life, it seemed he would go anywhere on earth to play ball.
As it turned out, it was one of the best decisions Young ever made. As the only American guard in the league, Young's impact was immense. Playing in 35 games from November 1977 through February 1978 he led EBA in scoring, averaging in excess of 30 points per game. His high of 54 set a club record that still stands today.
"(The) All-Stars hit in quick breaks with Young inevitably on the end of them,'' according to one British newspaper account. "The star American could not be contained "
Young remembers fondly his one season in England.
"Our team was the only one who could hire an American guard and I was that guy,'' he said. "They gambled and hired a shooting guard and I went wild.
"I would either have English soccer players guarding me, who were great athletes, but hadn't grown up on the streets (playing basketball), and I could fool them,'' Young recalled. "Or, I had a frustrated 6- foot-10 American guarding me. It got crazy.
"Every American in this league was a pioneer. I was a pioneer because I was the only (American) guard over there.''
Jimmy Young - the British press took to calling him "Jimmy" - was at his basketball peak.
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Today, Young, 58, lives in northern California and is a chiropractor, but his avocation continues to be basketball. He coaches middle and high school basketball at Mendocino High School, which plays in the smallest classification in the state.
But this year, Mendocino has three tall front-court players - a rarity for a small school - which leaves Young especially excited about the prospects for the 2012-13 season.
Who knows? Maybe Mendocino will capture some of the magic its coach experienced more than 40 years ago.
And look what it did for him?