"Joe Young signed a National Letter of Intent to attend Providence College, and we expect that he will honor that commitment." --Providence Men's Basketball Head Coach Keno Davis
And so began the final chapter of the infamous Joseph Young saga. Family ties, public shame, life-threatening illness, and the superstar basketball talent caught in the middle of it all. It's a story too juicy not to be true. A story in which members of the college basketball community look at a 17-year-old kid and see the worst in themselves.
A Father's 'Shame'
November 11, 2009 - The Providence Friars announce the signing of three men's basketball players to National Letters of Intent (NLI). The most notable name: Joseph Young, all the way from Jack Yates High School in Houston. Young is coming off of a junior season during which he scored 23 points per game and led his team to a state title.
Among those displeased with the turn of events are the University of Houston faithful. For a number of reasons, they had hoped, even expected, that Joseph would be a Cougar. His high school, Yates, sits literally across the street from the UH campus. And while the University of Houston, at the time under head coach Tom Penders, had been much maligned by its fan base for its inability to recruit the Houston area (the Houston ties of the nation's eventual leading scorer, Aubrey Coleman of UH, notwithstanding), there was one glaring reason to suspect that Joseph Young would make the trip across the street: Michael Young.
Back in the day, Michael Young went from Yates to UH, where he became one of the program's all-time greats. His No. 42 jersey hangs retired in Hofheinz Pavilion. He is currently the director of basketball operations and performance enhancement at his alma mater. As you may have guessed, Michael Young is Joseph Young's father.
As soon as Joe Young's college decision comes across the wire, everybody associated with the Cougars basketball program gets a little upset. Turns out, nobody is more upset than Michael. And he isn't exactly in the mood to hide it.
I'm really ashamed for me to be a basketball coach here, and my son is a good basketball player, and he's not coming here.
Michael Young goes on to state that his son wants to blaze his own trail, and not just be "Michael Young's kid." He also says that Joe Young doesn't wish to address the media. You will notice that this soon becomes a trend.
Now, if Michael Young had stopped talking there, he probably could have been given a pass. Ideally, anybody would want to see a parent support their child's decision, regardless of what it is, much in the way that Houston football defensive line coach Jim Jeffcoat did when his son Jackson chose to play at Texas-Austin. But if you put a microphone in somebody's face and ask them questions, sometimes you're going to get the truth.
With a microphone sitting beneath his nose, Michael Young, when asked to continue his statement, drops the following bomb.
My heart is really, really broken right now. I'm trying to get this decision turned. There's still time. I'm trying to get him to have a change of mind and really look at the whole situation.
Young's emotional outcry doesn't go unnoticed. Even when Young the elder does an about face less than a week later, signs off on his son's NLI and says that he is "excited" about Joe's future as a Friar, the Providence faithful aren't ready to forgive and forget.
Senior Year - The Joe Young Show
Playing out his senior season with his college choice already locked in, Joe Young puts on a show. He leads Yates to another state title and a spotless 34-0 record. Yates is as close to being the consensus No. 1 team in the country as you can have in a day and age where everybody and their dog has their own set of rankings. The great number of people whose rankings had Yates listed first includes USA Today, ESPN, MaxPreps and Rivals.
This gives Young the lofty title of best player on the best team in the country. If there is a high school basketball version of the Heisman Trophy, Young wins it hands down.
For his efforts, Young is named a Parade Third-Team All-American, a McDonalds All-American nominee, an ESPN RISE first-team All-American, and the Gatorade Texas Boys Basketball Player of the Year.
This is the period of time in which you would normally expect the high-profile offers to come pouring in. But Young has already signed his NLI, which is a binding contract. As such, Joseph is allowed to finish his high school career just the way he wants -- without having to answer all of those nagging questions about recruiting. Without having to answer any questions, really, that don't directly involve his play on the basketball court.
All indications are that Young is set to become the highest profile Friars recruit in at least 15 years.
Things Fall Apart For Providence
While the 2009-10 season is an unmitigated success for Joe Young, things aren't looking nearly so good for his future school. The Friars finish just 12-19 overall, including an abysmal 4-14 mark in Big East play. As bad as the basketball season is, the offseason soon gets much worse.
On April 12 of this year, a pair of Friar hoopsters are charged with felony assault for an altercation with a Providence student. They are both eventually expelled.
On May 18, Providence dismisses its leading scorer and rebounder, Jamine Peterson, from the team for a violation of team rules. It is later revealed that his dismissal stemmed from an "incident" involving some 15-year-old AAU basketball players in a dorm room.
On May 28, assistant coach Pat Skerry leaves Providence to take a job at conference rival Pittsburgh.
On June 2, highly-touted recruit Naadir Tharpe (class of 2011) backs out of his verbal commitment to Providence, saying that Skerry was the reason that he had chosen Providence in the first place.
The next day, Michael Young takes to the media, saying that his son has asked Providence to release him from his NLI. He goes on to provide the rationale behind the decision, saying that Joe's aunt (Michael's sister) is gravely ill and in need of a heart transplant. Michael continues by stating that Joe no longer wants to go to school so far from home, but instead wants to stay by the side of the woman who raised him as her own when his father was playing basketball overseas. Once again, the father speaks on behalf of the son who won't face the media.
While Providence certainly wouldn't be happy to lose yet another talented player before he even set foot on the court for the team, it seems like the only right thing to do would be to grant Joseph Young's release.
Except Providence says no. And that's when all hell breaks loose.
An outraged Michael Young roundly criticizes Davis.
He didn't even call to ask about our situation. When we did speak he said he is not letting Joseph out of his letter because when he signs players they have to live up to it, but he's not listening to what we have to say. He is showing his true colors.
Young announces that he will appeal Providence's decision to the NLI governing body. If they rule in Young's favor, Joe will be able to play for any school in 2010-11. If not, he will have to sit out a year.
The negative response from Providence fans comes fast and furious, as comments on web-based news stories, and on message boards -- both their own and Houston's.
"If he cares about his aunt and wants to be there for her, he wouldn't play anywhere."
"Yeah right... gotta believe the dialogue and tone would be quite different if it truly was about the sick aunt."
"To use someones illness for an excuse is disgusting. Thank God PC will not to have to deal with these people and there issues."
The insensitivity turns the stomach, but can you blame them? The implication that the Youngs can't be taken at their word comes straight from the top. While Davis doesn't publicly state that he believes that Michael Young (or someone else) is wrongly tampering with Joseph's decision, his decision not to grant the release speaks volumes. Whether or not he'd like to admit it, Davis is calling shenanigans on the "sick aunt excuse".
The Questioning Of Motives
Much of the frustration from the Providence side over the Joseph Young situation has been directed at Michael Young. With Joe not speaking to the media, Friar fans have painted a caricature of Michael as the controlling father. But the point remains that, in spite of what father Young has said to his son and the media, Joe did originally choose Providence, and Michael co-signed the NLI. So if the Youngs are using the sick aunt as an excuse, what's the real reason?
One could argue that with the Providence program falling apart, and with Tom Penders out at UH, Joe Young is re-thinking his decision. Penders and Michael Young were always rumored to have a contentious relationship, although Young has denied this.
As for the idea that Joe Young is abandoning the sinking Providence ship, timing is key. When Michael took his case to the media on June 3, he stated that he made the original request for the release 30 days prior. If true (and this seems like something that should be fairly easy to verify) that would mean that Young's request for release predates both the dismissal of Peterson and the departure of Skerry. This largely nullifies the argument that Joe Young is backing out of his commitment because things are looking bad at Providence.
The growing assumption that Joe Young is bound for UH is rather curious, given that he has already spurned the Cougars' advances once. However, asking for a release from an NLI to be with a sick family member, and then enrolling at another school far away from said family member would likely draw some unwanted attention from the powers that be, not to mention that it would be a pretty seedy thing to do.
One could imagine nearby Texas-Austin or Texas A&M being interested after the show that Young put on during his senior season, but both are stocked with young talent at Joe's shooting guard position. Rice, Texas Southern, Houston Baptist, Sam Houston State and Lamar don't seem like viable options. That leaves UH. And choosing the Cougars would certainly make sense for Joe Young, if his desire to be around his family is genuine.
And really, who are any of we to say that his motives aren't pure? If anything, Young's decision has drawn some raised eyebrows because his stated motives are a little too legitimate.
Think about it.
Schools are constantly backing out of commitments they have made to coaches. The University of Houston just did this when it released baseball coach Rayner Noble with three years left on his contract.
Coaches are constantly backing out of commitments they have made to their employers. Just ask Drake University, a small school in Des Moines, Iowa, whose men's basketball team made a run to the NCAA tournament in 2008, and complied an impressive 28-5 record. After winning multiple national coach of the year award honors, Drake's head coach bolted for a higher paying job, despite having completed just one year of a five-year contract. That coach's name was... let's see here... ah, yes: Keno Davis.
Every year, countless coaches are fired, countless coaches leave for better jobs, and countless college athletes transfer schools for no better reason than this: "I got a better offer."
And frankly, if Joseph Young had come out and said, "I don't know what I was thinking, I don't want to go to Providence, so I'll sit out my one year and transfer elsewhere", nobody would have blamed him or batted an eye. But his motivation was too genuine, and nothing draws more skepticism in this cynical world than somebody claiming to do something with the best of intentions. And that's the great irony here.
So go ahead, look at Joseph Young, and see whatever you want to see -- an immature kid, a spoiled diva, or a meddling father. Just understand that you're really looking at yourself.