A Saturday Well Spent

You can never be quite sure what to expect from Thaddeus Young. Scout.com's #5 player in the nation should be spending his days preparing for the NBA or handling a select list of elite schools. We caught up with the athletic forward this past week in San Diego at USA Basketball's Youth Development Festival and found surprises once again for the unique student-athlete.

It was not quite the week that Thaddeus Young expected, when he accepted the invitation as one of 33 top high school players to participate USA Basketball's 2005 USA Development Festival and International Sports Invitational.  This year's festival allowed Young and others to compete against some of the most elite domestic talents in the 2006 and 2007 classes, as well as international competition against top junior players from Russia, China, Canada and New Zealand.  This is how the best get better, and that is a scary thought for the already dominant 6'8" 208-pound small forward.  Scout.com currently ranks Young #2 in the nation at his position and #5 among all players in the 2006 class.

After an opening few days of practices, the Memphis (Tenn.) man and his Team USA Blue were the last of the three American squads to play their first game.  They ripped New Zealand to shreds Wednesday evening, 188-57, with a pressure defense and athletic attack in transition.  In an impressive display on both ends of the floor by Team USA Blue, there may have been no player more impressive than Young.  But his game and tournament were quickly cut short early in the third quarter when he twisted his body awkwardly upon a collision with one Kiwi.  Young suffered a second-degree ankle sprain.  He was officially listed as "day to day" by USA Basketball officials but had no chance of returning to the floor for what was still the bulk of his team's tournament.  Team USA Blue went all the way to the gold medal game before dropping to a loaded Team USA White, and observers could not help but wonder what difference Young might have made in the championship.

The athletic forward is an explosive but fluid leaper who can rebound and score in heavy traffic around the rim, and the matchup becomes only more difficult away from the basket with Young's improving shooting touch.  Though he played just a couple minutes past halftime in his team's opening game Wednesday night, Young was dominant with 16 points in 16 minutes on 6-of-9 shooting, including 1-of-1 outside the arc and 3-of-3 at the free throw line.  The lefty's brief performance was titillating and sensational, leaving us hungry for more.  Any normal kid who traveled across the country for this event would have been despondent and disgruntled, but Young kept a smile on his face as he meandered the San Diego State campus the remaining several days on crutches.

"I've been basically enjoying the entire event," he told The Bootleg in an interview Thursday night.  "Most of the best guys in my class are here - playing with and against them.  I don't see too many of the same guys any other time of the year."

"It's great just to be in the U.S.  Last year I was in Germany," he adds.  Young was part of the U.S. team that traveled last April to Mannheim, Germany to play in the Albert Schweitzer Basketball Tournament.  That trip took him off American soil for the important AAU events during the April evaluation period, which limited his exposure.  He then spent the bulk of his summer at a top summer school enrichment program at the Taft School in Connecticut, with studies ranging from chemistry to creative writing.

College coaches and recruiting scouts shook their collective fist at the sky at the lost opportunities to watch Young much of last spring and summer.  There was one tantalizing appearance for the Memphis underclassman at the AAU Nationals in Orlando (Fla.) the last week of the July period.  Despite his lack of exposure, Young has suffered no hiccup in his recruitment or rankings.  He has more scholarship offers than he can recite - estimating between 40 and 50 at the end of his junior year.

"Right now I'm telling everybody the same as it's always been.  It's all open," Young declares, continuing his refusal to name any favorites among his monster list of schools.  "I don't know too much right now, to be honest."

35 of Scout.com's top 100 players in the 2006 have already concluded their recruitment with commitments, and most of the remaining blue chip prospects have whittled down their list to a narrow group of final favorites. In contrast, Young has consistently welcomed the efforts of any serious suitor, unconcerned and unhurried.

"Some people say it is late in recruiting.  To me, it's early," he proclaims.  "Me and my dad and my cousin - we'll narrow the schools to a top five or top seven at the end of July.  Then I'll start to take visits before my high school season starts."

With dozens of schools still permitted to recruit him, you can imagine the volume and complexity of communications that Young and his family have been receiving, including the in-school visits from college coaches.  Regrettably, this Mitchell High School star has seen little to differentiate the mass of messages.

"Everybody came in and spoke with me, but nobody said anything different.  They all had about the same thing to say," Young laments.  When asked if he wished the schools had delivered more unique messages, the forward recruit lets loose a roar of laughter, nodding his head vigorously.

No matter how you ask the question, you cannot pry anything resembling a favorites list.  The converse line of interrogation for any particular school comes up snake eyes as well.  But Young does have some comments on the Cardinal, who have invested efforts recruiting the student-athlete.

"Stanford has been in contact.  I last talked to them maybe two months ago, but they send a lot of handwritten letters," he shares.  "Right now, I am taking every school into consideration."

Though a longshot for several reasons, Young has Stanford's attention as much for his 4.3 GPA and top five class rank at Mitchell High School as his athletic abilities.  Memphis is a challenging area for Stanford admissions, but Thaddeus Young is not your average student-athlete.  Take for example how he spent his Saturday in San Diego.  Knowing in advance that it would be the final day of the International Sports Invitational, with a likely spot in the championship game, Young had the date circled on his calendar for other reasons.  In the weeks and months leading up to this event, the #5 recruit in the nation made the phone calls and arrangements to have USA Basketball facilitate the ACT test for him on Saturday.  He was the only player among the 33 in attendance to take the standardized test in San Diego, and it only happened because of his initiative.

"I'm aiming for a high score," he said on Thursday.  "I've been going to nonstop prep classes and listening to recorded tapes."

Young says he has scored in the range of a 24 on his practice tests, which if achieved on the actual ACT could make his recruiting relationship with the Cardinal a little more interesting.

"If I got a high enough score for Stanford, I would probably have to consider them pretty seriously," he allows.

Don't hold your breath, but don't sleep on Thaddeus Young.  We'll check back with the Memphis man in a few weeks for an update on his test score and the resulting outlook for Trent Johnson and the Cardinal.  The fab forward has a knack for surprises, as he continues to follow his own unique path.

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