Last month, as COVID-19 ravaged NBA rosters, a record number of
G League players were called up and veterans who hadn’t put on an
NBA jersey in several years were signed.
It seemed like the perfect opportunity for Joe Young to make his
NBA comeback and get the second chance that he’s dreamed about for
After being drafted No. 43 overall in the 2015 NBA Draft, Young
spent three seasons with the Indiana Pacers, but he hasn’t been on
an NBA roster since the 2017-18 season ended. Instead, he's been
putting up impressive numbers in the G League and Chinese
This season, Young is thriving with the Birmingham Squadron,
averaging 19.4 points, 4.2 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 2.3 threes and
1.1 steals on .473/.353/.931 shooting splits. He recently turned
heads with a 42-point, 8-assist, 7-three, 3-steal, 1-turnover
performance against the Stockton Kings.
“Sign that man!” his former Pacers teammate Myles Turner pleaded
However, even when nearly 150 players were sidelined due to the
league’s health and safety protocols in late December, Young still
didn’t get called up.
Young admits that it was hard for him to watch so many other
players get the NBA call that he’s desperately waited for.
“It was very frustrating,” Young told BasketballNews.com in an
exclusive interview. “You know me: I'm all for anybody. I don't
hate. A lot of those guys that got called up are from my draft
class, and they're my friends. Of course, when I saw it happen, it
hurts a little bit inside, man. Because I’m a guy who gets up every
day and kisses his kids goodbye at 5:45 a.m. to work out and better
myself. I really take pride in this game. I love this game. I think
about the game all day, every day. The game is all I know. That's
my profession, so I try to perfect my craft."
Squadron head coach Ryan Pannone wanted some answers. Last
month, at the NBA G League Showcase in Las Vegas, Pannone asked a
number of NBA executives about Young, and they all said the same
thing: They weren’t interested because of concerns about his
maturity and character after hearing stories from his Pacers
This frustrated Pannone, since he has grown close to Young this
season and couldn’t be happier with the 29-year-old’s leadership,
maturity, coachability, work ethic and effort.
“Everyone has the right to grow up, and your past mistakes don’t
define who you are today," Pannone told BasketballNews.com. "But
they can help shape and mold you into a better person and father,
and that is what Joe Young has done."
Young has made huge strides since his last stint in the NBA, but
the mistakes he made in his early-20s have haunted him and affected
how he’s perceived now. Young knows this, and he’s the first person
to admit that he was immature while in Indiana.
When the Pacers assigned him to their G League affiliate, the
Fort Wayne Mad Ants, the then-rookie Young got upset. And after a
few games with the Mad Ants, he pushed back on his G League
assignment, telling the Pacers’ decision-makers that he didn’t want
to be demoted again. When Pacers head coach Nate McMillan decided
to decrease his playing time midseason, Young admits that he grew
frustrated and stopped working as hard.
Now, these are some of Young’s biggest regrets and he cringes
when talking about the mistakes he made seven years ago.
“I'm a changed kid. I've grown up; I'm older,” Young said. “The
things I did that weren’t mature, I was 21, 22, 23 years old. Now,
I'm 29. It's a whole other mindset. I come in and try to bring as
much leadership as I can to a team. I feel like that's what a
professional is; I come to work, do my job at a high level, work
hard, lead — and I’m professional on and off the court.
“I didn't know [how to act] in an NBA scene. I’d come down the
middle, dunk on a player and start yelling in his face. Then,
they’d say, ‘He's immature.’ It's the little things like that. When
I came into the league, I was very confident. I was playing great
basketball in practice. Coach Nate commended me and said I [was]
doing good. But it was just my maturity level. I’d do good, and
Coach didn't play me, and I started slowing down because he didn't
play me. But that's not what a professional does. A professional
gets up every day even though he's not playing and he gets his work
in because he never knows when his name might get called.”
Prior to joining the Squadron, Young was candid about his past
with the team’s decision-makers.
“Before we drafted Joe, we called him to communicate our
situation and style of play, and in that first conversation,
without being asked, he was very honest and upfront about the
mistakes he made with the Pacers — his attitude, his entitlement
and [the lack of] professionalism that he displayed with them,”
Pannone said. “He told me that he was ready to do whatever was
asked, be a leader and a veteran who could help younger players not
make the same mistakes that he made.”
Marc Chasanoff, the Squadron’s general manager and the New
Orleans Pelicans’ senior director of basketball operations, says
that Young has been a pleasant surprise.
“Entering the G League draft, we didn't have a first-round pick;
we were sitting there with two second-rounders and he was at the
top of our board,” Chasanoff told BasketballNews.com. “We were
connecting with Joe leading up to the draft, and you got a sense of
maturity and growth from his standpoint. He talked about how he
made mistakes in the past and how he could have handled things
differently. From day one, he was just looking for an opportunity.
And that's what the G League is about; it should be a second
chance. From day one with us, he's carried himself with the utmost
professionalism and has been great with our group. He's one of the
pillars of the culture that we've built. Over the past three years,
we've really prided ourselves on finding high-character people and
high-quality people and he fits that from our experience, for
Young believes that getting married and starting a family helped
“I've matured to a whole ‘nother level, man,” Young said. “I'm
married now, I’ve got my kids that look up to me and I’ve got a lot
of responsibilities. When I got married and had my kids, it just
changed my perspective; every time I step on this court, I'm doing
it for my family. We work so hard for our kids and family. At the
end of the day, I want my son to be like me or even better than me.
And I just want my kids to grow up and see that I didn't give up; I
continued to fight. I want my family to see me get back into the
NBA. I want them to see what they should've seen when I first got
to the league.”
For the first time in three years, Young’s family has been able
to watch him play regularly, which has meant a lot to him. That
wasn’t the case when he was in China.
Young could have continued playing in the Chinese Basketball
Association, where he was an All-Star. Over his three seasons
abroad, he averaged 33.2 points, 5.9 assists, 4.9 rebounds, 2.8
threes and 1.9 steals. Had he stayed in China, he would’ve made
considerably more money than a G League team can offer, but he was
determined to chase his NBA dream. He came to this decision after
an emotional conversation with Stephon Marbury, who was his head
coach with the Beijing Royal Fighters last season.
Marbury knows all about the politics of the NBA and how a series
of mistakes can change the way you’re perceived around the league.
Few people can relate to what Young has been through, but Marbury
During their exit meeting last year, both discussed Young’s
future and how you can’t control how people perceive you. At one
point, Young and Marbury “shed tears together,” and Marbury said
something that has been stuck in Young's head ever since.
“I don't want to see you back in China next season,” Marbury
said, as recalled by Young. “You don’t belong here; you belong in
the NBA. It's not going to be easy, but if you keep fighting and
keep doing what you're doing, you’ll get back to the league. Don't
give up, even when it gets hard. [When you’re doubted], that should
make you go harder. Go get what you deserve."
At that point, Young knew he had to return to the NBA G League
and pursue a call-up.
“I keep that in the back of my mind,” Young said of Marbury's
advice. “Ever since, I’ve been trying to do what he told me. I've
been working my tail off ever since I got back from China."
Young is grateful that he got to play for Marbury and learn from
him last season. He also believes playing in China helped him
become a better leader and learn what it takes to run a team.
“Playing for him was amazing, man. I could really tell he cared
about me as a person and as a player,” Young said of Marbury.
“That's big bro. He helped elevate me as a player and as a person.
We won some games that they’d never won before. And I used my time
in China to better myself. [I thought], ‘If I keep working here, I
can take this mentality and bring it back to the U.S. and get back
in the league.’”
Young started applying what he'd learned in China as soon as he
joined the Squadron. On the first day of Birmingham’s training
camp, Young took the entire team out to Ruth’s Chris Steak House so
everybody could get to know each other. He’s put together several
of these team dinners throughout the season. Pannone says he has
emerged as a terrific leader and mentor, telling the younger
players about his mistakes and passing on lessons that he learned
the hard way.
“He is an asset to a winning culture," Pannone said. "Who Joe
has become as a person, what he has done as a leader and his
openness about his past mistakes with our players helped cultivate
our culture off the floor, which has carried over to our success on
the court. Even when we lost five games in a row, the bond that was
built with our team led to an environment of togetherness, fun and
work with a focus on the process and not the outcome.”
“Joe sets the tone with his work ethic; I wish the guy slept
more,” Chasanoff added. “He's a 5:45 a.m. guy; he gets up, does
treatment, gets a lift in and gets a sweat in before other guys
even get to the gym. But he also takes the time to get the team
together, organizing team dinners. Obviously, he's in a different
financial place than a lot of other people in the G League, but
I've rarely heard of players organizing team dinners like that, and
he's done it three different times. He takes guys under his wing
and he's very open about the mistakes he's made in the past and how
he’s trying to grow from them. He’s been great for our
When speaking with his younger teammates, Young keeps his advice
“Don't let them say you don't work hard, don't let them say you
aren't on time and don't let them say you have off-court issues. Do
everything like you're supposed to,” he explains. “That's what I
tell the younger kids. And it's not about just getting there; it's
about maintaining and staying [in the league], and that was what I
had to figure out myself. When you get that opportunity, don't mess
it up because you don’t want to be fighting like I'm fighting [to
At one point, Birmingham's coaches had to tell Young to rest
more because they were concerned he was pushing himself too hard
ahead of a six-games-in-10-days stretch.
“He was coming into the gym with our assistant coach Perry Huang
at 8:15 a.m. to shoot and work out, and then he would turn around
and be ready to practice hard (including twice a day in the
preseason),” Pannone raved. “He allows us to use him as an example
by coaching him hard and correcting him. When you can hold
accountable and coach hard the player who has the most NBA
experience and has made the most money, it helps set the tone for
the on-court culture you want to build.”
Chasanoff believes that Young deserves another NBA opportunity,
and he’s hopeful that the 29-year-old will get a chance to show an
organization just how far he’s come.
“I think Joe deserves the opportunity. He's done everything you
could've asked,” Chasanoff said. “Obviously, he's grown from his
past in the NBA. He's matured, he's put in the time from a
work-ethic and a character standpoint. I would vouch for him. From
a player standpoint, he's bought into the team concept. It's a very
unique concept. The G League is the only league in the world that
people sign in to leave. You sign in to get the NBA call-up or a
better deal overseas. A lot of times, it could be a high-agenda
[situation], especially someone in his position — a former NBA guy
who’s trying to get back.
"But he bought into the team concept. He hasn't been out there
hunting for stats. He bought into the coaching staff. His
coachability and work ethic have been very impressive, and he's
helped contribute to a very successful team. I think he can help on
the NBA side as well. He’s looking for a second chance; if and when
it comes, I think he can take full advantage of it.”
Young appreciates that Pannone and Chasanoff are vouching for
him and pushing for him to get called up, which means they’d be
losing one of their key players.
“It means a lot,” Young said. “That really means a lot. I really
appreciate Marc and Ryan and the New Orleans Pelicans organization
for helping me get back on track and really believing in me in this
process. From the first day to now, they've just been like, ‘Wow,
we're shocked.’ Coach is letting me lead this team. The dinners we
had together and the unity is why we won seven in a row. When we
lost five in a row, we didn't argue; we stuck together and that
came from the dinners and us hanging out. We're a new team, but we
feel like we’ve been playing together forever.”
Young is hopeful that an NBA team will give him a chance to
prove that he’s changed, just like Pannone and Chasanoff did at the
G League level. And he wants every NBA front office to know that
they’d be getting a player who’s extremely hungry, who won’t take
his roster spot for granted and who will do whatever it takes to
stick in the NBA this time around.
“I'm ready to show that I'm an NBA player off the court and on
the court,” Young said. “I'm very mature. I will do anything that I
need to do to get back to where I belong. I can lead a team, I can
apply pressure 94 feet, I can play any role. I can do anything a
coach asks me to do on the court and off the court to make a team
“They're going to get high intensity on the defensive end, and
leadership. Someone who will control the team as a point guard and
make sure I get everyone in their spots. I’ll control the game when
I get in, like a point guard should do. I’ll control the tempo on
the offensive end and, on the defensive end, I’ll pick up the point
guard full-court and make sure they can't get into their offense.
Just bring energy and be annoying. I just want to be that annoying
guard where my coach is like, ‘Joe, go in there and give me some
energy.’ I'll go in there and pick them up 94 feet for two minutes,
if I’ve got to. Those are the little things that I want to show
that I can do.”
Young has been waiting four years for this opportunity, and he’s
not giving up anytime soon.
“I feel like I'm going to get back in. I'm not going to give up
because I know I belong in the league,” Young said. “I put the work
in and I'm mature about it. I'm just ready to get back in, man.
Once it happens, I'm going to be shedding some tears, I promise
you. And I'm ready to shed some tears.”