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Matured Joe Young determined to make NBA comeback: 'I'll do anything'

Matured Joe Young determined to make NBA comeback: 'I'll do anything'

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 four years.

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 Basketball Association.

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 on Instagram.

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 days.

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.

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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 sure.” 

Young believes that getting married and starting a family helped him mature.

“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 absolutely can.

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 culture.”

When speaking with his younger teammates, Young keeps his advice simple.

“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 get back].”

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 better.

“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.”

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