M bball: Tempering his game

By Gus Bode

Why should he care, Tony Young wondered on cold winter nights when teammates sneered at him for committing a foul or throwing the ball out of bounds.

Why should anything concern him, when his own father didn’t care about him?

Young said he grew up without knowing his dad, who never bothered to call, write or show him how to shoot a basketball.


Since moving to a house in the suburbs from Chicago’s west side at age 9, he said he felt disconnected from his classmates at Schaumburg High School. The kids he called teammates didn’t really know him.

They weren’t like him.

These were preppy kids – kids with cars, money, expensive clothes – all the things he didn’t have.

Once an angry teen, Young, has developed into one of the Missouri Valley Conference’s top defenders for the No. 11 Salukis. But he overcame a lifelong battle with anger first.

In Schaumburg’s bright gymnasium, he said he’d run the exhausting drills until his back burned. His frustration often turned into anger.

“It was like, if you said the wrong thing to me we’re going to fight,” Young said.

Part of that anger, he said, came from his father being absent from his life.


Absent Father

Richard Norris never saw his son Antonio “Tony” Young dribble his first basketball. When Young and his high school teammates won the state championship in 2001, dad did not congratulate him.

Young rarely spoke about his father. Rather, he said he would bury any knowledge of Norris. Birthdays, Christmases passed by – no sign of dad. When someone would ask about his dad, Young would quickly snap, “I have no father.”

Young said Norris, who lives in Lake Providence, La., never visited him or attended any of his basketball games.

When Young would think about his father, tears often welled up in his eyes.

“I know it bothered him,” said Young’s mother, Carolyn. “He never talked about it.”

Dad was not there when Young needed him most during his teenage years. Carolyn, a single mother of three, had to shoulder a double role. Young said he and his mother had a rocky relationship during his teenage years, but he always turned to mom for guidance.

“There was no man in his life to teach him how to be man,” Carolyn said. “But I did the best I could.”

Then Young met Ivan Thomas.

Growing Pains

In his sophomore year at Schaumburg High School, Young – feeling disconnected from his classmates – said he considered transferring or dropping out of school.

Thomas, a guidance counselor at the school, often would call the teen to his office for long talks, Young said. He said he would often turn to Thomas, now a high school coach in Virginia, for advice.

“Hang in there,” Young recalled Thomas saying. “We need more young, black men doing positive things.”

“He’s the main reason I got through high school,” Young said. “My freshman and sophomore year, he was there for me.”

Young decided to stick with basketball. As he discovered later, all the thousands of drills and the painful practices paid dividends.

“No question it was difficult for him,” Schaumburg coach Bob Williams said. “He didn’t want to do all the discipline things that we required. But he overcame that.”

Young said he learned he didn’t have to do everything himself and began to trust his teammates,

In Young’s junior year, Schaumburg stunned heavily favored Thornwood and current New York Knick Eddy Curry 66-54 in the Class AA state championship game in March 2001. As a senior, Young averaged 18.2 points and six assists a game, and earned his conference’s player of the year award.

Heart of Gold

In spring 2001, then-SIU coach Bruce Weber heard about an undersized power forward from Schaumburg who could shut down nearly every player he guarded.

Standing a shade under 6-feet, Young often guarded players that towered over him.

Young’s relentless, aggressive defense impressed Weber and his staff.

“The thing I remember is just how intense he was and how demanding was of himself,” says Weber, now coach at the University of Illinois.

But they’d also heard of his anger problems too.

As a freshman Saluki running scrimmages against his older teammates, Young was frequently shoved to the ground. He often responded by spiking the ball into the tile.

“I was so little, everybody was just running me over,” Young said. “I felt like a little boy playing with men. I had to get serious about it.”

Young did just that. He decided to redshirt his freshman year to work on his skills. He hit the weights harder and added 15 pounds of muscle to his 170-pound frame. He listened to his coaches’ advice. He spent more time working on his jump shot.

By his sophomore year, he earned MVC Sixth Man of the Year honors.

But Young’s fiery temper remained.

SIU coach Chris Lowery, who was an assistant under Weber at the time, said the young guard would grow impatient and get into foul trouble.

“He would just be upset with himself,” Lowery said. “We had to get him to understand, whenever you make a mistake, don’t compound that by making another mistake that may lead to a technical foul.”


Young reached a new level in summer 2005. With newfound confidence, he torched his teammates with an array of jumpers and layups during scrimmages at SIU Arena.

Then it happened.

While chasing a rebound one day, he landed awkwardly on teammate Stetson Hairston’s foot. An X-ray revealed a fractured bone.

“It was the worst feeling ever,” Young said.

When Young returned, he had the best season of his career, averaging 11.6 points and 14.8 in Valley games, earning him MVC First Team honors.

On defense, Young attacks even more relentlessly, blocking passing lanes, poking away passes, until the man he’s guarding no longer wants the basketball. The guard has sank game-winning baskets against Drake and Northern Iowa.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been around a kid that was tougher,” Weber said. “(Former Illinois guard) Deron Williams was a guy who’s very competitive, but Tony’s probably the toughest guy I have been around and as good a defensive player. He barely lets you breathe on the offensive end.”

On senior night Saturday, Young put his defensive talents on full display against Evansville. During one sequence, he finished a fast break off a Tyrone Green pass then followed it up with another steal that led to a Saluki score. He finished with 17 points in his final game at SIU Arena. On Tuesday, MVC coaches named Young to the Valley’s All-Defensive Team.

“In my mind, I’m the littlest, strongest, craziest dude you’re going to meet,” Young said. “If you’re going to guard me, I’m going to guard you back. If you’re going to post me up, I’m not going to let you touch the ball.”

Bye ‘Dad’

On a rainy spring day in Indianapolis, Young said he laid to rest one chapter in his life.

In May 2006, Young and his girlfriend of two and a half years, Kyeshea McCord, hopped in his black Cadillac and made the four-hour drive from Carbondale to Indianapolis to attend his aunt’s graduate school commencement.

Later that evening at his aunt’s downtown house, he said kicked back with his father. They shared stories, laughed and played dominoes.

But later their conversation grew more serious. Young said his father apologized for missing out on his life.

The next day, Young returned to Schaumburg for Mother’s Day with a weight off his shoulders.

“All the anger that I had inside, I just let it go,” Young said. “There ain’t no reason to be mad at this man, because look how it turned out. There was more hurt on his part than mine because he missed out. All the stuff that I did and all the accomplishments that I’ve had is his loss, not mine.”