Having just finished a hard practice at his new team’s Lifetime Fitness facility inside the Target Center, seven-year NBA veteran Thaddeus Young knocks down jump shots with a broad smile spread across his face.
He has plenty of reasons to be in a good mood.
After winning only 19 games last year as a member of the Philadelphia 76ers, Young joined the Minnesota Timberwolves in August as part of a historic trade that saw the franchise part ways with its disgruntled superstar, Kevin Love, and acquire the past two No. 1 overall draft picks.
Young spent his first seven seasons in the NBA with the 76ers, the team that selected him 12th overall in the 2007 draft. He experienced some highs—including two playoff berths—but many more lows. Last year’s 19-win team lost 26 straight games at one point, tied for the longest streak in league history. In his seven years, he also played for five different coaches.
Now he’s on a team that has an accomplished coach in Flip Saunders and one of the most talented prospects in recent memory, Andrew Wiggins. The optimism surrounding this young roster is one that hasn’t been present in the Target Center for a decade, and the team’s new 6-foot-8 power forward is thrilled to be part of it.
“I was very happy about the situation I was coming into. They were acquiring a lot of young guys to try to rebuild the team very quickly, as opposed to Philly where they weren’t trying to do too many things, they were trying to just wing it and keep going at a steady pace,” Young said during an interview in late October. “This organization is trying to get back to the playoffs and trying to do something real big this year.”
I’m just spitting down my wisdom to ‘em and just letting them know: This is how it’s gonna be, this is what you should expect, this is what you need to do, this is what you shouldn’t do …
Unfortunately, after a promising start to the season, the Timberwolves have been decimated by injuries. Young is second on the team in scoring but also missed some time after the death of his mother, Lula Hall, to cancer.
For Young, playing basketball wasn’t a given—even as the son of former NBA draft pick, Felton Young. However, at Mitchell High School in Memphis, he used a combination of natural athletic ability and hard work to become one of the best players in the country. The 2006 Tennessee Gatorade Player of the Year and one of the top recruits in his class, Young began his professional career after a lone season at Georgia Tech.
There’s a lot more to Young than the typical NBA player, too. He was a 4.0 student in high school. He’s a husband and has two young sons. He even started a foundation to help at-risk kids.
Shortly before the start of his eighth NBA season, Young chatted with ThreeSixty about his high school days, his new team, and becoming old enough to serve as a “mentor” on the young Wolves.
You were a really good player in high school, won a lot of awards and were a top five recruit. What was it like getting national attention at a young age?
It was great. You get a chance to get a feel for some of the things that go on like they do in the NBA. Lots of people know you. They tend to flock to you and ask for autographs and stuff like that. It was a great feeling having a great fan base in high school.
What were the best and worst parts of the recruiting process?
The worst part is, you change your number five or ten times and they somehow get your number and call you and call you and call you. Now the rules have changed slightly, but it was a great experience because you have college coaches calling you and so many people want you to come to their school and be part of their program. It makes you happy and very enthused about going to college.
Why did you end up choosing Georgia Tech over schools like North Carolina and Kentucky (who were both recruiting him)?
I think it was a great situation for me, they were known for one-and-dones and were a great academic school. The education part was real big for me because I was a 4.0 student in high school. Also, the coaches welcomed me in and I felt like it was a family atmosphere. And I had a relationship with one of the players already on the team, as far us playing against each other, playing with each other and just being around each other.
Do you think the fact that your dad was drafted in the NBA put a little added pressure on you to be a successful basketball player? Was that something your parents expected?
No, not at all. Actually, before I played basketball, I was a football player. I played football for probably three or four years. I broke my collarbone and that was the end of football. Basketball, I just kind of really got into it when I was 14 or 15 years old and got really, really good in a few years, and just stuck with it.
Around what age did you realize that you had what it took to make it to the NBA?
I’d probably say when I started seeing my name on draft boards coming out of high school—11th and 12th grade. But more senior year, people started talking to me, agents started trying to get into contact with my parents and stuff like that. It was a different ballgame when I reached my senior year.
You mentioned being a 4.0 student in high school. What were some of the things you were thinking about doing if basketball didn’t work out?
I actually wanted to be a really good financial advisor and work for one of those big companies that does a lot of financial planning and helping people get their life in order.
Can you talk a little bit about why you’re excited for this season?
We’re young, we’re athletic, we have a good mixture of young guys and veteran guys. We have a lot of scoring, of course, and I think this team can make the transition to get back to the playoffs.
How did your first seven years in Philly contribute to your development as a player?
I’ve been through the ups and downs, seen a lot of different players, seen a lot of different coaches, been through a lot of different GMs, two different ownership groups—so I’ve seen a lot of change. It’s helped me adapt to change in my career and change in the team structure. So that was big in helping me, coming here with this (latest) change.
You’ve gone from being the second youngest player in the league during your rookie year to now being one of the more veteran guys going into your eighth year. What’s that like?
It’s a huge change. It’s crazy, because I look at some of the young guys now and I’m like, “Was that how I was when I first came in?” But now you’re much wiser, you have more experience and you know certain things that get you by on the court that they don’t know.
Is there stuff that you know now that you wish someone would’ve told you when you were a rookie?
Yeah, plenty of things. (Laughs). I just wish I had certain guidance as far as just helping me out. Sometimes when you come into the league, a lot of guys are looking at you as taking their position and stuff like that, so they don’t really wanna help guide you. My second year, I think I had it more than anything, where I was on a team with Reggie Evans and guys like that, and they were helping me get by and showing me how to figure out things.
Do you feel like now you can be a mentor to young guys like Zach (LaVine), Andrew (Wiggins) and Anthony (Bennett)?
Yeah, definitely. Whenever they come to me, they wanna talk to me and pick my brain and ask “what do you think?” and we’re going back and forth about things. I’m just spitting down my wisdom to ‘em and just letting them know: This is how it’s gonna be, this is what you should expect, this is what you need to do, this is what you shouldn’t do …
What are some of the reasons for your success in basketball?
My character and my ability to go out there and guard multiple positions and be very active and pesky on defense.
Are you prepared for the Minnesota winter weather?
No. I’ve heard it gets pretty crazy. It got pretty bad in Philly, but not like what I’ve been hearing (about Minnesota). I’ve heard it’s gonna be like negative 20, negative 30, but I hope it doesn’t get there. (Laughs).
Can you talk a little about the Young for Youth foundation and why you started that?
Basically, it was just to help at-risk kids. We go from clothing kids, to prom dress drives for young ladies, to feeding kids, to ACT prep courses, SAT prep courses, Big Brother-Little Brother programs, so we do a lot of different things. We’ve hired tutors to help the kids within our AAU program improve their grades to qualify for college and stuff like that.
THE YOUNG FILE
- Profession: Minnesota Timberwolves power forward
- Age: 26
- High school: Mitchell High School, Memphis
- College: Georgia Tech
- Career highlights: Averaged a career-high 17.9 points and six rebounds during the 2013-14 season with the Philadelphia 76ers. Named to the NBA T-Mobile All-Rookie Second Team in 2007-08. In high school, was a McDonald’s All-American, three-time All-State selection and member of National Honors Society.
- Find ‘em: On Twitter @yungsmoove21