- The Washington Times - Friday, July 11, 2003

Back in the mid-‘60s, when Tom Young was honcho of hoops at Catholic University, he had occasion to erupt one fine winter day upon learning that his sports information director — SID to those in the business — would not be attending the Cardinals’ next vital contest in the old Mason-Dixon Conference.

“Goshdarn it, Dick, you gotta be there,” roared Young, or words to that effect. “Gee whiz, you might be the worst SID in the history of basketball.”

Thus chastised or complimented, as the case might be, I skulked off to a career of sportswriting while Young went on to greater things as coach at American University, Rutgers and Old Dominion. Did pretty well, too, with a record of 524-328 (.615) and a trip to the Final Four with the Scarlet Knights after an unbeaten regular season in 1976.

ODU unwisely canned him in 1991 following a couple of lackluster seasons, and Young retreated to the relatively anonymous role of occasional consultant to fellow Maryland alum Gary Williams, Iowa’s Tom Davis and other coaches in college and pro ranks.

One of those coaches was Eddie Jordan, who played for Young at Rutgers in the 1970s. A few years ago, Young signed on momentarily to teach Jordan’s Sacramento Kings the proper way to play defense, and the two have remained close. So when Young turned up as one of Jordan’s full-time assistant coaches with the Wizards about five minutes after Eddie said “I do” to Abe Pollin’s proposal, it was no great surprise.

Or was it? After all, Young is an un-young 70 now, though he doesn’t look or act it. Why should somebody that age subject himself to the unceasing grind of an 82-game NBA season, plus the playoffs if the Wiz ever again make the postseason?

“I don’t think that will be a problem,” Young was saying this week at MCI Center while helping lay plans for the Wizards’ minicamp and Pro Summer League. “Hey, if you’re gonna play 82 games, that’s the way to go. NBA teams don’t fly commercial, and they get the best of everything to make the season as easy as possible. I have no qualms. Now if it was a college team playing 82 games …”

Young’s grimace lasted for a moment, then yielded to an easy smile. He is a happy man these days. He’s coaching full time again, his wife, Nancy, is in accord and the job is close enough to his Virginia Beach home that no geographic upheaval is required.

“This is the only scenario that would appeal to me, coaching with Eddie in the NBA,” Young said, “and Washington is the best possible location for me. I’m very comfortable with the situation.”

It’s hardly shocking that Young and Jordan have a mutual admiration society. “Eddie is very level-headed in any game or practice situation,” Young said. “Whether the situation is good or bad, he makes the most of it. He’s gonna do better than 99 percent of coaches would.”

Your turn, Eddie: “I really like how Tom teaches and how he relates to the players. He’ll teach our guys about a lot of principles that sometimes get lost in the NBA — passing, cutting, dribbling, those kinds of things. Plus, he’s a good guy to have around me. After all, it’s a long season.”

(Editorial comment: If he thinks it’s a long season now, wait until he sees the Wizards play 10 or 15 games.)

One added attraction for remaining Wizards fans should be the sight of Young, er, chastising the refs for ill-advised calls. In his prime, Tom could hop on the zebras pretty well, although he never flung chairs a la Bobby Knight. Never mind his white hair and senior citizen status — I’m betting Young can leap to his feet in full yowl like a 25-year-old. We’ll see.

Joining Young on Jordan’s staff are Mike O’Koren, the former North Carolina center, and Phil Hubbard. Tom might have felt a twinge or two when Hubbard arrived at MCI Center because Phil was a member of the Michigan team that eliminated Young’s Rutgers outfit in the ‘76 Final Four semifinals. One thing about coaches: They may forgive, but they never forget.

Young is the latest example of how NBA teams increasingly are turning to older hands as assistants. People like Tex Winter, Johnny Bach, Pete Carril and Hubie Brown have been offering their vast knowledge to rich whippersnappers who would be well advised to listen. We can only hope that Wizards like Kwame Brown, Juan Dixon and newcomers Jarvis Hayes and Steve Blake will lend and bend an ear.

“Basketball has never been far out of my mind,” said Young, meaning more than half a century, “and what I enjoy most is the X’s and O’s stuff. Heck, the game hasn’t changed that much; the defense we played at Maryland in the ‘50s is still rock solid. Of course, everything’s a little more physical in the NBA.”

Considering the lack of stability among Wizards coaches in recent years, it will be nice to have somebody around who knows what he’s doing and has done it for a long time. Of course, Tom Young can be as wrong as the next guy. As evidence, consider how he used to rank his SIDs.

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