What Could Have Been: Houston With Joseph Young

Posted by Mike Lemaire on December 6th, 2013

Rather than cite KenPom.com throughout, just recognize that all of the non-basic statistics used in this piece come from that site.

If he hasn’t already, Oregon coach Dana Altman should consider sending Houston coach James Dickey a gift basket or at least a thank you card, because without Dickey’s shortsightedness, the Ducks’ best player of the young season would probably still be playing for the Cougars. If you are a little confused, we are talking about junior shooting guard Joseph Young, who has quickly put himself on the early short list for Pac-12 Player of the Year honors by shooting 54 percent from the floor (including 42.4 percent from three) and averaging 20.3 points per game in the Ducks’ 8-0 start. Young has been the offensive catalyst for Oregon and looks like one of the country’s best and most efficient players, which shouldn’t be all that surprising considering he was much the same last season in Houston.

Joseph Young Has Been Spectacular For Oregon, While Houston Fans Are Forced To Watch The Fireworks From Afar (credit: Lee Jim-man)

Young Has Been Terrific For Oregon While Houston Fans Are Forced To Watch From Afar

A Houston native and star at nearby Yates High School, Young initially committed to Providence coming out of high school, only to switch his commitment to the hometown school when new coach James Dickey chose to keep his father — Phi Slama Jama legend and former NBA player Michael Young — on staff as the program’s Director of Basketball Operations. The story is actually a bit more complicated than that, but that story has already been fleshed out plenty.

Young eventually suited up for Houston at the start of the 2011-12 season and he almost immediately became one of the team’s best players. He finished his freshman campaign as the team’s third-leading scorer, averaging 11.4 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 2.4 assists per game. He raised the bar even further last season when he led the team in scoring at 18.4 points per game while also chipping in 3.6 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game. The Cougars also boasted an exciting crop of freshmen led by Danuel House and Jherrod Stiggers (technically a redshirt freshman) and the thought was that Houston would take a giant step forward this season with Young spearheading the charge.

Those thoughts took a big hit when in May 2013 Dickey made the decision to reassign Michael Young from his position as director of basketball operations to some sort of community service role within the school’s athletic department. Clearly not lacking in the pride department, Young, who was one of the program’s most accomplished alumni and someone who had been involved in the program for the last 16 years, did not take kindly to the reassignment. So he did what he seems to do best, which was to run to the media with his side of the story. Drama ensued, a lawsuit was filed, but eventually Joseph Young — clearly unhappy with the way his father had been treated — ended up transferring to Eugene where he is now flourishing, much to the chagrin of Houston fans who are left wondering what could have been.

Dickey’s reasoning for reassigning Michael Young remains unknown and it will likely never become publicly known, but given his propensity for attracting unnecessary publicity, it doesn’t seem like a stretch to say Michael Young was probably a difficult employee to deal with. No matter how difficult he was to deal with, it still seems rash for Dickey to alienate his best player by effectively demoting his father. Jeff Eisenberg of The Dagger summed it up best in June when he pointed out that “Houston is probably better equipped to have staffers pick up the slack for the elder Young than to have players make up for Joseph Young’s absence.” The position is not an irrelevant one and a good Director of Operations can have a positive impact on a program, but not the same positive impact that an explosive returning leading scorer can make. You can see Dickey’s decision backfiring already this season.

Houston's Loss is Oregon's Gain (credit: SI.com)

Houston’s Loss is Oregon’s Gain (credit: SI.com)

The Cougars’ most glaring problems are on the defensive end of the floor where Young would likely make a small or negligible difference. But the team has plenty of issues on the offensive end which Young could obviously help with. For starters, the Cougars shoot just 69.5 percent from the free throw line, a weakness that Young — who has already been to the foul line more often this season than anyone on the Cougars’ roster and is shooting 83.6 percent there — could have helped improve. The Cougars are also lacking a reliable three-point gunner on the wing and are shooting just 32 percent from downtown as a team. L.J. Rose can shoot it, but he is also in charge of running the offense, and Stiggers has been nearly 10 percentage points worse from deep than he was last season. Only 21.3 percent of the Cougars’ points this season have come from beyond the arc (265th nationally) and only 22 percent of the team’s points have come from the free throw line (197th nationally). Young would undoubtedly help in both areas, not to mention the fact that he has also made better than 60 percent of his two-point attempts, which is more than 10 percentage points better than Houston’s team average of 49.6 percent.

Young staying in Houston wouldn’t have automatically made the Cougars an NCAA Tournament contender — they are too consistently awful defensively for that to happen — but at least they would have had a little more offensive firepower to help overcome some of those defensive deficiencies. Their struggles this season are important because Dickey is now in his fourth season at the helm, and while Houston has improved each year he has been in charge, the team is still no closer to returning to the NCAA Tournament than it was when he started. Jettisoning the Young family may end up costing more than just Michael Young his job.

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