The Blessing of Basketball
The odds were against Jitim Young.
Raised on Chicago’s West Side, Young experienced a lot at a young age: frustration when his peers were consumed by gangs, despair when his mother left him and his brother, and hope when basketball became his ticket out.
“I think basketball was a blessing God gave me,” says Young, a Northwestern communication studies senior. “It was an escape from madness.”
As a Gordon Tech High School basketball standout, Young received recruitment offers from Michigan State, Penn State, Notre Dame and Marquette. He chose Northwestern because of its high academic standards, the persistence of former Wildcat coach Kevin O’Neill and, perhaps most importantly, its proximity to his grandmother, Ruthie Young, who raised him since he was about 5 years old.
“I just feel like if it wasn’t for my grandma, I wouldn’t be at Northwestern — I probably wouldn’t be alive,” Young says. “She epitomizes woman power. I get my energy from her — I’m a live wire.”
Young has placed his energy into basketball, proving worthy of O’Neill’s recruitment efforts. He began his basketball career at Northwestern the same season head coach Bill Carmody took over for O’Neill. Since stepping on the court in fall 2000, the 6-foot-2 guard has started every game, scored more than 1,200 career points and twice been named Big Ten Player of the Week. Averaging nearly 20 points per game in 2003–04, he’ll likely close his career in the top 10 in scoring in Northwestern history. He made third team All-Big Ten in 2002–03.
“We both came along at the same time, and the same things about Northwestern appealed to us both,” says Carmody. “It was a challenge for us — to move basketball along here. Jitim wanted to make Northwestern special.”
But Young’s success on the basketball court accompanied some initial struggles at Northwestern, including the transition from a community of friends on the West Side to a world of strangers on campus.
“When I got to Northwestern, I didn’t have anyone who could relate to me,” Young says. “I was lost for a while, but I had to get through it to be productive as a student and as an athlete.”
The transition to college basketball also meant stronger competition, longer practices and more time out of class and on the road.
“I miss out on a lot of school in college because I travel more to away games, but it doesn’t affect my grades,” Young says. “The guys who are the toughest find a way to get it done. That’s how it works in the real world, too. Big corporations hire the guys who can work long hours and come in again the next morning.”
This mentality has kept Young going under pressure. He practices five hours each day, yet still manages to find time to study.
“The coach is very demanding,” says Young. “If you don’t do your job in the classroom, you can’t play.”
Carmody credits Young with being an inspirational force on the team. “He motivates me,” Carmody says. “When I see that guy walk into the gym every day, always ready to play his hardest, it picks me up.”
With NBA aspirations and plans for a career in sociology, Young hopes he can motivate the kids he grew up with and inspire the West Side neighbors whom he considers family.
“I feel like I’m helping other kids who grew up in my situation, teaching them to be smart and use their brains to get out,” Young says. “Hopefully I’m a positive influence to new generations.”
Carmody knows Young will be a success no matter where life takes him.
“He’s a sharp kid, and I know he’s going to do well in whatever he chooses,” Carmody says. “You could recommend him for anything because he’s a very capable young man.”
—Kate Johnson (J05)