While the USC Trojans have been chasing their first Pacific-10 basketball championship in 24 years, Ron Young has been shouting encouragement from his customary spot behind the bench. He started the season on the bench, but the change in seating arrangements hasn't dampened his enthusiasm.
"Some guy behind me came up and said, 'Hey, do you have to get up after every play?' And I said, 'Sorry about that, but I can't help it.' "
The former Hoover High center, who played a grand total of 91 minutes in 17 games for the Trojans as a freshman last season, decided he wanted to redshirt this season after sitting on the bench for every minute of the first six games. He went to Stan Morrison and asked the coach to declare him ineligible for the rest of the schedule.
"It was just a relief," Young said. "A lot of pressure was taken off me. I don't have to suit up anymore, so I don't have to worry about competing every day and I can concentrate on classes. Playing so poorly on the basketball court kind of reflected on my grades and vice versa."
Young, who has yet to decide on a major, doesn't feel he is wasting a year of his life by committing himself to a five-year college career. He wants to enjoy big-time college life.
Lighter Scholastic Load
"I'm not in a real hurry to go out and get a job. It's just another year to have fun and go to school. It'll also lighten up the load with my units. I don't have to take as many classes as I would if I was going to graduate after four years."
Morrison, citing a statistic that only 23% of all college students graduate in four years, agreed that sitting out the season will help Young academically.
"There are very few kids who are able to graduate in four years," said the coach, who listed Maurice Williams ('82), Barry Brooks ('81), George Ratkovich ('81) and current Trojan Wayne Carlander among his four-year USC graduates.
"For a person to graduate in five years is remarkable," Morrison added. "Ronnie's a guy who will graduate in five years. This allows him to have a little more relaxed approach to his academics, not feel too much pressure in terms of carrying 18 units at a time and also continue to grow as a player."
The 6-6 forward found himself on the bench for a number of reasons, not the least of which has been the Trojans' outstanding depth at forward. Young has to wait behind seniors Carlander, Ron Holmes and Glenn Smith, junior Kevin Steward and sophomore Derrick Dowell. In addition, he has been plagued with Morton's neuroma, a foot ailment that causes pain under his toes. A third reason, according to Morrison, was the sophomore's overall physical condition.
"He didn't come back to school as tight (muscularly) as he needs to be to compete, given his athletic ability," the coach said. "I don't think he went as strongly this summer as he could have.
"Part of it could be that he thinks, 'Well, these guys are seniors, they're good players, they're already producing in the program, and Morrison's going to go with those guys.' I don't want a kid to think that way. I want a kid to come in here on Oct. 15 and compete for the position, because nothing is locked up."
Although Young doesn't suit up for games now, he practices with the players, eats dinner with them and takes part in the pregame shoot-arounds. The only time he doesn't accompany the squad is during trips to Oregon, Washington, Arizona and Northern California. He doesn't feel like an outsider, though, and is philosophical about his non-involvement in what may end with the school's first conference title since 1961 when it won with an 11-5 record.
Looking for Championships
"We want to turn USC into a respected school as far as basketball is concerned," he said the other day in the lobby of Heritage Hall, where the school's four Heisman football trophies are displayed. "I hope there are going to be a couple more championships in the next three years I am here. I know I'm a part of this team right now, even though I'm redshirting, so it really doesn't bother me."
Because of USC's 18-8 record, its 12-4 Pac-10 mark and the added significance of every conference game, Young has become a victim of his teammates' success. But he has adjusted to the inactivity quite well for a two-time all-CIF Southern Section selection in high school, who has played organized basketball since the fourth grade.
"I'm sure it's tough, but Ron's the type of guy who can handle it," said Kirt Kohlmeier, who coached Young at Hoover.
Morrison added: "He's doing it very maturely. I see him the first day we come back (from a road game) and I know his ear's glued to the radio or he's watching us on television. He's a Trojan. He bleeds cardinal and gold. Why, heck, he has no choice. His dad would kill him if he didn't."
Young's father is 1965 team captain Allen Young, a two-time all Pac-10 forward and the Trojans' eighth all-time leading scorer. He was seventh before Holmes passed him with a 20-point game last Sunday against Texas.
"Allen Young was a great athlete here," Morrison noted, "and his son is going to be an equally outstanding basketball player at USC."
The senior Young, who works in commercial real estate for Coldwell Banker in Sherman Oaks, agreed with his son's decision to sit out the 1984-85 season, since it was becoming obvious that he wasn't going to play.
"It might drive him up the wall more than me," Ron said of his non-playing status, "He just wants to see me in there and playing, to do my best and show everyone what I can do."
Young, who went to Hoover from Toll Junior High, played 79 games for the Tornadoes and totaled 1,270 points for a 16.4 average--both school records for three-year players. He also was named to The Times' all-area team in 1982 and 1983. His teammates named him co-MVP with Joe Hillman in 1982 when Hoover went 10-0 in the Foothill League and 27-2 overall and lost to St. Bernard in the Southern Section 3-A championship game.
The prep basketball star, who selected USC over Fresno State and Arizona, has majored in humility since joining the Trojans. Morrison has taught him to play differently from the finesse style to which he was accustomed. Young, an outstanding shooter and passer, played the post at Hoover and was responsible for the bulk of the rebounding and the inside defense. Now he is learning to play away from the basket, play perimeter defense and make the outlet pass.
"We changed his game," Morrison said. "This is an entirely different world for him. But his maturity has allowed him to be very realistic about the success he had in high school and what it takes to compete at this level."
Watching from the stands has allowed Young to concentrate on the game, instead of sitting in uniform at the end of the bench and waiting--often in vain--for his name to be called.
"He's really a dedicated student of the game," Morrison observed. "He understands the game of basketball probably better than a couple of our seniors. I think he's probably spent more time looking at the game because his on-court instinct is very good."
On the court is where Young expects to be next season. By training camp he will be ready to compete for the small forward position against Dowell and Steward, who have a head start.
"I think he can definitely help them out and I hope he gets the opportunity," Kohlmeier said. "Ron's got something inside that will blossom. He's a small, shooting forward, kind of Jamaal Wilkes-type, and sometimes you've got to make a spot for a guy like that."
Young, whose finest game last year was an eight-point, six-rebound performance in 24 minutes against California, admitted he was a little soft on defense when he arrived at USC. He asked Morrison what he needs to do in order to play more and the coach told him to concentrate on defense and be more physical. To that end, he has followed a weight training program during the season that will help him handle the contact around the basket.
"His commitment right now and through this summer will be the strongest that he's ever had in his life," Morrison said.