During his last summer on the circuit as Clemson's coach, Oliver Purnell became intrigued by an under-the-radar point guard from one of the country's top AAU programs.
"I saw Brandon [Young] an awful lot with Team Takeover that summer," Purnell recalled. "I was always very impressed with him. He really had a tremendous upside."
Purnell was far from the only major Division I coach in the summer of 2009 who became enamored with Young, a Randallstown native who eventually signed with DePaul over Central Florida, Marquette, Massachusetts, Miami and South Florida. While the Tigers never became involved in the Friendship Collegiate Academy standout's recruitment, Purnell never forgot the 6-foot-4, 195-pound point guard.
Five months after Young signed his letter of intent, Purnell stunned the college basketball world by leaving Clemson to take the Blue Demons' head coaching job. Priority No. 1 for Purnell was convincing Young to stay on board.
"It was clear that [Young and his mother] liked DePaul and they liked Chicago," Purnell said. "It was really up to me to reassure them about the plan for him and how important he was for us in the new regime. We just set about doing that, sat down with his mother. We had an outstanding rapport right from the start."
Young never wavered on his DePaul commitment, becoming Purnell's point guard of the future – and present. While the Blue Demons labored through a 7-24 season in Purnell's first year on the job, Young emerged as a notable bright spot, cementing his status as one of the Big East's rising young stars.
"I was a freshman playing in the Big East, the toughest conference in the country," Young said. "I struggled at first, got frustrated. Then I started getting the hang of it. … It was all coming along. But it's good now."
The 2010-11 season was a trial by fire for Young, who started all 31 games for the Blue Demons and logged 30.4 minutes per game. Young, who played two seasons at Randallstown High and two at Friendship Collegiate in D.C., finished the year averaging 12.6 points – second on the Blue Demons behind fellow Baltimore freshman Cleveland Melvin – and a team-best 3.7 assists.
For Young -- who was considered by some analysts to be more of a mid-major prospect before the summer of 2009 -- excelling against Big East competition was an initially surprising realization.
"I'm thinking to myself, I can play in the Big East with these players," Young said. "I always knew that I could play with certain people as long as I worked hard enough. Hard work is going to pay off."
A seven-win season for DePaul certainly was lacking in team success, but Young had numerous individual highlights. He made SportsCenter's Top 10 twice in one night – a February loss at St. John's.
"I had the buzzer-beater shot from almost three-quarters court," Young said. "Then I made this crafty layup on this big man. Both of the highlights against St. John's were on SportsCenter. Everybody was blowing [my phone] up, people saying I made the Top 10 and stuff like that. I never pictured myself or even saw myself making those kind of plays, let alone being on a big sports channel."
For his efforts, Young was selected to the Big East All-Rookie team. Purnell said Young's freshman-year success wasn't necessarily something he "would have drawn up," but he was extremely pleased with his young point guard's progress.
"You have a sense that this guy has got a chance to be really good, and more importantly, a guy who can become a cornerstone," Purnell said. "You can't pay for that kind of experience. As we watched him during the year, he made some mistakes, yeah, but there are also some bright spots and you realize this guy has a chance to be a special player."
Young spent most of his summer in Chicago, save for a couple trips home to Baltimore and an exhibition tour with DePaul in France. He continued bonding with Melvin and Blue Demons freshman Montray Clemons – a Baltimore native and Poly grad. "We're always around each other," Young said. "Me, Montray and Cleve, we're always laughing, joking. It's just a family thing."
Purnell, meanwhile, is looking for more consistency out of Young in his sophomore year. The DePaul coach saw plenty of growth in the point guard's game in France. It was evident that Young had dedicated his summer to getting stronger and working on his jumper. For Young, an offseason in the gym was completed with one thought in mind.
"I'm trying to win games. That's what I'm trying to do," Young said. "We're trying to win games. Whatever I have to do to make the team win games, that's what I'm going to do."
The Sweet 16 is an occasional series profiling the 16 best Division I college basketball players from the Baltimore area. Players were selected based on prior accomplishments and projections for the upcoming season.
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U.S. Presswire photo of Brandon Young by Richard Mackson / March 5, 2011