Former Deerfield and Clemson basketball star Andre Young hoped the NBA would work out after college, but when it didn’t, he sought to prove his worth by playing — and starring — overseas. He did just that in his rookie season with the Den Bosch EiffelTowers of the Dutch Basketball League, earning MVP honors and leading his team to the regular-season championship. Young will now take his game to the Ukrainian Basketball SuperLeague — the top league in the country — to continue his blossoming pro hoops career. (Photos courtesy of Andre Young)
ALBANY --- Andre Young loved his Dutch teammates, loved the local people and really loved all the awards and accolades that came along with his rookie season of professional basketball overseas in Holland.
As for those famous Dutch meatballs smothered in peanut butter sauce that everyone kept telling him he had to try?
Uh ... not so much.
“What was the first thing I did when I finally came home?” Young asked aloud, repeating the question. “Let’s just say they pretty much all revolved around food.”
There wasn’t a fast food joint, BBQ shack or a box of his favorite fried chicken from KFC that was safe in Georgia when Young landed back in the United States in late May following a tremendous first season of pro ball. The former Deerfield and Clemson University star returned as the Dutch Basketball League MVP while playing for the Den Bosch EiffelTowers, and when he landed he was eager to begin work on the next phase of his rising career.
But first things first: the 23-year-old Albany native had missed home — and every taste and smell that came with it.
“A nice big steak was the first thing I had, then I think I went to Taco Bell and got some Krispy Kreme — you know, the usual stuff you take for granted once you can’t get it anymore,” Young laughed. “The food was one of the things I missed the most. I definitely ate the food over there, but I missed ours — a lot. Some of the guys on our team kept telling me how I had to try these Dutch peanut butter meatballs, which was a local specialty. And even though it sounded pretty outlandish, I gave it a try one night.”
“It was a really bad decision,” Young replied.
What wasn’t a bad decision in hindsight, however, was Young’s choice to broaden his horizons after college and take his game across the pond to Europe, where some of the world’s top hidden hoops talents have emerged over the years and gone on to star in the NBA.
And Young, who was offered a new contract just days after his season ended in Holland to move up and play in the Ukrainian Basketball SuperLeague, hopes he’s the next.
“The NBA is still the goal. Until then, I’ll be overseas grinding, working hard to build my resumé — you know, just keep chipping away,” said Young, who knows he won’t be signed when the NBA free-agency period opens today — but he feels he’s close to realizing that dream. “I know I’m capable, but right now it appears it’s more of a long-term goal. All I can do is keep playing well, getting my name out there and whatever happens, happens.”
It almost happened this summer.
Biding his time
When Young returned to Albany, he was just getting settled in to his old routine — morning workouts at Deerfield, maybe an update or two to the online blog he started while living in Holland (papidre.wordpress.com), followed by some down time with friends and family — when he got a call from his agent, Adam Pensack.
“One minute I’m at home watching TV, and the next Adam calls and says I need to be on a plane the next morning,” Young said. “Adam said, ‘The Warriors called. They want you to come try out again.’
“So, you never know. It could just be a phone call away.”
The tryout with the NBA’s Golden State Warriors — Young’s second in the last year with the franchise — didn’t end with an offer, but it did come with more positive feedback.
“They decided to go in another direction, but they did like a lot of what Andre brought to the table,” Pensack said of Young, who averaged 14 points and six assists last season as the starting point guard for Den Bosch, leading the team to a 30-6 record, although they were knocked out in the semifinals of the league championship. “Being (the) MVP (of a professional league overseas) is always a good thing. It increased his marketability.”
It apparently just wasn’t enough to bring him into the NBA fold quite yet.
“They told me they liked how aggressive I was, that my on-ball defense was good — things like that,” Young recalled of the scouts’ assessment of his latest tryout. “I do know that this one was much, much better than the last one. I felt a lot more comfortable out there, and I think I performed well.”
Prior to the tryout, Young had already been offered a one-year contract by BC Hoverla, one of the top teams in the top league in the Ukrainian SuperLeague that had been scouting him all season.
“The competition is definitely a big step up. There are quite a few former and future NBA players in this league,” Pensack said.
Young, however, said he initially needed some time to think the offer over, even though it was seen as a positive step in his professional career and this contract was more lucrative than the last one in Holland.
“I needed to do some research about the league and the team, talk to my family and stuff like that. It felt like the right move, so I signed,” said Young, who declined to reveal the financial terms of the deal. “I also trust Adam’s judgment a lot, and he explained what a great step this would be for me and that some of the guys have gone on to great things after playing there.”
Young also knows NBA GMs have drafted and signed a boatload of European stars and Americans who have starred on the European stage in recent years. This year’s draft alone featured seven former Euro-league stars being drafted in the Top 30 of the first round and 10 more being taken in the second round. And Tuesday, it was reported that the Detroit Pistons would sign Italian League MVP Luigi Datome.
Young and Pensack both feel that NBA phone call is not far down the road, especially after Young’s game on the court turned a corner during his rookie season.
“His biggest improvement may be his overall confidence,” Pensack said when asked why Young was now more attractive these days to NBA teams than he was a year ago. “He knows now that he can compete and excel as a pro against other pros.
“In terms of (what Andre still needs to do as far as) improvement, just continuing to be aggressive at all times and put pressure on the defense. As good as Andre’s season was, I believe he can still do more.”
And while he was second in the league this past season in assists and ranked in the Top 10 in steals (2.2 per game), field goal percentage (54.2 percent) and 3-point percentage (38.9), the 5-foot-9 Young knows he will continue to fight an ongoing battle when it comes to getting a chance to shine under the bright lights of the NBA: his diminutive stature.
“Coming away from that tryout with the Warriors — even though no one actually said it to me — I felt like I’m just continuing to fight my size,” he said. “And that’s fine — it’s something I’ve had to deal with my whole life. I put up an MVP season (at 5-foot-9), and now I’m going to try to have another in the Ukraine. But it’s a big step up, so that’s easier said than done.”
Ik versta het niet — ‘I do not understand’
The above phrase in Dutch is about the extent of Young’s ability to speak Holland’s native language following his nine-month stay.
Luckily for him, most everyone he encountered spoke English.
“The Dutch people were great. They’re very warm and welcoming to Americans and will help you any way they can,” said Young, who lived in a loft apartment on a cobblestone street near the arena where the team played that held roughly 2,000 fans. “Soccer is obviously the biggest sport over there, but they support their basketball team very well. I felt welcome right away.”
And being that Young emerged as the team and league’s biggest star during his time in Holland, he went from being a wandering American nobody to somewhat of a local celebrity.
“It didn’t happen a lot because I didn’t go out a lot, but I would get recognized from time to time,” he said. “One guy even came up and introduced himself to me, told me he was a big fan and asked if I would write a note to his daughter. So that was pretty cool.”
Young said he didn’t do as much sightseeing as he would’ve liked during his stay — “Mostly because I was scared of getting lost,” he laughed — but the visits to the different cities around Europe to play games was unforgettable.
“As we went from city to city, I just felt so grateful to be in the position I was in considering I’d never even been outside of the United States before coming here,” he said. “To be able to see so many sights and places, it’s not an experience everyone gets to have, so I’m very grateful that I had a chance to discover so many new things.”
Something else happened along the way, too: Young also discovered himself.
“I definitely learned a lot about myself because you’re over there by yourself with no friends or family that you’re used to having, and it’s tough. It was definitely the toughest part about the last year,” he said. “But when you have that much time alone, you start to really try to find new things and hobbies you like to pass the time. When I first got there, I would come home from practice and just watch movies or TV, but that got boring. So I had to try new things to keep myself entertained.”
Among those newly discovered passions for Young were music — he bought a keyboard and practices constantly — as well as golf — he recently bought a set of clubs as soon as he returned home — and writing. The latter skill is one he remains intensely focused on as evidence by the daily maintenance of his entertaining blog, where he shows quite the flair for writing about everything from trying to learn Dutch, the Ten Commandments of a pick-up basketball game, the transition from college to pro hoops, frustrated shopping experiences with women and what it was like getting his first pedicure.
“I grew up with the idea that men DON’T get pedicures. Period! It’s a women thing right?! How wrong I was … My hubris has caused me to miss out on Foot Heaven for 23 years. smh,” Young wrote in an April 15th entry, accompanied by a picture of him getting his feet worked on at a salon.
“I had a lot of down time and a lot on my mind, so I wanted to get it all down,” Young said of his blog. “It’s been a great way to express what I’m feeling and for my friends and family — and whoever else wants to read it — to keep up on what’s happening while I’m away.”
Time to dress warm
The average temperature in the Ukraine is roughly 46 degrees.
And the warm-blooded Young, who was born and raised in the scorching South, is acutely aware of that.
“How much do I know about where I’m going?” Young repeated aloud, before adding with a laugh, “I know it’s cold. Real cold. The first thing I plan to do is go shopping for some warm stuff when I get there because I know I don’t own anything warm enough for what I’m about to experience.”
Young will leave the U.S. on Aug. 1 for a nine-month season to play in the 14-team league. He says he already recognizes many names of former college stars and NBA players on some the Ukrainian teams’ rosters — the young ones hoping to make their mark and stand out to an NBA scout, while the veteran players look to wind down their careers in an exotic, foreign locale that pays the bills and then some.
It’s just the latest chapter in Young’s journey he hopes will one day lead him back home for good.
And right now, he’s OK with that.
“I’m gaining a lot of confidence as a basketball player (playing overseas), and that goes a long way. But most of all, I’m learning that while this is a job, it’s a still a game and it’s still supposed to be fun,” Young said. “Being able to relax more, develop (my skills at a lower level) and enjoy the game away from some place where there’s a ton of pressure, like the NBA, has been good for me. I’m enjoying basketball more now than ever.
“And if I get to see parts of the world that I never would be able to without the opportunity to play overseas, then that’s just a plus. The dream was to be able to call myself a professional basketball player one day, and I’m doing that. I’m really looking forward to playing in the Ukraine.”
Of course, now that he’s a year wiser after living in a foreign land, a question remains about the latest adventure he’s about to take: How does he plan on navigating this country’s local cuisine?
“I’m just hoping they have a McDonald’s,” he said.