I recently had the pleasure of speaking with former Northwestern basketball star Jitim Young. Young came out of high school as one of the top basketball players in the nation and participated in many prestigious basketball camps including, the Capitol Classic All-American game, which is now known as the Michael Jordan all-star game.
Despite being recruited by many basketball powerhouse universities, Jitim decided to stay close to home and attend Northwestern. Jitim was able to become one of the top players in the Big Ten throughout his college career . During his senior season,Young led his team to 8 Big Ten conference victories, a feat which has not been accomplished since 1968. In that same year, Young was named first-team All-Big Ten and was selected as a All-Big Ten Tournament team member. Young ranks as Northwestern’s all-time leader in games started (117), 6th on Northwestern’s all-time scoring list (1,521 points), and 5th in field goals made (548).
Jitim has been playing professional basketball in Israel for the past three seasons. I have done a lot of interviews with professional athletes but I was really impressed with Jitim’s humble attitude and insight on everything he has been through. Jitim is also incredibly involved in his community. He hosts a basketball camp in Chicago and helps out at as many clinics as he can. As well as being a star basketball player Jitim is currently working on his autobiography, “Monologues of a Good Man”. Jitim and I discussed his time growing up, his international basketball career, his new book and much much more.
Raphael Gellar: How has it been playing professional basketball all over the world?
Jitim Young: Getting the opportunity to play basketball all over the world has been a great experience for me. I’ve become a more broad minded person with the knowledge I’ve gained visiting and living in different countries. It’s funny, because when I was a child growing up on the west side of Chicago I dreamed that basketball would make a difference in my life and I just thank God I’ve gotten to see that dream become a reality.
RG: Describe your time playing in Israel and adapting to the very unique Israeli culture
JY: Israel is a very beautiful country. It reminds me a lot of Miami or LA. The basketball in Israel is fun, pretty competitive and the living out there is amazing. In Israel I’ve enjoyed learning about the different holidays or “Chags” within Israeli culture. Hebrew to me is a cool language because growing up in Church you learn so much about the Children of Israel in the Bible. I decided to learn as much Hebrew as I could while in Israel and I must say, I am pretty good! Overall though, Israel has always been considered a special place to me and having had the privilege and opportunity to live in the Holy Land is, PRICELESS!
RG: Why did you go to Northwestern when so many other highly rated schools were recruiting you?
JY: I was being recruited at Northwestern by a good coach in Kevin O’neil, who I never got a chance to play for because he ended up taking the New York Knicks coaching job under Jeff Van Gundy two weeks before school started. Northwestern is a great school with a strong academic reputation. Plus I was close to home and was able to play in one of the premier conferences in the nation. My hard work at Northwestern and accomplishments set a standard for being the best you can be. Seeing how well the team is doing today makes me happy because I was the foundation they built the program’s success off of.
RG: How have you enjoyed the fans in Israel?
JY: Its pretty nice in Israel. The fans are very supportive and they appreciate how hard I play,my desire to win and my intensity. It’s even cool when you see the other players in Israel and how they all show love from every division. I really love the fans and just the people in Israel have been great.
RG: You played against former NBA All-Star Devin Harris in pre-draft camps, and did quite well against him defensively. How was it at the time? What do you think of it now given his success in the NBA?
When I was in college I faced Devin at least twice a year. In pre-draft camp I did well against him, Andre Iguadola, Ben Gordon, Chris Duhon, so for the most part I have always played against great players because I have been mentioned amongst the best in my basketball career. Seeing his success in the NBA makes me happy for him because Devin Harris is a good friend of mine. Had I worn a different jersey in the Big Ten I believe I may have been a lottery pick. My senior year, I was the best player in the conference and I knew it.
RG: You have played against elite NBA players and held your own. Do you still aim to play in the NBA?
JY: Being from Chicago you go up against the best players from the time you are 4 years old until you decide to hang up your sneakers. My NBA dream is different now, I feel my game is still at a high level but at this stage I’m really interested in working for an NBA office or administration. Even working with a sports network covering NBA games/players would be cool for me.
RG: Tell us a bit about your book “Monologues of a Good Man” an autobiography?
JY: “Monologues of a Good Man” is a book I’m writing about the things I’ve experienced growing up in Chicago and playing basketball which has helped me grow into a better person and learn to be great and responsible. The book is also about being raised by my Grandmother, going to Church, staying in school, adjusting to different coaching moves, seeing the world, relationships, family, everything that has molded me into being the best man I can b, while continuing down that path for nothing but greatness no excuses, no exceptions. It’s a book that will inspire and really allow people to see a lot of themselves and their life in reading my story. No one is perfect, but everyday there is always room for improvement and when you wake up that should be your goal to become a better individual.
RG: Who has been your favorite player to guard?
JY: Devin Harris, Tracy McGrady, Deron Williams, Gilbert Arenas, Antoine Walker, Jamal Crawford, Will Bynum, and Ben Gordon are probably people I enjoyed guarding cause its unpredictable what they would do with the ball.
RG: What has it been like hooping in Chicago all summer?
JY: Like a “baby NBA”. You got all the top players from College, NBA, Europe, and everyone wants to get better and play the best. Jerome Randell, Luther Head, Bobby Simmons, Jeremy Pargo, Chicago has the best talent. We are basketball here.
RG: Where do you hope to see yourself next year?
JY: Don’t know yet my brotha, we will have to wait and see.