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.
His exuberance almost got him into trouble last February at the Sports Arena during the first of USC's two overtime victories this season against UCLA.
"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."