Both of Northwestern center Ryan Young’s parents were student-athletes at Syracuse, and his younger brother Kyle plays basketball for Siena College. Suffice it to say, athletics have always been the dominant talking point in the Young household.
Growing up in Stewartsville, New Jersey, he chose to attend Bethlehem Catholic High School just a short drive across the Pennsylvania border. It’s a region noted for premier basketball talent, with former NCAA and NBA stars like Cameron Reddish, De’Andre Hunter, Tony Carr and Lamar Stevens coming out of the area.
One matchup Young remembers was against Villanova guard Collin Gillespie. The two shared similar experiences with neither gaining interest from Division I programs until his senior year of high school. Young said he watched Gillespie continue to grind despite the lack of attention he received.
“I was a year younger than him, and it was kind of an inspiration because I was one of those guys too,” Young said. “I wasn’t ranked incredibly high as a recruit, and I was kind of all over the place based on what level of competition I would play at.
The 6-foot-10 big man ultimately chose Northwestern over several Ivy League schools, Michigan and Maryland, because it exemplified his ideal balance between athletics and academics. He said he knew a starting job would likely not be available when he arrived on campus with Dererk Pardon and Barret Benson already on the roster.
“I knew in the back of my head that I would most likely redshirt,” Young said.
The following season, after not playing an organized basketball game for nearly two years, an anxious Young stepped into a huge role against a tough, veteran opponent in Providence. This, of course, after a disappointing upset loss to Merrimack.
“I didn’t know how I was going to react and perform in front of a real crowd, because all I had done was practice for 24 months from my last high school game as a senior,” he said. “I thought that that was where I kind of broke through and found myself as a player on the court that game, and just found a lot of confidence in that game.”
Northwestern’s conference slate pitted the redshirt freshman against some of the most talented centers in the country. Young called Iowa center Luka Garza, a Wooden Award finalist, the toughest challenge he’s faced. So it’s unsurprising then, that Young called the Hawkeye the nation’s best player in the nation’s toughest conference.
Despite notching only three Big Ten wins in 2019-2020, two of them came in the season’s final three games, including a Senior Day upset of no. 20 Penn State. The New Jersey product said after feeling like the team ended on an upswing, COVID threw a wrench in the plans for an important offseason.
The Wildcats have struggled during Young’s two years in the program, but he has perspective that comes with being a student-athlete, and he hopes the strong bonds forged can facilitate a promising future for a team returning three of its top four scorers.
“In college athletics, wins and losses kind of fade, but the relationships you make never do,” he said.
The redshirt freshman flashed ability to go toe-to-toe with some of the best in the college basketball, and he’s got three years of eligibility left, spurring hope among those both in and out of the program that he can be an elite center before leaving Evanston. Nevertheless, that hasn’t stopped him from thinking about a potential career away from the court.
“Everything in the business world fascinates me, so I think probably after I’m done playing I’d get into something with consulting.”