MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Need to share a secret? Something really important? Thaddeus Young might be the man for the job. Rivals.com's No. 3-ranked prospect dragged his recruitment out much longer than most of the elite prospects in the class of 2006, but still managed to keep his college choice hidden from the public and even coaches until he held a press conference Monday at Mitchell High. In the world of message boards and last-minute leaks, that is a rarity.
The 6-foot-8, 205-pound small forward also knows how to build up the drama. He began the press conference by dialing up Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt and verbally committing to him over the phone in front of live television cameras. Even Hewitt acted surprised.
"I told Coach Hewitt I was committing today and he sounded a little bit too happy," Young said with a big smile.
Young sat down with Rivals.com for an exclusive one-on-one interview after the press conference and broke down why the Jackets won out over Arkansas and Kentucky – the two other schools he was considering at the end.
Academics ended up playing the biggest role. Young takes his grades much more seriously than most elite prospects, holding a GPA over 4.0 and consistently landing on the school's honor roll and is also a member of the national honor society. He already decided to major in business management.
"I sat down with my Dad (Felton) and cousin (Kenneth Carter) and we put together a list of what I was looking for in a school," said Young, who did tell a handful of family and friends that he would be a Yellow Jacket on Friday. "At the top of the list was academics and Georgia Tech was the only school I was looking at that had a five-star rating in everything. Other schools only had that rating in certain programs, but Tech had it for everything."
That's why one teammate wasn't fooled by Young's decision. Mitchell senior guard Brandon Powell, who committed to Florida in August, predicted Young would be a Yellow Jacket.
"Thad has always stressed academics so I sort of felt that it was going to be Georgia Tech for a while," Powell said.
A former Mitchell graduate also played a role. Young spent a good portion of his official visit to Atlanta in September with David Brandon, a linebacker for the University of Memphis who also played in the NFL. Young had several questions for Brandon about the city and what to expect at Tech. He liked all the answers he got.
"David (a former next door neighbor of Mitchell athletic director Henry Baskin) showed me a lot of stuff around Atlanta and really helped me with everything I was thinking about," Young said.
Young also took official visits to Arkansas (where many believed he was heading), Kentucky and North Carolina. He eliminated the Tar Heels after they landed a commitment from power forward Brandan Wright, the nation's No. 6 prospect last week.
"I don't know who would have been my second choice," Young said. "I really don't."
Many wondered why Memphis didn't make Young's final cut. Calipari, who has struggled to land the top local recruits, pursued Young furiously and he made several unofficial visits to the Conference USA school. Seniors Pierre Niles and Willie Kemp – a pair of Memphis-area products and good friends of Young – were calling him in effort to lure him to the Tigers up until two days ago.
"It was very tough to say no (to Memphis)," Young said. "Pierre and Willie called all week, but they also said they would respect my decision."
What position Young will play in college was another major factor. Blessed with a tremendous amount of versatility, he has played all five positions in high school.
"During the city championship game against Raleigh-Egypt, Thad was moved to point guard and took over the game by not only scoring, but dishing out assists (Mitchell ended up winning)," Baskin said. "He's definitely a team player."
But, Young is determined to stay on the wing – where Hewitt plans to use him the most.
"Coach Hewitt said I could play some at the point but will mostly be used at the two (shooting guard) and three (power forward)," Young said.
Others felt differently. One coach even Young to completely change his frame.
"A couple of the coaches in my final list of schools talked about using me at the four," Young said while shaking his head. "One even wanted me to gain 30-40 pounds."
Hewitt's perseverance also paid off. Memphis' John Calipari, Arkansas' Stan Heath and several other coaches stopped by Mitchell in recent weeks and made a barrage of phone calls. But, Baskins said that Hewitt saw Young the most of any coach, attending several games and making personal visits to the school.
Mitchell coach Jerry Johnson believes that Young will be the best player to ever come out of the talent-laden school located in one of the nation's biggest recruiting hotbeds. Mitchell has produced dozen of Division I players.
"Thad tops all the players I coached because they were one-dimensional," Johnson said. "If the coaches continue to allow him to play the same style he did here than his best games are still ahead. His strength is grabbing a rebound, taking the ball down the floor and quickly creating shots for others. He is the best I have ever seen at that. Once he starts dribbling the whole crowd stands up and for good reason."
Powell is convinced that his partner is destined for stardom regardless of what position he plays or what system he lands in.
"Thad is going to be an All-American," Powell said. "He is incredibly talented, but what
I like about him most is how humble he is."
That's exactly how Young wants to be known. Despite his tremendous athleticism and dazzling array of moves, he would much rather have a blue-collar reputation.
"I want to be known as the hardest worker in basketball," he said. "That is what I pride myself on."
Young doesn't do 6 a.m. workouts like No. 1 prospect Gred Oden, instead developing a rigorous workout schedule at night. Nearly each week day after dinner, Young, his father, who played at Jacksonville, and a personal trainer get together to work on fundamentals in a gym by themselves. He does the same drills in every session, working meticulously on each little detail.
That type of approach and attitude may be what separates Young from the rest of the elite recruits. A fairly quiet kid on and off the court, he has a big inner drive.
"Thad is a great listener," Johnson said. "He is so eager to learn every phase of the game. When you teach him something he latches onto it immediately unlike the average player who must be shown several times."
Young will now turn his attention to what may be a remarkable senior season. Mitchell returns all five starters and its entire bench from a team that went 31-5 last season. Plus, thanks to Young and Powell, the school will be playing in many of the nation's top tournaments.