THE BLITZ: Flowery Branch at JohnsonTimes sports video
OAKWOOD — If you close your eyes and picture the prototypical basketball player he might look something like this: 6-foot-5 or taller and weighing 200-plus pounds.
He’ll be able to run like a gazelle, dribble as if the ball was an extension of his hand, and jump so high you would think the court was a trampoline.
It’s perfectly normal to picture basketball players like this; after all, that’s what is seen in the college and professional ranks.
But occasionally there’s an aberration. A Spud Webb. A Nate Robinson. An Allen Iverson. You know, a guy that steps on the court and looks like a toddler among a sea of giants.
That’s where West Hall’s Jarquise Young comes in to play. The junior guard stands just 5-7 and weighs 132 pounds, but like Robinson and Iverson, he may be small in stature but he’s big in talent.
“He’s kind of slight of build, but nobody’s told him that,” West Hall coach Warren Sellers said. “He plays a lot bigger than he is physically.”
That’s mainly because Young doesn’t think about how his height is a disadvantage; he thinks of it as a motivational tool.
“In AAU, I had a coach that said it’s not how big you are, it’s how big you play,” Young said.
He certainly is playing big this year for the Spartans (8-5, 1-2 Region 7B-AAA). Through 13 games, Young is averaging 3.1 steals per game, 3.5 assists per game, and leads the team in scoring (19 points per game) and free-throw percentage (75 percent).
“I won’t say it’s a surprise,” Sellers said of Young’s production. “We expected a lot from him, but he’s gone above and beyond what we expected.”
Part of the reason Sellers isn’t surprised by Young is because the dynamic point guard has done nothing but improve since he first stepped on the court as a 5-3 freshman. Playing sparingly in the ninth grade, Young became a fan favorite, with the student section chanting his name and hoping that the undersized guard would get some playing time.
“The uniform really hung on him as a freshman,” Sellers said.
While the crowd may have wanted to just witness this undersized player among teammates and opponents that towered over him by a foot or more, Young had another idea.
“It made me feel special, but it also pumped me up,” he said of the attention. “It made me want to do everything I can to show them I can play.”
His abilities were raw at that young age, but with his quick feet and dribbling capabilities, he provided a spark off the West Hall bench and energized the crowd even if it the outcome of the game was already decided.
Ironically, Young’s first recorded varsity statistic was a blocked shot.
“Ever since then, he’s really improved,” Sellers said.
So much so that he expanded Young’s role on last year’s team that reached the third round of the Class AAA state playoffs.
Young started the year splitting time between JV and varsity, but as the season progressed, Sellers knew that the Spartans would be better with Young coming off the bench.
“He improved more in a year’s time than any other player we’ve had here at West Hall,” Sellers said. “He did what we wanted him to and his confidence grew tremendously. When the season ended in February, he was our sixth man playing significant varsity minutes.”
That playing time translated to a strong start to his junior year, where he is filling the big shoes of West Hall’s point guard of a year ago, Kavon Williams, who averaged 16.1 points per game and provided the Spartans with vocal and floor leadership.
Young filled that void so well that he was named one of the team captains.
“That made me feel special, and it’s on me if we don’t win,” Young said. “I make sure everyone’s on the same page that I am.”
That page reads: be intense, play hard and never be intimidated; three things that have allowed Young to ignore his lack of size.
“If you go and play scared and they’re already two times your size, it’s gonna make them come after you harder,” he said of opposing teams. “But when they see you’re not afraid, they’re like ‘whoa.’ It makes them realize you mean business.”
Even his teammates take notice.
“(Seeing him play) drives me and makes me want to play even harder,” fellow junior Dre Pou said. “Being 5-7, he’s just amazing. The things he does on the court; you wouldn’t expect someone his height to do.”
You might expect it from someone like his teammate Shunquez Stephens, who stands 6-4 and has been playing alongside Young for the majority of his life.
“Some people would say he’s not tall enough to do this or tall enough to do that, but he’s gonna do whatever it takes,” Stephens said. “The height doesn’t mean anything to him when it comes to playing basketball. He’s gonna play hard regardless.
“I love the way he goes out and carries himself and this team.”
As long as he keeps carrying his team Young may see some college suitors, but he also knows that college coaches aren’t knocking down the door to get to a 5-7 point guard. That doesn’t mean the motivation isn’t there.
“Just the love of the game keeps me playing,” Young said. “Knowing that I’m 5-7, and not too many colleges want a 5-7 guard, makes me work harder to prove that I can still go being the size I am.”
His coach and teammates agree.
“In my opinion, he could go anywhere and play point guard in college as long as his focus is right,” Stephens said.
Sellers not only thinks he can play in college, but that he’ll thrive at the next level.
“If he can get in the right situation he’ll be a steal for a program,” Sellers said. “He’s fun to coach and brings a lot of energy to practice everyday.”
But what about his size?
“He’s still young and there’s no telling how big he might be,” Sellers responded. “But even at this size, for the right spot, I think he’ll be a great player.”
And that’s all Young wants to be known as.
He doesn’t want people to think of him as the little player that could or the tiny point guard with a lot of heart and hustle. He wants to be known as a player that overcame his lack of size with a large amount of talent.
“Watching Nate Robinson and Allen Iverson and knowing that there were so many people that told them they couldn’t do it, and that’s how I feel,” Young said. “I want to be one of those few people that made it.”