The Washington Post
With Terps, Young finally gets chance to dance
It had been less than a month since Jahmir Young made his Maryland debut. Not long before, he heard the skepticism that his ability might not translate to the Big Ten. He had never played at this level, and no team from a major conference had seen that potential in Young when he was in high school. But there he was with the ball in his hands, the Terrapins’ best hope in the game’s waning moments.
As Young’s three-pointer that clinched the win over Illinois swished through the net, his body didn’t flinch. Xfinity Center roared. Young’s mother, Iesha Brewster, has tried to stay quiet during games, but she can’t help it. She yells and screams, and so does Young’s grandmother, who bangs her cane in celebration. Meanwhile, Young just wanted to play defense and finish the game. The Terps still
needed to preserve their fourpoint lead. Eventually, as the final buzzer sounded, Young let himself feel some emotion. The soft-spoken point guard remembers thinking: “I do this. We’re here.”
That December victory, the team’s first over a ranked opponent, helped transform the perception of Maryland from a rebuilding program with a new coach into a legitimate NCAA tournament contender. For Young, the heroics proved he belonged.
Young called his mom afterward and told her quietly: “Mom, God is finally blessing me.” And she cried because she knew how long he had waited for these moments.
This is what Young wanted — and more than anything, he hoped for a chance to create those memorable moments not just in December conference matchups but at the NCAA tournament. He played three seasons at Charlotte and never reached March Madness. His decision to transfer to Maryland nearly a year ago stemmed from his longing for a bigger stage and an unwavering belief that he could shine there. He has had standout moments through this season, solidifying himself as the team’s best player and leading scorer.
And now, starting when the eighth-seeded Terps face No. 9 West Virginia in the first round of the South Region on Thursday, the importance of Young’s performance will be magnified by the single-elimination stakes of March.
“You just have to be made for the big moments,” Young said. “You can’t run away from the lights.”
He remembers watching these NCAA tournament games as a child, and he remembers when Kris Jenkins made the gamewinner at the buzzer for Villanova. Jenkins played high school ball at Gonzaga of the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference, the same league in which Young represented Dematha. Growing up, Young visualized himself playing in those games and in the pressure-packed moments.
In high school and with Team Takeover on the AAU circuit, budding stars surrounded Young. He played with Jeremy Roach (the Duke guard), Hunter Dickinson (the standout center at Michigan) and others who earned the attention of the nation’s top college programs.
Young garnered interest from Power Five schools — just not offers. If Maryland, the school a short drive from Young’s home in Upper Marlboro, had extended an offer, “he wouldn’t have even looked at any other schools,” his mom said. She still has a photo of him wearing a Terps T-shirt in the team’s locker room as a middle-schooler.
“That was a rough period for Jahmir,” his mom said.
Young started during his junior and senior seasons at DeMatha but played off the bench his entire career in AAU. His size — now listed as 6-foot-1 and 185 pounds — was perceived as a limitation. Young said he wasn’t that aggressive offensively. He more so served as a player who provided defense and energy. Young kept waiting and didn’t rush to commit to a school.
Finally, he had a breakthrough. At the high-profile Nike Peach Jam tournament the summer before Young’s senior year, he led Team Takeover twice in scoring, including in the championship game. Afterward, Young’s mom remembers her son’s coach saying: “Keep your phone on, Mom, because he’s getting ready to get a whole bunch more offers.”
Young never did. So eventually, as he narrowed his options and assessed pros and cons written on a poster board, he chose Charlotte over Old Dominion.
“You could get down on yourself,” Young said. “You think you’re good enough, but you’re not. I had to reflect, look myself in the mirror and tell myself I had to work harder.”
Young built a strong résumé at Charlotte. He earned Conference USA freshman of the year honors. He started every game there, averaging 12.5 points during his first season and then 18 points as a sophomore. He considered transferring then but opted to return. He upped his production as a junior (19.6 points), but for the second straight year, the 49ers lost their opening game of the conference tournament.
Young, disappointed about not winning the league’s player of the year award, still seemed far from March Madness. After that early exit from the conference tournament, he told his mom, “Let’s do something different.”
Young heard from Gonzaga, Purdue, Connecticut, Miami and other programs that seemed far more poised to make the NCAA tournament than Maryland with first-year coach Kevin Willard. But when Young met Willard, he felt confident the Terps would reach March Madness. Why? He just had a “funny feeling,” Young said. So he committed quickly and became the first transfer Willard added to the roster.
Some people around Young said it would be “interesting” to see how he played at Maryland, which he interpreted to mean they didn’t believe his skills would translate to this level. Before transferring, Young had played a game at Arkansas, and he scored 27 points when his team lost to Wake Forest at the buzzer in the Charlotte Hornets’ arena.
The 49ers averaged about 2,500 fans at home games in his junior season. In College Park, the intensity of each matchup and “the amount of people watching you every game is a total 180,” Young said.
Yet in those environments, Young has been key for the Terps. He scored 20 points in Maryland’s home wins over Purdue (a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament) and Indiana (No. 4 seed). He’s averaging a team-high 16.1 points, the ninth most among Big Ten players.
As the Terps toppled the Boilermakers in February, Young noticed the students preparing to storm the court with a couple of minutes remaining. A photo captured Young standing in open space on the court with his fists clenched at his side and a sly smile. Behind Young, the first fans are rushing his way. He wants that picture framed in his house one day.
The Terps generated unexpected highlights this season, but “there are definitely still things that I have to prove and we have to prove as a team — being able to compete at neutral sites now, just showing that we don’t have to be at home to win,” Young said.
The point guard struggled in the Big Ten tournament, making just 6 of 28 field goals before the Terps lost in the quarterfinals. Young leaves losses always believing he could have done more. But now he has another chance in the tournament he dreamed of reaching and the one that fans remember most.
After Maryland officially earned its NCAA tournament bid — which seemed far from guaranteed two months ago but became secure in recent weeks — Young talked to his mom. She expected that she would cry, and she did. Soon, she will head down to Birmingham, Ala., carpooling with the parents of another Maryland player. And then finally, after years of waiting, her son will have an opportunity to create his own NCAA tournament memory.