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It’s been a twisting road back to Statesboro for Charlton Young, but it’s been a long, steady climb up the coaching hill for the former Georgia Southern University star.
As a dynamic point guard, Young led the Eagles to the Trans America Athletic Conference championship and a berth in the NCAA tournament in 1992. But the Eagles haven’t been to the NCAAs since, and the former star was hired earlier this month to lead the program back to prominence.
“My wife and I prayed on it. We were hoping it would happen,” he said. “Words can’t explain it. I think that, as a player, you lose tough games and you think that you’re never going to get a chance to come back and right your wrongs. Now, I have a chance to have some control over the program. I was able to take us to one championship as a player.”
When the Youngs returned to Georgia Southern last September for his induction into the GSU Athletic Hall of Fame, “my wife really fell in love with the place,” he said.
After his playing days at Georgia Southern, Young’s basketball tour started playing professionally in Tours, France. He returned to Georgia Southern to finish his degree and began his coaching career at Auburn. After three years there, he spent two years at Jacksonville University, followed by a year at Northeastern.
That was followed by a four-year stint back at Auburn, and Young later spent a year as associate head coach at SoCon rival Chattanooga.
Before coming back to Georgia Southern, Young had served as an assistant for Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt for four years. Under Hewitt, Young finished his education on how to be a big-time college head coach.
“I learned to be a CEO of a basketball program,” he said. “I learned a lot about early offense and secondary offense. I also learned a lot about player development. I think those three areas are your keys to being a successful program.”
Young fondly remembers the atmosphere at Hanner Fieldhouse, GSU’s home arena, from his playing days. It’s an environment — friendly to the Eagles, hostile to the opposition — he wants to recreate. The Eagles averaged 2,182 fans in attendance last year in the 4,358-seat Hanner.
“Our guys are going to have play with a supreme effort level,” he said. “We’re going to have to get out and sell our product and reach out and touch the people and let them know, we’re bringing it back. That 5,000 in Hanner Fieldhouse snatched us off the deck and carried us to a championship. We’re going to fight and fight and fight to get it back to that.”
The Eagles have not won a conference championship since capturing the title in their TAAC swan song in 1992. Georgia Southern joined the Southern Conference in 1992-93 and has yet to even play in the league championship game.
The Eagles have made just one postseason appearance — losing to Charlotte in the 2006 NIT — since 1992.
Young succeeded Jeff Price, who resigned after the Eagles posted an 8-22 record, their worst since a 3-23 mark 13 seasons ago. The new coach has met with his team and likes what he has inherited.
Willie Powers was leading the Eagles in scoring before missing the last 19 games of the season with an injury. Antonio Hanson topped Georgia Southern in scoring and finished with a team-high 83 3-pointers. Freshman Ben Drayton also averaged in double figures.
“They’ve been through so much and they’re so hungry to turn the corner,” Young said. “They are really responding to my staff. I’m really excited about the possibilities of next season. We’ve got guys in the locker room who are winners and want to win.”
The Eagles likely will sign two post players in the late signing period.
Young still ranks eighth in scoring in Eagles annals and is second in career assists. But the words of his former coach, Frank Kerns, still ring in his ears more than 15 years later about being a rebounder. Young promised that the current edition of the Eagles will be a “blue-collar, workman-like, deliver-the-first-blow” team.
“When I played for Frank Kerns, his thing was you’ve got to dig out five rebounds,” he said. “I wasn’t the most athletic guy, but when the shot went up, I was going to box somebody out and go get it.”
But there’s also an NCAA investigation hanging over the program. The program was reprimanded harshly 14 years ago, losing scholarships in the wake of a NCAA probe.
Yet the ebullient Young isn’t deterred, even if it may take three years to get the Eagles to be a championship contender again.
“I’m an optimistic guy and I’m very, very confident,” he said. “In my mind, I’m planning on winning next year.”