How BYU basketball landed one of the NBA’s best assistants

When BYU sought a replacement for Mark Pope, Kevin Young was not the expected successor. But BYU swung for the fences and hit it out of the park when Young agreed to be BYU’s next head coach.

Who is Kevin Young?

Born in Salt Lake City, Utah, Kevin Young is a 42-year-old rising star in the basketball coaching industry. He grew up in Marietta, Georgia, and played collegiate basketball at Georgia Middle College and Clayton State University. Young has coached worldwide, including in Ireland for the Shamrock Rovers Hoops. Young has ties to Utah; he was an assistant at Utah Valley State (now UVU) and was an assistant and head coach for the Utah Flash G-league team. Young is a family man; he met his wife Melissa when he was a coach for the Utah Flash and she was a student at BYU. They have been married for 13 years and have three children: Jude, Van and Zoe.

“She’s been my rock for 13 years, and the coaching world is one that’s not easy for families. It’s not easy raising little ones. And we got three of them, Jude, Van and Zoe. They’ve been right there with us for a good majority of it,” said Young.

For Young, coming to BYU was just as much about his family as it was about the basketball. “[Melissa is] as excited or more about this opportunity than I am. But she had a major, major influence on me coming here and what it would do for our family life, said Young.”

Young’s path to Provo

Young’s career took off after his stint as the head coach for the Delaware 87ers. From there, Young joined Brett Brown’s Philadelphia 76ers staff. It was with the 76ers that Young coached with former Phoenix Suns and current Detroit Pistons head coach Monty Williams. When Monty Williams left to take the Suns head coaching job, he followed Williams there a year later for the 2020-21 season.

“Monty Williams, who’s been a huge mentor of mine and is an outstanding guy,” said Young. “Funny enough, he opened up every meeting with an opening prayer. True story, for the last couple years in Phoenix. So pretty used to that.”

In his first season, the Suns made a run to the NBA finals by running Williams’ and Young’s offense. When Willie Green left the Suns coaching staff for New Orleans, Young became the Suns associate head coach and coached the offense. During Young’s four seasons with Phoenix, the Suns finished in the top 10 in offensive efficiency three times. When Williams was fired after the 2022-23 season, the Suns interviewed Young, who was a finalist for the head coaching position. When Frank Vogel was hired, Young was retained by Phoenix and was the highest-paid assistant coach in the league.

“He’s done a great job. You know I think the Suns fans have to appreciate his contributions obviously beyond this year with the finals run and the teams they’ve had the last four to five years he’s been here,” said Phoenix Suns head Coach Frank Vogel. “He’s a had a big factor in this franchise’s success. He was great for me and has been great for me throughout the course of this year… KY has become a really close friend. I’m super happy for him. They are beyond lucky to have him at BYU and he’s going to do a great job.”

NBA star Devin Booker has praised Young for his intelligence and development. The two have a strong relationship and are the only remaining players and coaches from the Suns’ run to the NBA Finals in 2021.

Young does not have an extensive college background and last coached in college 15 years ago. But if Devin Booker says he wishes he could have played for Young in college, that’s all the approval he needs. Young can sell his in-game intelligence and player development skills to recruits. Along with relationships Young has with NBA stars like Chris Paul — one of the most competitive basketball players to ever live — and has lauded Young’s competitive fire. The two have become very close after their time in Phoenix, a relationship that means the world to Young.

While BYU is ecstatic for Young to be their new head coach, the Phoenix Suns organization is sad to see him go.

“I’m so excited for him, we’re so excited for him, but it’s bittersweet,” said Phoenix Suns general manager James Jones. “We’ve spent a lot of time together. He’s been instrumental to what we’ve built here in Phoenix. It’s an opportunity for him to show the world how great of a coach he is. They’re extremely fortunate to have him, I know we have been, but it’s bittersweet.”

How BYU turned the page

When BYU hired Young on Tuesday, the Cougars officially announced to the world that they are a member of the Big 12. BYU officially became a Big 12 program on July 1, 2023, but the Cougars’ hiring Young was the first power conference-type move the Cougars have made, showing that BYU is ready to play with the big boys. For decades, BYU has operated as a mom-and-pop organization, spending less than everyone else while trying to compete nationally. To hire Young, BYU had to make him one of the highest-paid coaches in the NCAA.

While BYU does not make its employees’ salaries available to the public because it is a private university. However, Matt Norlander reported Young’s deal is a seven-year, 30- million-dollar deal.

For BYU, this hire was made in record time. When Dave Rose retired in 2019, the job was vacant 16 days before Mark Pope was announced as BYU head coach. Young was hired in just five days and was the only formal interview BYU conducted. For Young, the entire process was a whirlwind.

“That’d be a great movie, actually. Honestly, at this point, all the days are running together, so I don’t remember exactly how things went down,” said Young. “I was already juggling a lot. And then right when I landed from one of those meetings, I had gotten, I had gotten a word of, you know, coach Pope leaving for Kentucky, which tremendous opportunity for him. And shortly after that, my phone rang and then just wildfire happened after that, to be honest with you.”

The money and the splash of this hire for BYU was surprising, but pulling Young away from the NBA was equally surprising, if not more surprising. In recent years, Young had interviewed with the Utah Jazz, Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers, Phoenix Suns, Houston Rockets and other NBA teams for their head coaching vacancies. Just days ago, Young was a finalist for the Brooklyn Nets head coaching vacancy, where he could have reunited with his former Suns players Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson. Instead, Young chose to come to Provo rather than continue interviewing for other NBA jobs. It is important to note that Young will continue to coach the Phoenix Suns for the duration of their playoff run, which begins on Saturday against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

“It’s going to be a challenge, but I look forward to it because a lot of special things and relationships I have with those guys down in Phoenix. Couple of them I’ve been with for four years, and two wins away from winning the NBA championship, with Book in particular. He’s kind of the main guy left from that crew, so I’m invested in those guys,” said Young. Do not worry, though; Young is working hard for BYU as well. “In terms of working on the staffing piece, it’s huge. I’ve been working tirelessly on that. My phone’s been, I’ve been on the phone more in the last 24 hours than I have.”

Young is BYU’s splashiest hire in a long time. This was only accomplished through the collective brain trust of Tom Holmoe, Shane Reese, Danny Ainge, and Ryan Smith. Considering Ainge’s recent track record in hiring head coaches (Brad Stevens and Will Hardy), BYU can be confident they got the right guy.

What does Young inherit?

There are two ways you can look at the situation for BYU basketball right now: glass half full or glass half empty. The Cougars were a top-25 school last season and were a sixth seed in the NCAA tournament after finishing fifth in the Big 12. The other? Five of BYU’s top eight players from last season could be elsewhere before Young touches down in Provo. Currently, Dallin Hall, Richie Saunders and Aly Khalifa are in the transfer portal, with whispers of other players following their lead. Jaxson Robinson, Big 12 sixth man of the year, can turn pro, transfer, or return to BYU. Robinson has yet to address his future. Young will need to work quickly in order to retain the current roster if he chooses to go in that direction. With the transfer portal, Young could flip BYU’s roster in a matter of weeks, but Young is committed to retaining the Cougar’s current roster.

“Cannot wait to have every one of you guys back in a BYU Uniform and get to it,” Young said to his players. “Make no mistake about it. That’s my first priority is those guys, and I can’t, I’ve already started building relationships with those guys. We’re going to take that part of it to a whole nother level.”

Recruiting is not the only thing Young needs to do quickly. He will also need to build a staff with college experience, which he will need to do soon. Former BYU assistant Quincy Lewis, current BYU assistant Nick Robinson, current UNLV assistant coach Barret Peery and current Utah assistant coach Chris Burgess would all be great additions to his staff. Young has many connections from his career as an assistant in the NBA; could he convince another NBA assistant to follow? Does any former BYU legend feel inclined to help Young transition to the college game?

Young has the most important month of his career ahead of him. In a short amount of time, he needs to build his staff, retain as much of BYU’s current roster as he can, and add other pieces through the portal. This is a monumental task for Young, who will be coaching in the NBA playoffs on top of everything else.

Young’s vision for BYU

One of Young’s biggest strengths is his self-awareness. He knows his strengths and knows he needs all the support he can get in recruiting and NIL. With his connections, Young should find suitable assistant coaches and start recruiting at a high level quickly. What can Young sell to high school recruits and student-athletes in the transfer portal? Elite-level coaching and experience working with the games are the very best players.

“I think with my background, we’re gonna build, we’re gonna, this, this is, this is an amazing place and has been for a long time,” said Young. “What I want to do to take it to the next level is make this place the best place in college basketball to prepare young men to play in the NBA. And I think with my background, I think we’re going to be able to get that done. I really look forward to doing that.”

At BYU, getting talent to come to BYU is more challenging than other NCAA institutions. If Young’s relationships and NBA experience can get recruits to BYU, where he can develop them, he can do the impossible for BYU. Build a pipeline to the NBA.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Top Sports Stories

Outdoors Unlimited challenges community to hike the height of Mt. Everest

BYU Outdoors Unlimited is currently hosting a challenge to hike as much vertical elevation as Mt. Everest's peak this summer.

BYU basketball lands ESPN 100 four-star recruit Elijah Crawford

BYU basketball lands ESPN 100 four-star recruit Elijah CrawfordAfter the news of Noah Waterman's commitment to Louisville, BYU men's basketball coach Kevin Young had...

Photo Story: Inaugural Big 12 Season for Men’s Hoops

Photo Story: Inaugural Big 12 Season for Men's HoopsFrom 13th in the Big 12 preseason poll, to being ranked as high as No. 12...

From Guangzhou to Provo: BYU Tennis’ Bobo Huang

From Guangzhou to Provo: BYU Tennis' Bobo HuangHow far did you travel when you went to college? Maybe you went across the state, maybe...
- Advertisement -
Print Friendly, PDF & Email