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Exclusive Interview: Delaware 87ers' Head Coach Kevin Young

Just prior to the start of his team's current winning streak, Delaware 87ers' head coach Kevin Young sat down with Liberty Ballers to discuss the development of Sean Kilpatrick, the diverse skill set of Jahlil Okafor, and some of the unique challenges faced while coaching in the D-League.

Delaware 87ers' head coach Kevin Young gives instruction to Jordan McRae.
Delaware 87ers' head coach Kevin Young gives instruction to Jordan McRae.
NBAE via Getty Images

Liberty Ballers: This is your second year as the head coach of the 87ers - what's the most important thing you learned last season?

Sevens' Head Coach Kevin Young: Just the style that we want to play. I always say that this is the fastest league in the world, including the NBA. There are a lot of possessions in this league, and you gotta be able to score. So you have to find a style of play that allows our guys to showcase what they can do and be able to keep up with teams in this league. So far, we've been able to do that from an offensive standpoint.

LB: There were several players on your roster last year that have gone on to have success on the next level here as well as overseas - D.J. Seeley and Drew Gordon among others. How does it feel to see guys who were in your program parlay that experience into these types of opportunities?

Young: Pretty much everyone we had last year is doing well in Europe. D.J. is over there, Drew is averaging a double-double in France, Jamal Jones is playing well in France, Victor Rudd is playing very well in Russia. Maalik Wayns actually just texted me the other day thanking us for what we did for him last year to kind of restart his career, which is cool for a coach to get that text, something I didn't expect to get. So you love seeing it, and then obviously this year with Sean [Kilpatrick] getting an opportunity up with the Nuggets, it's really rewarding as a coach to see that.

LB: So obviously, you just mentioned Sean who was called up by the Nuggets - he was called up last year as well. What's the biggest difference in his game this year so far?

Young: I think just his level of confidence. As a rookie last year, he was just kind of figuring it out. I think he had a really good summer with New Orleans. He played really well in the preseason... I just think it's that level of confidence that he came in with. He's a natural "chip on your shoulder" type of guy, going from being a first-team All-American to not getting drafted. So he just has that chip on his shoulder... but then, add that chip to his confidence, and I think that's a large part of why he's had so much success. That and, from a basketball standpoint, his ability to play in the pick-and-roll has gotten better, and do some things other than catch and shoot.

LB: So now, with Jordan McRae as your main scoring option on the wing, how does that change what you plan to do on offense at all?

Young: Not really... certainly not from a scheme standpoint. I mean, we want to play the same way. I think Jordan will play off the ball a bit more now that Russ Smith is in the mix, and those two can kind of figure out how to play off of each other like Jordan did when Sean was here. Jordan is a guy who's versatile, and that's a large part of why he's so valuable for us - he can play the 1, 2 or 3 and get a lot done at any of those positions.

LB: You had Jordan and Sean before [last year], which is kind of different given the nature of the D-League. But you also have a lot of new guys as well - are they any that have stood out to you this year?

Young: Yeah... I think a lot of them have. Sean and Jordan are the ones that got a lot of the attention, and deservedly so, but in terms of a lot of the guys we've brought in, I think David Laury has been a nice pickup for us. Everyone wants a 6-9 guy who can do multiple things: shoot, dribble, pass, rebound. So he's been good, and we've had spurts from everybody else. I don't think anyone else has jumped off and separated themselves, but every one of them have had moments where they've been good for us. And I think now that we're in the second part of the season, a lot of the guys that are new to the D-League will get a little more comfortable. And now that they understand how this whole thing works, hopefully they can settle into their roles and give us some more production.

LB: You have a couple of guys on your team that have NBA experience, including Russ Smith. You also have a player in Rodney Carney who has a pretty decent NBA resume, and you had a couple of guys earlier this year - including Kendall Marshall - come down for rehab stints. What does that do for the younger guys when they see NBA guys work out with the team and be a part of the roster?

Young: It's interesting, because when you get guys who are kind of in the same age bracket like Kendall and Tony, and even Russ, it's more like they're kind of their peers, even though they've been in the NBA. And then when you get a guy like Rodney Carney or Carl Landry, who was with us for a couple of weeks... Carl was tremendous. Being able to just talk to the guys and say things to them that... I mean, I can say it until I'm blue in the face, but I'm not a 10-year NBA vet like he is. He was awesome, and Rodney... he's more quiet than Carl is, but in his own way, he's found ways to grab guys and kind of coach them up, which for me is a nice luxury to have.

LB: This summer, you spent some time with the big club out in Vegas, and you actually had the chance to coach the team for one of the games out there. How did that all go down?

Young: So Lloyd Pierce, one of the Sixers' assistants, was the head coach, and we were getting ready to go to the game, and he caught me in the hotel and something was messed up with his eye, I guess. He was like "Kevin, you're going to have to get it done." So, I jumped right into it. And being that I've been a head coach for some years in the D-League, it was not something that I hadn't done before. So I just had to switch gears real quick, and it was cool because we ended up winning, which was our only win of summer league which was fun. You know... if you're a coach, you're ready to go. You're laced up and ready to go, so it was cool.

LB: And while you were out there, you had a chance to work with a bunch of young guys, including Jahlil Okafor. What are your impressions on Okafor's game and what he brings to the table for the Sixers?

Young: What stood out to me is that he's a lot more versatile than I thought. You know, you hear about and see how good he is on the block, and that kind of thing, but he's so much more than that. Even [Thursday night], I was up at the game against Chicago, and he's doing stuff off of the elbow, he's doing stuff off of pick-and-pop and things like that. He's got a pretty vast offensive package - it's not just "give me the ball on the block and get out of the way." And I think Brett and those guys have done a pretty good job of showcasing that.

LB: Back in November, a poll on Ridiculous Upside selected John Bryant as the best assistant coach in the D-League. What is it about Bryant that makes him such a valuable resource to have on the bench?

Young: I mean, he's just a tremendous human being, first of all. And I think that's a large part of why he's thought of so highly. He's just a really good human being, and I think his experience of playing in the league, he was a role player on an awesome St. Joe's team... So that experience of being a role player on a good team... he's played professionally, he's played in the D-League, coached in the D-League. I just think he has a skill set that a lot of guys don't have - from a playing and coaching experience combined - that makes him so good, along with how good of a person he is.

LB: You've been part of the D-League since 2007. You've had crazy road trips from Canton to Fort Wayne to Sioux Falls. Is there one story, one game, one incident that sticks out in your mind after all of these years?

Young: There's so many, there's so many... I won't be long-winded and tell the long [version], but the short one is that we played the night here [once], and then we go to Erie on a bus right after the game, which we've done a lot with this team because we play Erie quite a few times a season. Normally, we'll play up there and hop right back on the bus and come back. So we're up there when Coach [Rod] Baker was our coach - who's now a scout with the Sixers - and we went into the arena before the game and it was dry as a bone outside. Man, when we came out, it was like 10 inches of snow, and I said "Coach, there's no way we can take the bus all the way back through these mountains to get to Delaware." We ended up having to stay the night and coming back the next day.

That's an abridged version, there's so many [stories]... it's unbelievable what you see in this league. It's funny... I was just talking to Jesse [Mermuys], Toronto's coach... he's a guy who has been in the NBA for a long time as an assistant. And just going up there and chatting with him, and he's like "Man, I don't know how you've been able to do this for so many years with the different things you have to face." Many have said it before me, I'm sure many will say it after I'm out of this league, but if you can coach in this league, you truly can coach in any league. Just because of all of the things you face: the roster turnover, the travel fiascos... it really helps you as a coach having to adjust to so many different things.

LB: You mentioned the roster turnover - is that the biggest challenge you face as a coach? Or is it the travel?

Young: Those two, really. It's the travel and the roster turnover. You have to re-invent yourself and your team so many times throughout the year that it becomes tough. And then the travel elements are a huge part of the [challenge]... the only good thing is that every team faces it, so it kind of evens itself out. It's just the nature of the beast, man.

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