MURFREESBORO, Tenn. - His name leaves him with a lot to live up to. And after sitting out four games to start this basketball season for breaking a team rule, Howard's Cudjoe Mahdi Onyami Young has lived up to his name's meaning.
"My dad's name is Joe and my granny helped decide my name," Young said. "It means 'Leader,' and that's what I'm trying to be for my team now.
"Honestly, it took me a long time just to learn how to spell my own name. And now, even my granny just calls me Joe-Joe."
Young is Howard's sixth man and Hustlin' Tigers coach Walter McGary, knowing the nonstop motor the junior brings to both ends of the floor, rarely wastes much time getting him into the game.
After a steady but relatively quiet first half, Young re-entered the game early in the third quarter of Thursday's state tournament quarterfinal game. Howard's double-digit lead had been erased by East Nashville, but with his team trailing by two, Young didn't so much calm things down as flip the chaos back in the Hustlin' Tigers' favor.
He rattled the Eagles' offense (a typically good shooting team made just 28 percent of its field-goal tries against Howard) and at the other end made sure Howard's offense took advantage of its size advantage inside, getting the ball to 6-foot-8 Brandon Walters.
The combination helped Howard re-establish dominance and pull away for a 59-43 win to advance to the semifinals of the Class AA state tournament. It's the second time in three years and third in the last six seasons the Hustlin' Tigers have advanced to the semis, but standing in their way of reaching the title game for the first time in 33 years is third-ranked Jackson South Side, a 53-39 winner over Knoxville Fulton.
"The game felt like it was starting to slip away a little bit in the third quarter," Young said. "I had to go be a spark to get things going again. I kept saying, 'We ain't going out like we have before here. We ain't giving this game up.'
"Coach told me to get back in and get things going, and after we got a couple of stops and capitalized on the other end with points, I felt like we were going to be OK."
As difficult as it is to pronounce his full name, it's nothing compared with trying to defend him on the basketball court. Most everyone else besides his granny has adopted the similarly easier nickname, Cudjoe, and for those of us who remember the 1980s movie "Cujo" about a rabid St. Bernard who terrorized everyone around him, that pretty much sums up Young's style on the court as well.
"He's my disrupter," McGary said of Young, who finished with 16 points, seven rebounds, two steals and countless acts of general harassment. "Brandon is our eraser, but Cudjoe is the guy that disrupts the other team's offense. Him and Chris Walton are our one-two defensive punch. I had heard from about eight friends who told me how good of a shooting team East was. So to do what we did defensively says a lot about how Cudjoe and all our kids played.
"I sat him down to start the season, just to get his attention. But he came back as a man. He's been a leader in every sense of the word on and off the court since he came back. He learned a lesson and has been a big-time part of why we're here now."