‘His whole life he’s been having to fight’: Former Quinnipiac guard Cameron Young’s journey from Hamden to the brink of the NBA

Cameron Levasseur, Sports Editor

For every young basketball player, there is one universal dream: make it to the NBA. But few make it past the high school level and even less college. In fact, no Quinnipiac player has ever graced the hardwood of basketball’s biggest stage. Former Quinnipiac guard Cameron Young is on a mission to change that.

The 6-foot-6-inch Los Angeles product signed with the G League Ignite for the 2022-23 season, marking the sixth professional team Young has played for since the last time he donned a Bobcats uniform in 2019.

Italy, Ukraine, El Segundo, Memphis, Cleveland and now Las Vegas: that much change in such a short period of time would make most people rethink the path they’re on. Cameron Young is not most people.

“It’s my journey,” Young said. “I keep accomplishing my goals wherever I go, no matter how long its taken or whichever route I have to take.”

Young’s rollercoaster journey didn’t just begin after his departure from Hamden. To get the full picture you have to go back to the beginning, back to the halls of then-Westchester High School in LA.

“He was a quiet kid, he didn’t really talk much,” said Elijah Stewart, a teammate of Young’s at Westchester. “He was just a little different.”

Young may not have talked a lot, but those around him did. Growing up in one of the world’s most competitive basketball environments put him under the microscope from the minute he stepped onto the court for the first time as a freshman.

“People just be hating,” Stewart said. “Playing basketball in LA makes you very proficient in working in hostile environments … you don’t care about hopping on Twitter as a 16-17 year old and seeing people call you a bum, a bust … it’s just a different type of mindset that you develop from playing there.”

While a tough place to play, the unrelenting mindset that the environment in LA breeds has developed some of the greatest talents in the game today, among them Bulls guard DeMar DeRozan and Lakers guard Russell Westbrook.

“You look at the NBA,” Young said. “A majority of the top all-star players are from LA, I would say. Just in general, it’s definitely become the mecca of basketball in my opinion.”

A two-star recruit out of Westchester, Young wasn’t getting the Division I looks that many of his teammates were. That lack of attention didn’t deter him however, if anything, it just made him work harder.

He played two years at the Junior College level with Arizona Western, averaging 17 points per game as a sophomore to earn the mid-major recognition that eventually landed him at Quinnipiac.

“I just loved the facilities and university in general,” Young said. “I was sold on Quinnipiac.”

But even in Young’s first season with the Bobcats, he continued to face adversity. A coaching staff reluctant to give the then-20-year-old opportunities led to him only seeing action in six games the entire season, failing to record a single point.

An offseason overhaul ahead of the 2017-18 season brought a new group to the sidelines of Lender Court, including current head coach Baker Dunleavy.

Under Dunleavy’s leadership, Young was finally given the opportunity to shine – and that’s exactly what he did – starting all 33 games for Quinnipiac while leading the team in points at just under 19 per game.

“(Dunleavy) believed in me when he first got there,” Young said. “He was able to let me showcase my ability and put me on a platform to be able to show myself.”

While Dunleavy may not have known much about Young when he took over the program, he soon found out.

“The first time the guys played pickup he really caught my eye in terms of talent,” Dunleavy said. “I can’t say enough about his ability but also his growth with us, and Quinnipiac University is a big part of that.”

A relentless work ethic set Young apart from the crowd during his stint with the Bobcats.

“Me and … (redshirt senior guard) Savion (Lewis) would come in the gym at eight o’clock, nine o’clock at night, Cam comes in at 10 o’clock at night and stays until 12,” redshirt senior guard Matt Balanc said. “Then he’s in there the next morning, (at) eight, nine, just working.”

Young’s talent was even more evident in his final year with the program, so much so that the accolades speak for themselves: unanimous MAAC Player of the Year, AP All-America Honorable Mention, USBWA and NABC All-District teams, the list goes on.

“His final year with us, he was an NBA player in the MAAC in my opinion,” Dunleavy said. “You could go to him in any situation, ball screen, iso, post-up, and teams didn’t have much of an answer for him.”

The season culminated in a 55-point outburst in a triple-overtime win over Siena. That total remains a Quinnipiac and MAAC record and is the highest single-game mark by any Division I player since 2009.

Cameron Young was Quinnipiac’s first and only MAAC Player of the Year recipient for his play in 2018-19. (Morgan Tencza/Chronicle Archives (2019))

“I felt like I was at peace most of the season,” Young said. “Between my senior year and grad year … a bunch of schools were calling me to transfer, but just from having the season I had with the team and coach Dunleavy, it was a no-brainer, I knew I was coming back.”

Like every period of Young’s career, however, there was more adversity on the horizon. Following the 2018-19 season, the prolific scorer declared for the NBA Draft, but after two rounds and 60 picks, his name was not called, leaving Young to pursue options overseas.

“It’s just kind of my story in general,” Young said. “Quinnipiac’s a smaller school, so I was kind of under recruited anyway. Being undrafted, all that stuff, just falls under the same category of motivation.”

Young spent a year in Italy with Pallacanestro Cantù in Lega Basket Serie A before heading east to join the Cherkasy Monkeys for the 2020-21 season in the Ukrainian top division.

His successful stints in Europe were enough to garner interest back at home for the following campaign, where he signed with the G League’s South Bay Lakers last October following a strong tryout. Young would be waived by the Lakers at the end of training camp.

Young was picked up by the Memphis Hustle a month later, where he would see his first G League action, averaging over 17 points as one of the team’s top scoring options, seamlessly transitioning back from the more fundamental European game.

“NBA style is completely different from overseas style,” Young said. “The pace of the game, the three point line’s farther back, the ball’s different. (It was a) big adjustment, but I was actually able to get adjusted quite quick so it worked out.”

After 18 games in Memphis, Young had to pack his bags once more. The Hustle dealt him to the Cleveland Charge in a three-team trade. In Cleveland, he saw his most productive stretch as a professional, averaging 25.5 points on a 50% clip from the field and nearly 40% from three.

Knowing the system helped Young as he joined the Charge’s NBA-affiliate Cavaliers for the NBA 2K23 Summer League. He played major minutes for the club during the tournament, finish- ing third on the team in scoring.

“I was able to perform pretty well having (that) little step forward,” Young said. “As opposed to everybody else who got there and kind of had two weeks to figure everything out.”

Now in his second year in the G League, Young is hoping to take his career to new heights with the Ignite, the League’s premier franchise designed for elite prospect development. Among his teammates is guard Scoot Henderson, the consensus No. 2 prospect in the 2023 NBA Draft.

“With my role, I’m kind of in between,” Young said. I’m younger, but I’m a veteran compared to the younger guys. So I’m able to help them out and also learn from the other veterans that are already here.”

Signing with the Ignite is a decision that comes back to Young’s primary aim as a basketball player: reach the NBA.

“Pretty much all of the NBA teams are going to be watching the Ignite,” Young said. “(The) ultimate goal for me is to make it to the league, so I thought this was the best situation to put myself in front of as many people as I can.”

Every step of the way, Young has been doubted. It took two colleges, three countries and six professional teams for him to even reach the shadow of the NBA. But on each occasion, he’s risen to the challenge and become a better player because of it.

“His whole life he’s been having to fight,” Stewart said. “He really takes that to heart … It could have went bad 20 times for Cameron, but he’s highly favored right now.”

Made in LA and strengthened at Quinnipiac, Young’s journey is far from over. But wherever it takes him, history says he’s built for it.

“You’ve got to still believe in yourself when nobody else does, because there are going to be times where people don’t believe in you,” Young said. “You have to be able to show up and showcase yourself anyways, believe in yourself and embrace the negativity.”