No. 25 USF looks to clinch the AAC regular season championship this afternoon on the road at Charlotte.

0
745
USF GUARD CHRIS YOUNGBLOOD - USF - SPORTS INFORMATION DEPARTMENT
South Florida Bulls during a men's basketball game against the Central Michigan University Chippewas on November 15, 2023. (Chris Henry/South Florida Athletics)

See Why, He’s CY

USF SPORTS INFORMATION DEPARTMENT – If the South Florida Bulls win on the road this afternoon against the very capable Charlotte 49ers (17-10, 11-4), USF will capture the first regular-season conference championship in the program’s 53-season history.

The Bulls are led by guard Chris Youngblood, the alpha dog of USF basketball, an unquestioned leader, a clutch performer, a forthright spokesman, and a man’s man who believes in hard work and no excuses.

But when doing a deep dive on why the No. 25-ranked Bulls are 21-5 (14-1 American Athletic Conference), what allowed them to build a program-record 13-game winning streak, and how they’ve planted the seeds for USF to become a basketball-mad campus, one thing appears certain:

When investigators dust for evidence of the prime suspects in this hoops transformation, they will find Youngblood’s fingerprints prominent in every area.

The AAC regular season championship would be the latest stop on the Road to March Madness. For Youngblood, though, it’s simply the next game. All season long, his Bulls teammates have followed that example.

“He’s all about winning — no more, no less,’’ guard Jose Placer said. “No individual comes before winning. Nothing comes before winning. It’s pretty much that simple.’’

“He’s the head of the snake,’’ forward Kasean Pryor said. “He has an unreal mentality, accountability, and consistency on a daily basis. He holds himself to the highest standard — always. And because of that, we’ve learned to do the same thing.’’

“Chris is a great basketball player, no doubt about that,’’ Coach Amir Abdur-Rahim said. “But even more than that, he’s a phenomenal human being.’’

Youngblood, a 6-foot-4, 218-pound senior (who has one season of eligibility remaining), averages 14.9 points, 2.5 rebounds, and 2.1 assists while shooting 41.5 percent from 3-point range and 82.4 percent from the free-throw line. Including his first three seasons at Kennesaw State — before following Abdur-Rahim to USF — he has 1,614 career points.

The numbers are revealing — but they don’t tell the whole story.

To really know the person, Abdur-Rahim said, you must visit the home of Dupree and LaDonna Youngblood. There was discipline, of course, but mostly high expectations of how their son should carry himself. It was chores from an early age. It was the reinforcement of values, which eventually became habits.

To really know the player, you must check out the basketball program at East Coweta High School, about a 45-minute drive from downtown Atlanta. That’s where Coach Royal Maxwell put Youngblood and his teammates through a physical and mental regimen, teaching them unwavering toughness, while emphasizing fundamentals. The game-day execution was exquisite in its simplicity.

“I feel like I have a solid foundation … and I thank my parents and coaches for that,’’ Youngblood said. “I like to say that, no matter what, I never blink. When I was younger, I was blinking all the time. I was nervous. I doubted myself.

“Now I feel like I have confidence. Big confidence.’’

He’s Chris Youngblood.

Or as everyone calls him … C.Y.

The initials are pronounced like this:

See-Why.

They actually spell out the driving forces of his life.

A Man Of Vision

See (v.) — To perceive with the eyes. To discern visually.

“God blessed a lot of us with sight,’’ Abdur-Rahim said. “But not everyone has a vision. Stevie Wonder had a vision. He had an idea of who he wanted to be and the type of music he wanted to make. That had nothing to do with his inability to see. It had everything to do with his vision.’’

Youngblood wears contacts now. If he takes them out, he really can’t make out the words on banners high in the Yuengling Center rafters. He first needed glasses at age 7 and often wore them in sports.

At his first football practice, those glasses were driven under his helmet after a hard hit … and that’s a big reason why it was his last football practice. He got exasperated in basketball when his glasses fell off. So, he went to the Kareem-like goggles, secured by a strap, but he still heard giggles and teasing.

“I knew I was going to beat you,’’ Youngblood said. “What are you going to say then? People saw my glasses or goggles and probably thought I wasn’t (a good player). But then they saw my game. And they knew I actually was a player.’’

Even when he felt “blind as a bat’’ without the eyewear, Youngblood always felt knew he could see the future.

College basketball coaches began lining up. One of his top choices was Xavier University, a basketball-rich program from the Big East Conference.

But after meeting Abdur-Rahim, the new head coach at Kennesaw State, a struggling program with practically no Division I tradition, the selection seemed obvious.

To him, it was clear-cut.

He picked Kennesaw State. He believed in the coach. He believed in the program’s potential. But when Abdur-Rahim’s Owls went 1-28 as Youngblood graduated from high school, that decision was openly mocked.

No one could see Youngblood’s logic.

But he had the vision to know differently.

“Christopher is definitely a forward thinker and not one to just follow the crowd,’’ Youngblood’s father said. “He’s not a guy caught up in the moment. He knew Kennesaw would become a good program. And so did I.’’

The Owls became the fastest program to go from one victory to an NCAA Tournament bid, winning last season’s Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament and giving Xavier — ironically enough — all it could handle before falling 72-67 in the NCAA’s first round.

That got the attention of USF and a few weeks later, Abdur-Rahim was headed to Tampa. Not long after that, Youngblood was right behind him.

“There was no question that I was following Coach Amir, regardless of where he was going,’’ Youngblood said. “I’m not sure I even knew where USF was located. I knew they worn green uniforms. Other than that, it was pure faith.’’

There was frustration in the early season, particularly during the road swing to Hofstra and UMass, when Youngblood plummeted into the worst shooting slump of his life — 3-for-22 from the field, 11 straight misses, and 1-for-9 from 3-point range.

He heard cruel whispers — was Youngblood actually good enough for the AAC? — and decided to delete his Twitter account. Abdur-Rahim stayed the course: “The shots are going to start falling.’’

Youngblood followed the lead of his coach.

“Some people, when they aren’t making shots, they panic,’’ Youngblood said. “I know it’s a long season, a lot of games. There was plenty of time to turn it around. At times, I was laughing about it. I think God was testing me.

“I actually saw myself thriving on the court. I saw this team winning games. Nobody else from the outside thought it would happen. I kept working. I could see it very clearly.’’

A man of vision.

Goal-Oriented Approach

Why (adv.) — For what reason, cause, purpose or motive.

What’s your why?

They are modern buzzwords, an ice-breaking question for many motivational speakers, a way to reveal the drive behind what someone does and why they do it.

Since an early age, Youngblood has known his why.

Family first.

“He wants to take care of his parents and his sister (Lydia), although that’s not really necessary,’’ said Youngblood’s father, a mechanical engineer. “But if there were that kind of need, I know that would be his priority.’’

Professional basketball.

Youngblood will chase that dream. The NBA? Of course, he’d like a shot. But he also knows the odds can be staggering. So when the ball stops bouncing — and that day comes for everyone — he will be prepared.

He’s a communications major. Maybe there’s a basketball-related spot somewhere. Maybe he’ll start a business. One thing is certain: Wherever he lands, he’ll be looking to make a difference in that community.

Setting an example.

When he was a kid, Youngblood was mostly known as a baseball player. He played shortstop, just like his idol, Derek Jeter. In one of the most important games of his life, a Little League regional, he crashed three home runs.

But when his family moved from Tuscaloosa, Ala., to the greater Atlanta area, Youngblood fell in love with basketball. The game had a rhythm all its own. You could find justice, freedom, and redemption all in the same game.

Youngblood’s basketball hero is Kobe Bryant. He hasn’t just read “The Mamba Mentality: How I Play.’’ He has inhaled it. The words speak to him clearly.

“Constantly try to be the best version of yourself.’’

“Everything negative — pressure, challenges — is all an opportunity for me to rise.’’

“There’s one thing you can control. You are responsible for how people remember you — or how they don’t. Don’t take that lightly.’’

“The moment you give up is the moment you let someone else win.’’

Youngblood sums it up this way:

“I want to be coachable. I want to stand for something. I want to compete harder than anyone else. I want to live a life of confidence. When things get tough, I want people to lean on me. You only get one life. I want it to be a great one.’’

None of this surprises his father or longtime friends.

“Christopher is really an old soul,’’ said his father, who loves competing with his son at pool, ping-pong, and every board game on the market. “Very mature. He has always been driven. He has balance. If it wasn’t for basketball, I think he would become an engineer, like me. We were very intentional about the way we raised him — putting him around the right people — but he is truly a great kid. We could not be more proud.’’

“Nobody works harder than C.Y.,’’ said USF guard Kasen Jennings, also a teammate at Kennesaw State. “The work ethic is off the charts. And he’s really smart. He does the simple things so well. And he will influence the room. He walks in and there’s instant respect. He’s a leader.’’

C.Y.

See-Why.

The initials that signify a lifestyle.

“His kind of approach and preparation are so rare for a man of his age,’’ Abdur-Rahim said. “He cares about excellence.’’

Youngblood helped to make history at Kennesaw State. Now history is on the verge of repeating itself at USF. It’s a great story, but Youngblood won’t savor it until the final chapter is done.

To paraphrase Kobe Bryant: Job not finished.

“I’m not getting caught up in anything or listening to praise,’’ Youngblood said. “I’ll release my emotions when we win that championship. You start feeling good about yourself and you get comfortable.’’

For the alpha dog of USF basketball, that’s not acceptable.

On the Road to March Madness, he prefers the fast lane, the competitive action, the hard work, the heartbreak, the lessons learned, the relationships, and the ultimate promise of a shining moment when you know that a lifetime of effort was all worth it.

To stay up-to-date on the latest USF men’s basketball news, follow the Bulls on social media (Twitter | Facebook | Instagram).

About USF Men’s Basketball

The South Florida men’s basketball team is led by Amir Abdur-Rahim, who was named the 11th head coach in program history on March 29, 2023. Abdur-Rahim was named the 2023 Mid-Major Coach of the Year (Hugh Durham Award) after leading Kennesaw State to its first-ever Division I NCAA Tournament berth in 2022-23. Abdur-Rahim’s Kennesaw State team set an NCAA record as the fastest team to ever reach the NCAA Tournament after a one-win campaign, accomplishing the feat in a span of just three seasons. He was also named the 2022-23 NABC District 3 and ASUN Coach of the Year after leading Kennesaw State to both the regular season and tournament titles, and a school-record 26 wins.
 
USF has retired three numbers in its history: Chucky Atkins (12), Charlie Bradley (30), and Radenko Dobras (31). The Bulls have earned three NCAA tournament bids, appeared in the NIT eight times, and won the 2019 College Basketball Invitational.
 
For tickets, contact the USF Ticket Office at 1-800-Go-Bulls or by going online to 
USFBullsTix.com. Season tickets for the 2023-24 USF men’s basketball slate are on sale now. To purchase season tickets, click here.