An Interview with Former Celtic Skip Young

As training camp is upon Celtics' nation, we figured it'd be a great time to get in on the inside.  To know what the rigors of training camp consisted of.  What better than to ask a former Celtic who experienced training camp himself?

Skip Young was picked in the 7th round by the Celtics in the 1971 NBA draft.  Yet he more than made heads turn at training camp that year.  He'd latch onto the team and appeared in exhibition games in pre-season.  He got the news from Coach Tom Heinsohn on the final day that the Celtics had to waive him, but not before having an amazing experience which he now tells Celticslife firsthand. (Note: Skip converted to Muslim in the 1970s and now goes by the name of Ahmad Aliyy. More on that later).

CelticsLife:  Let’s go back to your high school days at Columbus Linden-McKinley, a traditional power in the state of Ohio.  You achieved first team All-Ohio in 1967 yet chose Florida State over Ohio State.  What was the reasoning at the time?

Ahmad Aliyy:  It was an honor to be named all-state but I'll tell you, being named to the All City in Columbus was probably an even greater accomplishment.  I was the first All American out of my high school and OSU had recruited me pretty heavily since I was in 10th grade.  The thing is OSU didn't really fit in with my style of play.  Number two, I wanted to get out of Ohio.  I considered Duquesne and Ohio University and the University of Cincinnati and Kent State, the typical schools a lot of people back then thought about. Coach Clendennan was the assistant at Florida State at the time and he was the first guy I interacted with about going there.  I went down to FSU for a visit and I really liked the weather and the school was beautiful.  I also knew they'd be focused more on the type of style I wanted to play.  Of course going down there I had no idea what I was getting myself into with the Jim Crow laws.

CL: At FSU you played forward on the freshman team back when freshmen were ineligible for Varsity yet as a sophomore, you became the starting point guard for varsity.  How hard was that transition?
AA: Back in high school I was a teammate of Jim Cleamons and we both played a lot of forward.  But I could always handle the ball and was always comfortable handling the ball, so the transition wasn't bad at all.  Back then we played a high-low offense a lot of the time with Dave Cowens actually up high and Willie Williams down low.

CL: Speaking of Cowens and Williams, those were two of your college teammates and also, both future Celtics.  What was your relationship like with them and head coach Hugh Durham?
AA: Well Willie and I actually came over the same-year, Willie from Miami-Dade Community College.  He and I had a great relationship.  But really we were all very close as a team.  Willie was really one of the best shot blockers I've ever seen.  He could be on the other side of the lane, get over to the side you were on, block your shot and then knock you down. He had impeccable timing. Dave and I also had a good relationship as did Kenny Macklin, my backcourt mate who was from East Orange in NJ.  We were all pretty tight.  The thing with Dave that people don't realize is that he was really raw when I was there.  In the summers he would come back to Columbus sometimes and even head over to the Rucker in Harlem.  He was a raw talent but an extremely hard worker.  Smaller than most centers he went up against but would just outwork everybody.  I tell ya, a lot of people hated FSU at the time and that actually helped Dave and me.
Skip & Dave on the cover of the FSU media guide

CL: What was your most memorable moment at FSU?                                                         AA: A couple stand out for me, when we beat Jacksonville with Artis Gilmore.  They got us once too, we really built up a nice rivalry with them.  Their frontcourt was huge with three 7 footers (Gilmore, 7'0 Pembrook Burrows and 6'10 Rod McIntyre) and they had Rex Morgan in the backcourt.  We beat South Carolina under Frank McGuire when they had John Roche and Bobby Cremmins.  Roche and I were neck and neck as two of the top guards in the country.  I also remember some tough contests against Butch Beard at Louisville and Charlie Scott at North Carolina.  The thing about back then is we were an independent school and a predominantly white institution, with a mostly all-black team, and a lot of other teams were timid to play us because they didn't want to get embarrassed. 
CL: How difficult was it to miss making the NCAA Finals in 1972 by one year?  Do you feel you could've made the difference on that team?

AA:  I don't know, I played with a lot of those guys my senior year but that season we had just got off probation.  In all fairness it was probably time for me to leave; I'm not saying I couldn't have helped but it was definitely time to go.
CL You were selected in the 7th round of the 1971 draft by the Celtics but many projected you to be a first or second round pick if not for the knee injury your senior year.  Did you consider leaving after your junior year?  Were you disappointed with how you were utilized your senior year?
AA: Of course back then, as opposed to now, a knee injury was a sign of death.  I was really ready my senior year and the injury I suffered happened very early in the season.  The Miami Floridians of the ABA had actually drafted me at the end of my junior year but I wanted to finish school and I preferred the NBA to the ABA and really wanted to play in the NBA.  A lot of guys I heard about were making money and enjoying the ABA.  But most importantly I was actually really intent on finishing up school.  Even if some people were critical of me for not leaving I had set a goal to finish my education and that's what I planned on accomplishing.

CLThe NBA draft used to be much different back then, not nearly the event it is today.  How did you find out the news?
AA: I can tell you exactly where I was (laughs) I was driving and someone had given me a Western Union that I had been drafted by the Boston Celtics in the 7th round.  I tell ya Red Auerbach, I don't know how he heard of Florida State but I believe he showed up at a practice once and when he saw all the talent he wondered where the hell did this guy (Coach Durham) get all these guys from?

CL: How was training camp with coach Tom Heinsohn?  He always emphasized up-tempo basketball and I believe you played a similar style at FSU.  What was your relationship with him like?

AA: The thing was I was always raised with great coaches so I was always used to playing hard and listening to coach.  I was trying to learn and I was trying to make the team but as far as a coach-to-player relationship, Coach Heinsohn and I had a good one.  The Celtics at that time fit me perfectly in terms of style of play and team play.  Growing up I had always looked to make the extra pass and they emphasized that there.

CLFrom all accounts, you put on an absolute show during the summer and pre-season with the Celtics.  Bob Ryan once stated “if Skip Young was the #1 pick of the team, it would’ve been easily believed.  Young shot, set up plays, worked on defense and exhibited consummate court presence.”  Jo Jo White described you as a “very good ball player” and coach Tom Heinsohn mentioned how “this was a tough decision to make” when he had to break the news to you that he had cut you.  How much fun was that for you?
AAWhen I came back to the veterans camp I had to referee the high school kids at the summer camp at the time during the day.  Adrian Dantley was in high school and James Brown (who does the NFL games) was in college at Harvard.  One court was for collegiate players and the other was for pros.  Well those guys would play with us at night and Dantley would hold his own in those games with the pros, which showed just how terrific he was.  Clarence Glover was the first pick and Jim Rose was the second pick and they had a nice cabin to themselves .  I had to stay out in the bunk with LeRoyChalk (who played at Nebraska) with all the rest of the kids.  I remember coming out to play in the evening and I decided to check Jo Jo White.  I was not familiar with the pro game at that time or Jo Jo as a player.  But he showed me up a couple of times but I hung tough.  He called me "rookie" but Jo Jo was just an excellent teammate.  Same with  Hambone Williams and Don Chaney.

Celtics summer time action was intense. Here Bill Dinwiddie and Rex Morgan go at it.

CL: Basketball-reference doesn't provide stats from pre-season games so my question is whether you played for the Celtics at all that pre-season?
AA: I did, I appeared in several exhibition games including contests for the Celtics against the Knicks, Philly and the Bucks.  I also played in some ABA exhibition games later on as well.  I remember I was released on a Sunday.  Don Nelson and Havlicek had told me "you made the team and we're glad to have you."  When I get back to the locker room and they tell me Coach Heinsohn wants to see me, I knew something was wrong. Coach Heinsohn brings me in and says “Skip you had a really great camp so this is certainly not easy but we're going to have to let you go because we could actually use John in the backcourt (along with Jo Jo and Hambone)."  I was a little disappointed then since I knew if I had been a first round draft choice or even a second round draft choice it would've given me more leverage.  Coach Heinsohn had said I could stay around and still practice with the team.  Maybe a week after that, someone told me Chicago wanted me to pick me up, but the window for them to sign me had closed.   I told Red that I heard Chicago wanted to sign me and he said "Skip don’t worry about it." So I asked Red to release me.  To this day I regret asking him that, not so much from a basketball perspective.  I could have done something with the organization like coaching.  Boston was really great.  In hindsight I should've come back the next year and tried out again.

CL: It appears you really battled it out with Rex Morgan and Jim Rose to make the team. Morgan already had a year of NBA ball under his belt while Rose was the 2nd round pick in the same draft as you.  Morgan wound up making the team and ironically, you had hotly-contested matchups with him while back in college while he played for Jacksonville. Do you feel he deserved to make the Celtics that year?
AA:  Well listen all of us were trying to get a job  And I think I performed well enough to get the job, the decision to not get that job wasn't with me (laughs) I wasn't competing just with Rex and Jim, I was competing with anyone else out there.  Hambone Williams too.  I can't say enough good things about Hambone.  He really educated me on the pro game and I spoke with him off the court too.  He was a great mentor for me.

CLTell us about your career professionally after leaving Boston.  Did you in fact sign on with the Kentucky Colonels of the ABA? 
AAYes I did sign on with Kentucky, when I left Boston, I came back to school and went to try and get a tryout with Cleveland  and Houston.  Then Coach Auerbach knew Joe Mullaney who had played briefly back with the Celtics and then done some coaching at Boston College, he was the coach of the Colonels at the time (having replaced former Celtic Frank Ramsey), and he actually tried to get me when Red released me.  So I got to go to the rookie camp with the Colonels.  I negotiated the contract with the Colonels who were very strong with Artis Gilmore, Dan Issel, and Louie Dampier.  I pulled a hamstring during an intra-squad game in Winchester, KY and when I got back I finally said my playing days were done.

CL: Did you keep a close eye on Florida State over the years?
AA: I most definitely did. In fact I actually came back to FSU and served as a camera man and a sports reporter the following year for a local TV station in Tallahasse, FL. 

CL: For all our NBA fans out there, I'm going to mention a name of a former FSU alumni who went on to play in the NBA and I'd like you to tell me immediately what comes to mind.  First one is Rowland Garrett.
AA: Rowland Garrett could jump over a car.  He could literally put his head on the rim.
CL: Ron King
AA: Great shooter, probably one of the best we've ever had.  His shot was so soft it wouldn't touch the rim.
Reggie Royals: a lot like Kevin Durant

CL: Reggie Royals
AA: One of the best shooters at 6'10 that I've ever been around.  If the 3 point line had been in play for Reggie and Ron King, forget it.  Other than handling the basketball, Royals was a lot like Kevin Durant.  He had that kind of range.
CL: Former Celtic, Bennie Clyde
AA: A phenomenal athlete.  6'7, could put it on the floor.  Clyde the Glide.  Problem with Bennie was always his attitude.  He might be in the best 1 or 2 players ever to come out of FSU.
CL: George McCloud
AA: Tremendous shooter
CL: Former Celtic, Tony Dawson  
AA: For what he was able to do with his disability was really amazing.
CL: Doug Edwards
AA: A hell of a player, should've had a better pro career.  He was big and strong and was really one of the better ones we've had. 
CL: Bob Sura 
AA: Heck of a player
CL: Charlie Ward
AA: A great guy, a great human being first of all.  It's what made him so successful.  Being such a great leader and being so smart.  I admire Charlie, period.  His demeanor, his approach.  Just a good professional. 
Honey Dip!
CL: Former Celtic, Sam Cassell 
AA: I didn't know him that well actually. I used to call him "Honey Dip" that's his Baltimore game. I enjoyed watching him play and you could always see how much Sam enjoyed to play. 
CL: You converted to Muslim and changed your name from Skip Young to Ahmad Aliyy.  What year did that take place and can you tell us the inspiration behind that? 
AA: It's actually a personal moment but I can tell you it happened in the 1970s.  I will say it's something that really helped me become a better person. 

CL: Two former Celtics who played shortly after you left did the same thing: Zaid Abdul-Aziz (formerly Don Smith) and Rashid K Shabazz (formerly Bill Dinwiddie).  Do you have any relationship with either player? 
AA: I did not know Don personally, but a friend of mine knew him.  As for Bill, me and him used to travel together to practice all the time.  I had a good relationship with him but didn't even know he did that.  I'd like to hear from Bill today if you could pass my information along. 

CLFrom all accounts it seemed like the fact you didn’t make the team was a numbers game.  The year you almost made the Celtics, 1971-72, there were just 17 teams and not even every team carried 12 guys.  Certainly if there were 30 teams back then (and 15 players per team) as there are today, you absolutely would’ve made a career in the NBA.  Any hard feelings that you came onto the scene too soon? 
AA:  No hard feelings at all.  You have to put things into perspective.   I won’t say I wasn’t disappointed but if you played with me from junior high and then to high school, when I got to college I wasn't thinking about making the NBA, I was thinking of graduating.  I was disappointed don’t get me wrong, but no reason to be bitter about it.  The entire experience helped me to become a better person.  I’m able to talk to other young people about my experience and when they get down or get frustrated, I'm able to get through to them.

You taking Gus or LeBron?

CL: Do you watch the NBA today at all?  If so what’s your take on it?  Do the players come close today to matching up to their predecessors?  Or has expansion and AAU at the amateur level generally diluted the fundamentals of the game?
AA: First of all, you notice, when you talk to younger players, the younger player may think you’re not even that good, they’re gonna say they look mighty slow.  Kids today are probably stronger and could do certain things.  Guys used to take pride in being more skillful whereas today’s players are more interested in the physicality of the game.  Basketball is and always will be a game of angles and yet all these guys do today is go north and south.  I look at LeBron James and know what I think? That's an updated Gus Johnson.
CL: Gus Johnson, huh?
AA: Yep
CL: Can I put that in the article?
AA: Absolutely, and I hope LeBron reads it.
Ahmad today

CLTell us about your career after basketball.  You did some coaching in 2004?  
AA: Yes I've been coaching girls' basketball for the past 10 years. We won a state title here in Florida back in 2004 and went back to the finals in 2005.  Six out of the 10 seasons we've made the Final Four.  I had one girl go on to play at the University of Memphis, one went on to play at Texas State and one at Georgia State.  I'm really proud of them. 

CL: You were inducted into the FSU Hall of Fame in 2006, how big of an honor was that for you?  
AA: My father had just passed away and wasn't able to be there, but my mother came and I had a bunch of other folks who showed up.  A very sentimental moment for me.
CL: Is there anything else interesting you'd like to share? 
AA: I'd like to mention two things, first off my most recent endeavor is the High 5 Sports & Academic Foundation.  We focus on helping at-risk youths in the areas of sports, education, and leadership.  The other area I'd like to mention is that I was recently named president of the Greater Columbus Basketball Legends Association in Columbus, Ohio.  We're in the process of creating a basketball museum similar to the one in Springfield, that's based on the people of Columbus and their influence on basketball: the players, the coaches, the referees, the journalists.  

Here's a video I found promoting the organization:

So there you have it, a great in-depth evaluation of what it's like to be in Celtics' training camp and rub shoulders with Celtic legends.  Celticslife thanks Ahmad for taking some time to answer some questions and giving us so much insight into his playing career both at FSU and with the Celtics during the pre-season in 1971.  We also thank him for the never-before-seen photo of himself and John Havlicek. Be sure to check out his website:

I think I speak on behalf of Celtics' Nation in that just like Ahmad wishes he stuck around in Boston longer, Celtics' fans can only reciprocate the notion that we wished you played here longer.  Ahmad is a truly humble and down-to-earth individual and a wonderful guy with great character.  We at Celticslife wish him all luck with his future endeavors!