Following Ed Murphy’s retirement from the UWG sidelines, Cooney stepped into the leading role and brought fellow assistant Andy Young — just a few years removed from his post as a grad assistant — up a seat with him. It wasn’t the first time Young followed Cooney.
It was Cooney who recruited the talented guard to Carrollton for his final two years of college ball in 2000 upon transferring from Division I University of Wyoming. The fierce competitor found success sporting UWG’s Blue and Red, guiding the then-Braves to the Elite Eight in 2002 as an All-Gulf South Conference performer.
The New Philadelphia, Ohio, native wrapped up his West Georgia playing career as a two-time All-GSC selection, leading UWG to the 2002 GSC title, an NCAA South Region crown and ultimately the first trip to the Elite Eight in program history.
And the former standout guard is now a rising star on the coaching scene, where he’s taken on added responsibility in recent years, culminating with him being named the associate head coach this year.
“He came on as a graduate assistant for coach Murphy — on my recommendation, I will say. As soon as I was given the job six years ago, I had already picked out who I wanted to be my assistant. I made that decision two to three years earlier when we got Andy the [graduate assistant] job,” Cooney said.
Young has been Cooney’s right-hand man ever since.
But on Saturday, it will be the pupil that takes center stage upon being voted into the UWG Athletic Hall of Fame. Young will be honored during halftime of the Wolves’ football game against West Texas A&M at University Stadium, along with former football great Jonathan Brinson and softball standouts Mary Carlisle and Jessie Wise.
For Young, it still really hasn’t sunk in quite yet.
“It means a little more now that I’ve been working here for 10 years, living in the community and raising my family here and going to school and graduating from here. An honor like that, I don’t know what to say about it. It has a lot to do with coach Cooney, he brought me here and recruited me here,” Young said.
Cooney recalls Young’s playing days with fond memories, noting that he had a knack for delivering when it mattered most.
“He was a winner. I can still remember the game at home against West Florida when he made eight 3s. He might tell you it’s nine, but I think it was at least eight 3s. And he made two of the greatest plays in West Georgia basketball history that I’ve ever seen in my 16 years here. One, the ball was going out of bounds at our bench. With a short clock, he caught it and going out of bounds, turned with no time on the clock and fired it up. It went through for 3. And then again late, Tampa was pressuring us — they were ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in the country — and they were really going after us and the shot clock was going down and Andy knocked in a 3 from way beyond the NBA line ... Both of those shots propelled us to that win,” Cooney said.
The UWG head coach said what was often overlooked in Young’s game was his tenacious defense, as he normally guarded the other team’s top player in the backcourt.
A member of the GSC All-Decade Team for 2000-09, Young credited great team camaraderie to West Georgia’s success back in his playing days, noting how every guy on the squad looked out for one another.
“We had a lot of good players come through here. I just think we had one of those teams that we always had talent and we also had a lot of chemistry. It was a group of guys that really liked each other. I still keep in contact with some of those guys. A lot of them are successful doing other things now,” Young said.
“To go back on the hall of fame thing, that’s one reason you get those things is because you played with good players. You can’t get that on your own. If you’re a one-man show, usually that stuff doesn’t come your way. We had a lot of good players on that team to help me achieve those things. So it’s been really good. I have a lot of great memories at West Georgia and I hope to continue to make them as a coach.”
The only question now is how long it’ll be before another school comes calling for Young’s services as a head coach. Cooney definitely believes his time will come.
“He’s evolved — as we all have — he’s grown up. He’s matured. And now he’s ready to take that next step and be a head coach. After each season, I’m always pushing Andy into looking into opportunities to better his situation. You know, push him to grow and find a better situation for his family. Fortunately, he’s still here with us,” Cooney said.
Young ultimately wants to take that next step eventually, but he said he’s happy at West Georgia right now.
“[Cooney] thinks that I’m ready to do it. I feel that I’m ready to go take on my own program one day. But we still have unfinished business here. We’ve had some success, but we want to get conference championships, region championships and build this thing into a national power consistently,” Young said.
And while Cooney runs the show, Young’s fingerprints have become more and more evident on the UWG program in recent years, something he takes great pride in being that it is his alma mater.
“It’s coach Cooney’s program, but it also feels like part of it is your program. You know, you bring kids in here to represent the school, community and themselves well, and I think we do that. I think we bring in good kids and they’re good players and good citizens. We’re just carrying on the tradition that coach Murphy started a long time ago,” Young said. “It just feels really good to coach at your alma mater and continue the successes you had there as a player and you pass along your experiences to the next guys. It’s one big family.”
And come Saturday evening, Young will find himself among the other greats to ever don a West Georgia uniform.
“It’s just one of those things that’s going to be with you forever. Every time I come back here — whether I work here for the remainder of my career or go on somewhere else — when I come back with my family, it’ll always be there. It’s something I’m real proud of,” Young said.