WALKER – Meoka Young never knew what all the halftime fuss was about.
But she certainly heard plenty about it.
During her coaching career at Parkway High School in Bossier City, it was always customary to find Young’s daughter Tiara in tow, working on her shooting and even trying to mimic the ball-handling drills Parkway’s players did in practice.
Tiara Young was six-years-old at the time.
The true commotion at Parkway games commenced at halftime, once Meoka Young and the team had cleared the floor for the locker room.
That’s where Tiara and her younger brother Warren Jr. staged memorable one-on-one battles, much to the liking of the crowds who took notice of Tiara’s advanced skills.
“You would hear people say that she would be good,” Meoka Young, now an assistant at Walker High School where Tiara is a senior. “A guy came up to me after a game and said he wanted to be her first coach.”
Tiara began playing competitively a year later at a local YMCA in her hometown of Shreveport, where she literally towered above the competition.
She wasn’t overly fond of a rule that confined defensive players playing inside the 3-point line.
“Her coach would have to yell at her to get back inside the line,” Meoka Young said. “From that moment she’s always been passionate about basketball.”
Taking her place among giants
Tiara Young said she was familiar with such names as Kim Mulkey and Kendra Neal, truly legendary players that cast long shadows in Louisiana basketball circles.
Before building Baylor into a national power in the women’s collegiate game, Mulkey was an All-American at Hammond High where she scored 4,075 points, 11th best all-time nationally and the fifth highest in state history according to the National Federation of High Schools record book.
Neal, who like Mulkey went on to star at Louisiana Tech, scored 4,044 points during an illustrious career at Pelican High School (1989-92).
The 5-foot-9 Young became the 14th player nationally to reach the 4,000-plateau, scoring 27 points in last Tuesday’s 77-34 victory over East Iberville and currently has 4,048 points.
Young did so in classic fashion, taking two to three dribbles from the wing, crossed over her defender, and got to the lane for a short jump shot.
She took that a step further, one day later, and with another 27-point effort in a 56-51 victory against KIPP-Booker T. Washington, surpassed Neal and needs 28 more to leap-frog over Mulkey.
“It’s motivation,” said Young, who has scored 775 points in 25 games in her first season at Walker High. “It helps me to keep going and know that I can be on the last list with them. I know that I have to keep working hard, that I can keep going.”
Based on projections Young, who averages 31 points a game, could overtake Gibsland-Coleman’s Missy Thomas (4,506) and wind up as the state’s career scoring leader and finish in the Top 4 nationally.
Adrian Goodrich (5,424) of Goodrich, Texas and current Mississippi State All-American Victoria Vivians (5,172) of Forest Scott Central (Miss.) rank 1-2.
“When I first started, I never pictured myself here, but I’ve worked my tail off,” Young said. “Now that I’ve got it, it’s very exciting. It’s been a great experience and I’m proud of myself. Some people think I'm a ball hog, but I'm just doing what I can for my team to win."
Young’s future coach – LSU’s Nikki Fargas – said reaching such a milestone in spite of the defensive attention Young’s commanded, makes the feat extraordinary.
“People are putting their key defenders on her and then sending another one at her and she’s doing what she needs to do,” Fargas said. “To be able to carry that responsibility from an offensive standpoint for all this time is pretty impressive.”
The start of a love affair
Meoka Young and her husband Warren Sr., both of whom here high school athletes that played junior college basketball, presented Tiara with a basketball goal for her first Christmas.
There’s no truth that two toddlers were waiting to guard her, but Young’s ability was noticeable at an early age and her development rapid.
“When we realized this kid could be special and liked it, we started investing every dime we had,” Meoka said. “If there was a camp no matter the cost, we did it. We put her on a travel team with a guy named Reginald Washington, her dad coached her in the sixth grade and then I coached her in the seventh.”
Tiara remembered the influence of being around the game at such a tender age, following her mother to practice and being in the gym at Parkway.
To be around the game at the age of 4 and-5-years-old proved infectious and Young soaked it all in from emulating the drills to carrying it all out during those famous halftime exhibitions against her younger brother.
“I tried to do what they were doing,” Tiara said of Parkway’s players.
By the age of 10, Young began a long-standing relationship with Kenny Carswell, another coach that wound have a profound impact on her career.
Carswell was the coach for the Louisiana Lightning AAU program where Young started to blossom as a player, not just locally around the Shreveport area, but regionally and nationally.
When she reached the seventh grade, Young played on Carswell’s U17 team – as a 13-year-old – and never looked or played like someone going against girls four years older than her.
Because of the physical nature of the game and the pounding she took trying to drive the ball into the lane, Meoka suggested to Tiara she develop more of a mid-range game and to perfect a pull-up jump shot.
Tiara, who was already playing in the city’s recreational league against boys, began regularly waking up for 6 a.m. workouts with trainers throughout the summer. That was on top of AAU practice and games.
She maintained the same routine going into her sophomore year at Evangel, getting in the gym for 6 a.m., working out and being in class two hours later.
“I just kept getting in gym and kept working out,” Young said. “That’s when I knew I was very serious about this. This is what I wanted to do. I was mostly just putting up shots and doing some ball handling. Perfecting what I’m doing now.”
Varsity ready as a seventh grader
Young was prepared to play with the middle school team at Evangel Christian where her mother was the head coach of the varsity.
That was until a conversation between Young’s parents fast-tracked a high school career that’s become illustrious.
“They talked about me playing on the varsity,” said Young, who was a seventh-grader at the time. “I don’t have any fear playing anyone. When she told me that I would be start practicing with them I just went at it.”
There were baby steps, Young came off the team’s bench in a reserve role.
That lasted all of three games when Tiara joined Evangel’s starting lineup where she went on to become a fixture over the next five years.
“She’s real humble kid, not cocky or arrogant,” Meoka said. “Just has a love for the game.”
Tiara played for both the middle school and varsity teams, helping to elevate the stature of the Lady Eagles program that was a Class 2A novice at the time she was a seventh-grader.
When Evangel opted to play up to Class 5A in football, that meant all of its sports followed and with it, came a step up in competition for the girls basketball program.
Evangel was equipped for the challenge with Young as an aspiring star. By the time she was a freshman she had already scored 891 points and was poised for more, going on to produce 2,382 points between over her next three seasons, leading the Lady Eagles to a Division I state runners-up finish to John Curtis last season.
Young was voted to the Class 5A All-State first team for a second straight year where she averaged 27 points and 12 rebounds, numbers that also earned her top billing on the Shreveport Times’ All-City team.
It turned out to be her final season at Evangel when her father relocated the family to Walker after taking a job in Baton Rouge.
“Last year when we fell short that motivated me,” Young said. “Since we didn’t win it, I felt like I failed my team. That I didn’t give it all I had. It wasn’t enough and that motivated me to get in the gym to work hard, to keep going to perfect my craft and just get better so I can help my team win it this year.”
Staying home to play for the Lady Tigers
Fargas, who signed Young two months ago, recalled hearing about Young the first time as an eight-grader.
“I had the chance to follow and see her grow up,” said Fargas, who credited assistant Tasha Butts as the staff’s lead recruiter for Young. “We wanted to make sure we did everything we could from a recruiting standpoint to keep her home.”
How are 13-14-year-olds supposed to handle the adoration from college coaches at such a tender age?
Meoka said Tiara didn’t quite grasp the gravity of college recruiting, whether it was receiving hand-written letters to taking phone calls, during the initial stages of the process.
“She was a kid at that time and didn’t realize how special she was,” Meoka said. “When people from colleges wanted to call, she was being a kid and didn’t know. She didn’t realize she could have all four years of college paid for and play on the next level. She was being a kid and not caught up in that.”
Young’s first choice was to go to UConn and be just like her idol Maya Moore, who enjoyed an All-American career and has won both WNBA Championships with the Minnesota Lynx and gold medals with the U.S. Olympic team.
“She’s my favorite WNBA player and a person that I look up to,” said Young, who also counts Golden State’s Kevin Durant as another favorite player. “Anytime she steps on the court she doesn’t take light on anybody. That’s what I like about her.”
At her mother’s urging Young pared down the number of schools that had extended scholarship offers to a more manageable list.
Young chose to take official visits to Miami (Fla.), Houston, Texas Tech, TCU and LSU.
Young was the object of each team’s desire. They all had designs of taking the nation’s No. 26-ranked prospect on the HoopGurlz Top 100 and making her their signature signee in hopes of either jump-starting their program, or in the case of LSU, helping the Lady Tigers possibly return to their former glory.
At the heart of LSU’s five straight runs to the Women’s Final Four was a roster built on a foundation of players from Louisiana featuring Baton Rouge’s Seimone Augustus and included Temeka Johnson of New Orleans.
Fargas said her staff also fostered a sense of family every time Young stepped foot on campus where their goal was to make her feel important and comfortable.
That all seemingly resonated with Young where, after taking all five of her official visits, she revealed at her home amongst just family and Walker High teammates that she was heading to LSU.
“I became close with Tasha,” Young said. “Since they started recruiting me, we basically talk almost every day. I also always wanted to stay in my home state and do something for my home state. Now I have that opportunity.”
Fargas recalled having finished a two-hour practice earlier that morning when Young called to inform her of her intentions to become a member of her program.
“It was one of the best phone calls that a coach can ask for,” she said. “We were smiling and excited, not only for her and her family, but for what she’s going to bring to LSU and our community.
“We hadn’t had a stud like that stay at home at LSU,” Fargas said. “She’s a vital piece of the puzzle in what we want to do as far as the future of LSU women’s basketball. She’s someone that’s going to have an amazing career here at LSU.”
Not long after her commitment Young made it official. She signed her National-Letter-of-Intent with LSU during a small ceremony amid teammates and family in the school’s gym that had a distinct purple and gold hue for the occasion.
“When I get there I kind of want to be a leader,” Young said. “I want to have that mentality that I’m still going to work because at that level, there’s different people like you. I’m looking forward to working hard and earning it.”
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