As Andre Young and his dad came out of their hotel room, Tanner Smith and his parents stepped off the elevator at the James F. Martin Inn in Clemson, S.C.
Before then, Young and Smith knew each other only on the basketball court. Their AAU teams, rivals in Georgia, had played a few times.
No. 10 seed Missouri (22-10, 10-6 Big 12)
vs. No. 7 seed Clemson (21-10, 9-7 ACC)
WHEN: about 1:45 p.m. CDT
WHERE: HSBC Arena, Buffalo, N.Y.
TV: CBS - (Gus Johnson play-by-play; Len Elmore analyst)
RADIO: KFRU/1400 AM, KBXR/102.3 FM
“I just remembered him as the only white boy on the team,” Young said in a phone interview.
In late August 2007, Young and Smith crossed Georgia’s eastern border to visit Clemson. But neither knew the other was visiting.
“We sort of just walked into each other,” Colie Young, Andre Young's father, said by phone. “I think I knew at that point that Tanner and Andre were going to be buddies. Tanner was going to commit to Clemson. And I didn’t even know anything about Tanner, but it was just a feeling.”
The encounter felt a little awkward at first.
“We didn’t know what to think about each other because we had played against each other and been rivals for so long,” Smith said in a phone interview. “Now, we’re about as close as brothers can be.”
They hung out that weekend and connected. So did their families. When the Youngs – Colie, his wife and four children – visit Clemson, they often break up their drive home to Albany, Ga., by spending the night at the Smiths' house in Alpharetta, Ga., an Atlanta suburb about three hours closer to Clemson.
“We are welcome to raid the refrigerator,” Colie Young said. “They make you feel like you’re at home. Even their dog Griffey is just as nice as the family.”
Colie Young said he couldn’t ask for a better roommate for his son than Smith. He brags about Smith like Smith is his own son.
“Tanner’s the nicest kid you’ll ever want to meet,” said Colie Young, who coached his son and the Georgia Blazers against Smith’s Georgia Stars.
After being impressed with Smith’s game and then his character, Colie Young made sure Smith joined his son at Clemson, where the two are now sophomores.
“At that point I had already made up my mind Andre was going to Clemson,” Colie Young said about the coincidental hotel run-in. “The only thing that I thought was, ‘Get Tanner.’
“I told them (Clemson coaches), ‘You’ve got to get Tanner.’”
Smith started all 31 games this season for Clemson. He scored 275 points, the same total as his best friend. Andre Young also averages 8.9 points – tied for third-best on the team.
Although he started just three games, Andre Young has actually played more minutes than Smith, a result of Clemson’s uptempo style that’s nearly identical to Missouri’s and requires a deep rotation of players.
No. 10 seed Missouri and No. 7 Clemson meet at about 1:35 p.m. Friday in Buffalo, N.Y., in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Missouri would be hard-pressed to find a tighter tandem on its own team than Clemson’s rivals turned roommates.
“They’ve been pretty much inseparable,” Clemson coach Oliver Purnell said during a teleconference Tuesday.
Without looking at them – Smith is 6-foot-5 and white; Andre Young is 5-foot-9 and black – the Georgia boys are indistinguishable. They share hobbies, like ping pong, bowling, video games and movies – trips to Walmart for $5 movie deals are regular.
They take school seriously – both were named to the 2010 ACC All-Academic Team – and remain level-headed.
“What tops it all off is he has a good sense of humor,” Colie Young said about Smith.
And, both were snubbed by the top basketball schools in their home state.
Neither Georgia nor Georgia Tech recruited Andre Young. He was too small for them. At one point, as a 13-year-old playing on a team of 16 and 17-year-olds, he was even too small for his dad.
When four players couldn’t make it because they were playing baseball, Colie Young was forced to play his undersized son in a tournament game featuring older and taller players.
It was a situation Andre Young would get familiar with. His dad’s teams were usually smaller than their opponents, including Smith’s Stars, who had several 7-footers.
Before the jump ball to start the game, “they would laugh,” Colie Young said. “’Who are these little kids on the court?’
“At halftime … they’d get cussed out by the coach.”
As the little 13-year-old, Andre Young dominated.
“Andre absolutely killed them,” his dad said.
But Colie Young didn’t play his son much the rest of tournament because the team’s bigger players returned. Andre Young sat on the end of the bench and cried as the team lost the championship game.
“I told Andre, ‘Son, I’ll never underestimate you again,’” Colie Young said.
Smith, being a head taller, didn’t have to worry about being undersized. But Georgia Tech told him he would have to walk on instead of offering a scholarship, a move Colie Young calls a slap in the face.
Colie Young said Smith was also under-appreciated by his AAU coach. Smith played on a team loaded with future college stars, such as Wake Forest’s Al-Farouq Aminu.
“They probably had seven to 10 kids who went to big-time schools, but if Tanner was not in the game, I could tell the difference,” Colie Young said. “Nobody on that team had all of his assets. When he came out of the game, they would miss a whole lot. I don’t really think that their coach understood (Smith’s importance to the team).
“I just hope that at some point coach Purnell plays Tanner 40 minutes a game because Clemson would lose less games with Tanner in the whole game.”
Sounds like an overbearing dad fighting to get his son more playing time. But Colie Young knows Smith can help Clemson win, just like he knew outside the elevator that Smith and his son would hit it off.
“They’re an awful lot alike,” Purnell said. “They’re both tremendous students. They both have tremendous families and are really good kids that just care about others.”