Philly teen has big time potential

Tauheed Browning was adrift in the second set of his semi-final match and had lost his service-break advantage when suddenly he made an eye-popping play that punctuated his No.1 ranking in this USTA 14 and under national tournament.

His opponent sent a high top-spin drive deep to Tauheed’s backhand side. The top-seeded kid from Philadelphia deftly backpedaled to his left around his backhand to crack a forehand winner down the line.

And I mean, he crushed It!

“That’s a pro shot, there,” I said to his dad, also named Tauheed.

He simply nodded in agreement, the quiet confidence of a dad/coach who obviously has become accustomed to seeing his highly talented son make such plays.

Young Tauheed, 14, went on to win the match 6-0, 6-4, to set up a championship showdown with the No.2 seed.

That match was a special treat for me because both players are African American. To see two young black males compete for a USTA title in a sport that still is very much the elite province of whites was exhilarating and encouraging.

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Tauheed warming up before his championship match.

In fact, the entire tournament offered a refreshing display of diversity, as boys and girls of various hues and ethnicities competed in the event hosted recently by The Aspen Hill Tennis and Fitness Center in Silver Spring, Md.

It was a commendable reflection of the USTA’s efforts to spread our sport to all communities. But that’s another story. I want to focus on Tauheed Browning, because this young brother is an amazing talent.

You can see for yourself in this YouTube video below, filmed in December 2012 when Tauheed was just 10.

Tauheed – he goes by Young T to those familiar with him and his dad – trains at the Legacy Youth Tennis and Education Center in Philadelphia, formerly named after tennis legend Arthur Ashe. He is a blue-chip college prospect and has been ranked as high as 16 nationally in recruiting ratings. He ranks 3rd in the Mid-Atlantic and No.1 in Pennsylvania.

He is a two-time American Tennis Association boys 10 and under singles and doubles national champion and won the 14 and under singles and doubles titles in 2014 at age 12.

Young T began playing at age 6, following in the footsteps of his older sister, Nadiyah, a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania (though she doesn’t play tennis), whom he cites as an inspiration.

Both learned the game from their dad – he goes by Coach T — who says tennis was his ticket from the streets of West Philadelphia to Hampton University, where he majored in sports management. Now, as one of the Legacy Center pros, he uses tennis to help inner-city youths in the same way he was aided by the Bill Johnson Tennis program.

”This sport opened so many doors for me,” Coach T told me. “I thank God my son and daughter are in it.”

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Coach T and Young T after championship match in USTA boys 14 and under tournament.

Coach T says he believes his son has a shot at the professional level if he continues to work hard and maintain the proper mindset. He has relinquished the day-to-day coaching of Tauheed to another Legacy Center pro, focusing more on keeping his home-schooled son well-rounded.

“It’s a journey, a stressful journey,” he said, “trying to manage everything, hoping you’re doing the right thing, building his character…and the final thing, is he having fun.”

He uses pithy phrases, such as “A cluttered mind leads to a cluttered life” to keep his son on track.

I had the pleasure of watching Young T play three matches – two singles, one doubles — during the tournament and was awed by how polished his game was in all respects. He moves extremely well, has great hands, and places his serve well.

During the championship match, Young T hit a couple of spectacular underspin volleys off his shoe-top for winners while approaching the net. Each time, he executed the shot with the same precision he displayed on that forehand winner during the semi-final that left me bug-eyed.

Unfortunately, Young T, who also competed in doubles, was struggling with a sore arm in the final and lost 6-2, 6-4. But he did walk away with a champion’s trophy in doubles.

What I found most remarkable about Young T’s tournament play was his court presence and saavy. He knows how to play the game, when to be aggressive, when to rely on finesse.

And I wasn’t the only one who recognized it.

After Tauheed’s semi-final victory, several spectators came over to congratulate Coach T. A couple of them lauded the kid’s racquet skills, but they also pointed to their heads to indicate they were even more impressed by his court IQ.

Tauheed has hit with some of the best professional players on tour, including Novak Djokovic and Nick Kyrgios. He’s also caught the eye of some tennis royalty, including Chris and John Evert, who run a renown academy in Florida.

If there is a downside to Young T’s tennis potential, it is perhaps his size. He is not the biggest kid on the block. And he is beginning to express some anxiety about it, his dad told me.

But Coach T also told me his son’s shoe size grew from 8.5 to 9.5 over the past month, suggesting he is primed for a growth spurt. That would be a big boost to his psyche and goal of turning pro. His dream is winning the U.S. Open.

We’ll have to see how that turns out, but one thing already is certain: Young T has a man’s-size game.

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