Actor Johnell Young's story starts on the NYC basketball courts

Johnell Young, of Staten Island, portrays GZA on "Wu-Tang: An American Saga," but his story starts on the court.

"I grew up in the New York City areas of Staten Island, Harlem, The Bronx, Brooklyn," Young said. "I went to high school in The Bronx, went to high school in Brooklyn, and I’m from Staten Island, so playing on the playground was my first love. Basketball was my first love."

Young even tried out for the New York Knicks after attending Clark Atlanta University.

"They saw my tape and invited me to their training camp, which is 10 or 12 people, and I made it to the last cut and unfortunately, I got hurt, and that’s when the ball got a little deflated," Young said. "So I thought what else can I bring to the world? What other skills and talents do I have? Let’s try acting."

The Staten Island native now portrays a member of the most iconic group from Staten Island.

"I was super nervous going into it," Young said. "This is about my city. I went into it like oh, I gotta really perform. I have to make sure this is the hottest show out because Staten Island is the so-called "forgotten Borough." But I’m like nah, I’m gonna wake us up with this one."

Young told me in order to perfect GZAs mannerisms, lyrics, how he pronounces words and nuances, Young’s mom locked him in the kitchen with the TV, continuously rapping soaking in the art of "The Genius." Beyond the screen, the actor has even performed onstage with Wu-Tang multiple times.  

In celebrating 50 years of Hip-Hop, Young focuses on the importance of the series for younger generations.

"We’re better like this (together) than we are like this (apart)," said Young. "Wu-Tang Clan was a bunch of guys from different parts of the inter borough, and they were beefing at first. But they put their differences and their egos, characteristics to the side together for one cause, and make their dreams come true, to provide for their families for decades for years."

If Young could fuse his love for the game of basketball with his knack for acting, he would star in "He Got Game" (PART 2)! So Spike Lee, if you’re reading this – Johnell’s still got game.

Season 3, episode 4 of "Wu-Tang: An American Saga" is available to stream today on HULU.