With the graduations of both Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna, along with the injury to guard Cameron Wright and the suspension of forward Durand Johnson, Jamie Dixon’s Pitt Panthers are looking for someone to step up in a major way as a go-to-guy at the offensive end of the floor.
That guy might just be sophomore forward Michael Young.
Young led the Panthers with a career-high 20 points, making 10-of-12 field goals while pulling down five rebounds Sunday afternoon in a 63-26 victory over Samford. Young scored 14 points in the second half to help Pitt move to 2-0 on the season.
For the Panthers to contend in a brutally tough ACC, Young may have to produce many more games like we saw on Sunday.
“We had 20 assists,” said Dixon. “So all of his [points] were probably bounce passes – good interior passing. I thought we did a good job of that. I just think we’ve got to continue giving him the ball. He’s finishing well; he’s a good free throw shooter. We’ve got to continue giving him the ball around the basket. He can step out and shoot it, but that’s where he’s been really good and really effective. We’ll learn from that.”
The signs are there that Young is starting to develop into a go-to-scorer.
There were some good signs during the Panthers trip to the Bahamas and Young looked solid during Pitt’s two exhibition victories prior to Friday’s opener. He got into quick foul trouble against Niagara, but still finished with seven points and seven rebounds, making 3-of-5 attempts from the floor while playing only 21 minutes.
As a freshman Young reached double figures in scoring just five times, with the only occasion in which he strung together consecutive double-digit outings coming in wins over Loyola Marymount (ten points) and Youngstown State (ten).
He will need to be more consistent this season, which is something the sophomore worked on in the offseason.
If Young can develop into a consistent post player, he is a weapon that Dixon can employ at either the four or the five.
“Over the summer I worked on all aspects of my game, just being able to be versatile,” Young said early on in camp. “I knew coming into this year I was going to have to play five and four and working on being able to have a few go to moves and work the ball really well. I want the team to be able to count on me to get the job done. I am very comfortable playing both the four and the five positions, I worked really hard to be able to play both positions and I am very comfortable to play both.”
When Young isn’t banging down on the block, he also has the ability to stretch the floor as his jumper continues to improve as well.
“I worked on all aspects of my game in the offseason,” added Young. “My jumper was one of the things I really wanted to work on. I want to make more plays for my teammates. Going forward, I am a smart basketball player and I am just going to play the game. I am going to be aggressive and take what I get.”
While the competition hasn’t been great to start the season, the one positive sign that we have seen from the Panthers is that they do have a lot of talent that can take the floor on a nightly basis.
However they need to find a guy that can become a legitimate star and Young has that type of ability.
We will just have to keep an eye on him to see how he develops, especially as a post player, during Pitt’s non-conference slate.
Young and the Panthers could be tested when they head to Hawaii for the Maui Invitational and could face teams including Arizona, BYU and San Diego State.
“He’s improving in the post,” said Dixon. ”Obviously it wasn’t a strength of his last year but he has improved. He’s more athletic, he’s finishing better, and it’s something that we’ve talked to him about. And the added thing is that he can make free throws as a big guy, and that’s going to be a great asset and something that we are really emphasizing with him in terms of getting the ball inside. He’s getting better, he’s got to do it every day until we can see where he gets to, but he’s got some tools and he’s a much better player.’
Only time will tell on Young, but early on he has at least opened up some eyes.
If he reaches his full potential, the Panthers could have one heck of a player for the next couple of seasons.
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