So far this season at Pittsburgh, however, Sam Young has been as solid as a Levance Fields fade-away trey.
Just call him the new-and-improved Sam Young.
"We urged Sam to be more open this season,'' Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "He worked very hard on the basketball court, too much, in fact, because he was always in the gym. You could find him there at all hours of the day and night. But that wasn't always a good thing.
"We believed all that pounding didn't help his knees. So, we asked him to back off a bit. Off the court, we encouraged Sam to display his personality more with his teammates and the media, and I think that's come out more this year as well. So, we're very happy with Sam's development.''
Young has still been a bit inconsistent this season, but he has stepped up when needed. The past two games are a perfect example. For most of the first half against Oklahoma State Dec. 15 at the Petersen Events Center, Young was off his game, shooting poorly and not contributing much at either end of the court.
But Young caught fire during the waning minutes and keyed a huge Pitt run to basically put the Cowboys away by halftime. He made his final four first-half shots and finished with 15 points and three rebounds.
"They did a good job keeping me off-balance early in the game,'' Young said afterward. "But I kept working hard, and my teammates got me the ball.''
Against Duke Thursday night at Madison Square Garden in New York City, Young appeared to be lethargic. His shooting was off, and his passing was worse. Not only couldn't he find open teammates, but Young's errant tosses ended up in turnovers that led to Duke baskets. And the Blue Devils held a 12-point halftime advantage that stretched to an 18-point lead at one point in the game.
Young made 5 of 9 second-half shots to finish with 17 points and seven rebounds after scoring just four points and grabbing four boards in the first half. There clearly is a difference in Young's game this season. After a first half like the one he had against Duke, Young would have slowly faded away in the second half. In a game like that last season, Young probably would have spent more time on the bench than making a contribution in the game.
Young believes it that he's in better health physically and mentally.
"I feel more free this season,'' Young said. "I feel like the players and the coaches have more confidence in me. Everyone knows that I'm healthy now, and that's a big part of me playing well. I'm capable of doing things I wasn't last year. They have confidence in me, and I have confidence in myself, that I can do anything.''
Young has always been an athletic specimen and at 6-foot-6, 215 pounds, he can be a force on the court with a dazzling inside and outside game. With fifth-year senior forward Mike Cook, several players who have made limited contributions this season will need to pick up their games.
The remaining four starters, however, could do that as well. Some might believe that Young can't do much more than he has this season. He leads the team in minutes played per game (29.5), field goals made (73) and attempted (130), points (17.7) and turnovers (25).
Young is second in shooting percentage (56.2) and 3-pointers (14), but he has the top 3-point percentage (50.0). Young has the second-best free-throw percentage (81.4), but no player has gone to the line more or made more foul shots (35 of 43). He's also second in rebounds (7.4).
If Young can improve on those numbers even just a little, he could carry the Panthers. While freshman DeJuan Blair's impact this season has been immense, he's not the only reason Pitt will be ranked in the top 10 this week.
"Sam has done a great job this year,'' junior point guard Levance Fields said. "He's really picked up his game and has put it all together.''
While his Pitt teammates and coaches have had nothing but praise for him this season, Young probably describes himself the best in this statement that he has posted on his wall at home and in his locker that he reads before every game.
"I am strong, body mind and spirit,'' Young wrote. "I am different. I am cocky, confident, conceited but humble. I am serious but hilarious, independent but incomplete. I am special. I am a king in my own mind and have the wits of a God. I am the master of my fate and the captain of my soul.
"I am a believer, for believing is understanding life. I am a winner, I can't lose to any man, for when they come into contact with me, the have entered my world. I am impatient, I will leave anyone behind that doesn't want to help themselves. I am one of a kind. I am Sam Young.''
That's the new-and-improved Sam Young to everyone else.
Young Like A Different Player
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