Big East Honors

It's been quite a metamorphosis for Pitt junior forward Sam Young.

Sam Young came to Pittsburgh as a skinny kid from Clinton, Md., via Hargrave Military Academy, and needed two full seasons as a primary backup before improving his offensive output and defensive play.

Now, Young has established himself as Pitt's go-to guy on offense, its scoring leader with 18 points per game, and the most-improved player in the Big East. Young received the honor during the Conference's awards banquet Tuesday night at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City. Monday, Young received first-team All-Big East honors as well.

Along with Young, Pitt freshman DeJuan Blair was named the Big East's rookie of the year, sharing the honor with Syracuse's Jonny Flynn. And senior Ronald Ramon received the sportsmanship award with West Virginia's Darris Nichols. Blair received honorable-mention All-Big East honors and was a unanimous selection to the Conference's all-freshman team. He leads the Big East in offensive rebounds and averages 12.3 points and 9.5 boards per game.

"Sam Young, certainly he's the most-improved player in our league,'' DePaul coach Jerry Wainwright said. "If not, he's certainly among the top two and among the most-improved players in the country.

"He's really got a nice pace to his game, and his outside shot has really broadened his game. He makes Pitt really tough to guard. So, they'll be a factor not only in the Big East Tournament, but surely in the NCAA Tournament as well since they play really solid basketball.''

With Young's selection as the most-improved player, a Pitt player has now won the award five times. Ricardo Greer shared the award in 1999-00, which was Ben Howland's first season as Pitt's coach and with Dixon as an assistant. Brandin Knight won under Howland in 2001-02, while Carl Krauser (2003-04) and Aaron Gray (2005-06) have won the award with Dixon as head coach.

"Sam, it's quite a story,'' Dixon said. "He wasn't recruited much out of high school, and now he's an All-Big East player and the most-improved player. But that's our award. We've won it five times, and it's something we take great pride in. What better award than most-improved?

"That's what we tell kids. We're going to help you graduate, and we're going to help you improve. And Sam, shooting wasn't one of the things that he did well when he got here, but we run plays for him now. He can shoot coming off screens, and he can hit the 3. He hit a big one (Sunday), a set play for him.

"So, it's a great sign,'' Dixon added. "He works so hard and wants it so bad, and I've seen him come pretty far in the past couple weeks. He tells guys where to go and what to do, and that's exciting to see. For a quiet kid, to talk to his teammates the way he does now, that's big. When we lost Levance and Mike, those guys were our vocal leaders, but Sam stepped up to fill that void.''

Young was the seventh Pitt player to make first-team All-Big East and the fourth in the past four years. Only Notre Dame's Luke Harangody (21 points per game) and Seton Hall's Brian Laing (19) average more points than Young.

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