Pitt's basketball team is relying on several freshmen and sophomores to play big roles this season. None of the first-year players, though, has been asked to take on quite as much as power forward Mike Young.
Young is not only playing significant minutes, but he's been asked to start alongside Talib Zanna (who, by the way, is a true power forward being asked to play center due to depth issues). As a true freshman without the benefit of a redshirt year, it's truly a learning-on-the-job type of deal.
As one would expect, Young has been a bit up and down this year.
He's had his good games, of course - the kind that make you think he can be a star sooner rather than later. In three of the team's 12 games, he's gotten into double figures in scoring. In those games, against Howard, Youngstown State, and Loyola Marymount, he was a combined 12-17 from the field, hitting 65% of his shots. Young hasn't yet had a double double or gotten into double figures in rebounding, but he's had at least seven boards in half of Pitt's games and he's led the team in rebounding twice this season.
Another thing to like about Young is his free throw shooting. The big man is shooting 86% from the line and has made 31 of his 36 shots at the stripe. That's going to be a big asset to be able to keep him on the floor late in games if he can keep that up.
Then, there's been the not so good.
Too often, Young has completely disappeared on the glass. Over a four-game stretch against Howard, Lehigh, Texas Tech, and Stanford, he had a combined 11 boards. He had only two in Pitt's last game against Cal-Poly. Part of it can be attributed to Young getting some limited minutes there, but part of it is about him finding his place.
Young's shooting has been spotty, too, but it's been more off than on. Young is shooting less than 39% from the floor and if you're even a casual follower of basketball, you don't need me to tell you that that just doesn't cut it for a power forward. During a five-game stretch this season, Young was particularly bad, shooting 3-19. He's 1-7 in his past two games. Pitt doesn't need him to score in double figures but they do need him to be a little more efficient. This team has had trouble scoring points and for someone to eat up as many minutes as Young, he's got to be a little more careful with his shot selection.
That includes taking three-point shots, too.
Young, if you haven't noticed, likes him some long-range shots. He doesn't take a ton, but has hoisted up nine already this season - a lot for a power forward. He's only 2-9 from that distance and despite the fact that he can probably make them (his free throw accuracy proves he can shoot at least a little bit), that hasn't held true so far this season. Jamie Dixon needs to try to reign him in a bit from outside.
Count me in the camp that thinks Young will turn into a star. It won't happen this year or probably next, but I do think he has the tools to be a strong player for Pitt. For now, though, we'll have to live with some growing pains.