Talk hoops all year long in Luke Winn's blog, a journal of commentary, news and reader-driven discussions about the college game.
12/18/2007 03:30:00 PM
Q&A with ... Pitt's Sam Young
Pitt's Sam Young leads the Panthers' drive against Duke Thursday at Madison Square Garden.
For the latest Q&A, I chatted with Pitt's Sam Young, who is in the midst of a breakout junior season for the undefeated, No. 11-ranked Panthers. Young, a 6-foot-6 forward, is averaging career highs of 17.8 points and 7.4 rebounds. In a consistent starting role for the first time, Young has scored in double-digits in all of the Panthers' 10 games, and should contend for All-Big East honors if he continues this level of production. The following is an edited version of our phone conversation from Monday:
Luke Winn: You had a self-imposed 'ban' on talking to the media for most of your sophomore season, when you were coming off the bench behind Levon Kendall at the power-forward spot. Why the ban?
Sam Young: Last year, I was pretty frustrated. I consider myself a hard worker, and I was working hard all offseason, and then had a knee [injury] be a problem for me all season long. I felt like I probably wasn't the best player at the three [small forward] on the team. But at the four, I felt like I was the best player, and that basically added to my frustration. I was put in a position where I couldn't win, basically. And then when the media asked me questions, they often put me in a position where I wanted to say some things that I shouldn't. So I felt like the best thing for me to do, if I didn't have anything positive to say, was to be quiet.
LW: Did that ever get uncomfortable for you, or were there at least a few moments where you felt like you wanted to start talking again, but didn't -- say, after a game where you played a lot and did well?
SY: Even after some of the big games, what I felt was that I could have been doing that all season. That [those performances] were what I was supposed to be doing. I was happy about them, but I never felt like I wanted to say something after a big game. Because I might have said the wrong things. LW: What is it like this season, then, to be finally in the starting lineup, and also talking to the press?
SY: I feel more free. I feel like the players and the coaches have more confidence in me. Everyone knows that I'm healthy, and knows that 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.
LW: About that knee injury you mentioned ... Coach Jamie Dixon once made a comment that you would play almost too much pickup ball, and that wear and tear contributed to your knee problems.
SY: To be honest, I know what it was [that caused the injury]. I always had a little tremble in my knee when I would finish playing. Sometimes it hurt, sometimes it didn't. For the most part, I could still jump and be a productive player. But there was one day [in the summer of 2006] where I actually hurt it. I had a workout with my personal trainer for about two hours, doing legs, and then we hit the track for 45 minutes. And then somebody had recommended me to another trainer, and I guess he was trying to impress me, so he took me through about two hours of leg workouts -- lunges, leg press, squats. My knee was hurting, and I should have said something to him, but I didn't. I had also promised some people I would play pickup with them at about 9 p.m., and I did about two hours of that, too. The next day, my knee was worse than it ever had been. I overworked it, and it followed me through the whole season.
LW: What's the most ridiculous pickup game you've been in, maybe when you went against people who weren't exactly your level, just for the sake of playing?
SY: Sometimes I'll go back home and play pickup with the JVs at my high school [Fort Washington (Md.) Friendly]. Or if the managers here [at Pitt] want to play pickup or one-on-one, I'll play with them. I go up to the student gym, too, almost every week, to work on stuff like moves with my left hand. Pickup is how I improve my game. When I'm playing in practice and in real games, there's certain stuff I can't work on. You almost can't do certain things in practice because you're expected to maintain a certain level of play. You can't focus on stuff that you're really weak in.
LW: And these students at the rec center, do they ever get a little over-zealous about trying to go head-to-head against the school's star?
SY: Definitely. I'll go up to Trees Hall [a student gym], and every time somebody will want to pick me up and play me extra hard. They'll say, 'Let me get Sam, he'll probably kill me, but I can tell my kids about it.'
LW: I've read about your motivational phone message -- the one that goes "I'm not big enough to play the four and not skilled enough to play the three. Everything you hear right now, they said that stuff about me." Are there any others you use?
SY: I have this one on my wall at home, and up in my locker. I read it before every game, just something to remind me of who I am. This is it:
I am strong, body mind and spirit. 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.
LW: That's good. You wrote it, or adapted it from something?
SY: I wrote it.
LW: I've also read a few reports of your skills as a gymnast. There was a quote where you said people thought you could have been an Olympian. Where did that come from?
SY: I began flipping -- or doing flips -- when I was a kid, probably back to the age of six. People think it's crazy when they see me do it now for the first time, but it's like second nature to me. LW: What's the craziest gymnastic feat you've pulled off?
SY: You have no idea. When I was young, me and guys used to have crazy flipping contests. We would flip off this elementary school building, probably 15 feet high. We flipped off of big trash dumpsters, probably eight feet. We flipped over gates, flipped off of gates. If you just look at my legs, I've got a lot of war marks from flipping off of stuff as a kid. A lot of times I was successful. But I did hurt myself, a couple of times and a got lot of bruises. I think that's one of the reasons my knees are bad, because I did so much crazy stuff as a kid. LW: How often do you do the flips in practice, or around the team?
SY: I don't do it often, but the other day I did a handstand in the locker room for 20 seconds, and everybody looked at me like I was crazy. That was the day before the Oklahoma State game. Right in the middle of the locker room. LW: Does anyone at school challenge you to gymnastic contests?
SY: There's a girl in the dorm who always asks me to do handstand contests, and she always wins. I give her a run for her money, but she's too good at it.
LW: Switching gears back to hoops: If you could wear any college retro jersey, whose would it be?
SY: It would probably be Vince Carter in Carolina blue. To be honest, though, I didn't even watch basketball until I got to prep school [at Hargrave Military Academy] -- I just knew how to put the ball in the hoop, and worked hard at that. When I got my first recruiting letter from Pitt, I had a friend who watched basketball a lot, and I asked him, 'Is Pitt a good school?' He was like, 'Yeah,' and he started talking about Carl Krauser and guys like that. I had no idea who Carl Krauser was.
I used to always trade basketball cards and football cards, though, and once somebody gave me a college card of Vince Carter. I didn't know who he was then, and I think I misplaced it. Then I started watching him later on in the NBA, and kind of wish I had held onto it. LW: What are the prize cards in your collection?
SY: I probably have over 100 Michael Jordan cards, but I was more into football. Barry Sanders, from the Detroit Lions, I got his college card and his NFL card. I've actually got a card with him holding a basketball. Don't ask me how I got it, but I do.
LW: I've heard you occasionally play the piano, too. How did you get started in music?
SY: Well, my little brother, Michael Spriggs, who's 18 now, is legally blind. And I didn't start playing until he really started playing. He first did it when he was real young -- his grandmother bought him a little piano when he was a baby. But when he got to about about nine or 10, he took a liking to it and started playing a lot. He got me interested when I was in the ninth grade. I took a piano class. LW: Who's the better piano player now?
SY: He is. We were equals back then [when he started], but now he's way better.
LW: Is he a senior in high school now?
SY: Yeah, at C.H. Flowers [in Springdale, Md.], because my family moved. He's in public school, but they give him all of his lessons in braille there.
LW: Have you learned to read any braille from him?
SY: Not at all. I don't understand how he begins to understand it.
LW: For your own music, I've heard that you play the parts to a few rap songs ... SY: A few times I've done that. I was trying to play by ear from stuff I heard on the radio. R&B songs, rap songs, I pretty much can play them. There's also a guy on our team, Maurice Polen, who can sing to anything. I just try to make up a beat and then he'll sing to it.
As for songs, I've played some Dr. Dre, and R. Kelly's I'll Never Leave, and Dru Hill's Incomplete. I have a keyboard in my room, and there's a piano in the student union, that's the main place kids go and relax, and there's always one in the hotel lobbies that we go to on the road.
LW: Coming into Thursday's showdown with Duke, you're 10-0 but you haven't played much of a schedule -- as compared to maybe another undefeated team like Texas, which has already faced Tennessee and UCLA. Do you want to play a tougher schedule early in the season?
SY: Definitely. Why wouldn't I? I'd want to play a schedule like that, just because I want people to know how good I really am, or how good I'm not. And I definitely want to know how good I am myself. You only can learn from a tough non-conference schedule. Playing a team going into the game that you know you can beat, you can work on your execution and stuff like that, and work on running stuff as a team. Other than that, it doesn't test you as much as a big game would.
LW: You said you didn't watch much basketball growing up, but what do you think of the mystique around the Duke program?
SY: Once I became friends with players, and a student of the game, I knew that Duke always had a crazy rep. Coach K has been doing a great job there forever. But that reputation isn't anything if you can't back it up, so I'm not worried about the reputation part. If they don't come to play, and back it up, then they'll be in trouble.