PITTSBURGH (AP) -Don't call him silent Sam Young anymore.
Young, the Pittsburgh power forward known for his ability to take over games in a hurry when he gets going offensively, let his playing do his talking most of last season.
During a streaky season, that meant he occasionally wasn't heard from for extended stretches.
Bothered by aching knees, and confused at times about his role in Pitt's offense, Young chose to give few interviews. For a Pitt program that's turned out notable talkers such as Carl Krauser and Levance Fields, it was a notable change in on- and off-the-court personality.
``It was frustration, I think,'' Young said. ``The frustration of me not being healthy and my knees bothering me and trying to get through the system and play a certain style, a certain way. It was tough. It wasn't my turn yet.''
With center Aaron Gray and power forward Levon Kendall gone after starting for two seasons, the 6-foot-6 Young's time has arrived.
``I feel like this year is my turn to do that and I'm glad I'm healthy now and I'm ready to take on that role,'' Young said.
Ready to talk more, too, if only because coach Jamie Dixon wants him to.
``They told me to be more social, be more of a people person and open up and get out of my shell,'' Young said. ``Sometimes that's not me, but I have to do that to please the coach.''
That wasn't always easy for Young to do during a paradoxical 2006-07 season in which Pitt went 29-8 before losing to UCLA in the round of 16.
The sophomore averaged fewer points and fewer rebounds than he did as a freshman, and shot a lower percentage from the floor and foul line, yet was chosen as the team's most improved player.
``I started having trouble with my knees ... as the season went on, my knees started to progress and I started getting a little better,'' Young said, explaining why he was honored. ``And I started to feel a little more comfortable in the program.''
With Pitt a possibility to begin this season in the Top 25 again, Young is being asked to take on a more critical role - much like he did in scoring 21 points during a late-season 60-47 victory at West Virginia.
With Gray gone, it means a change in the middle for Pitt, which will be trying for its seventh consecutive NCAA tournament appearance. For now, 6-7 freshman DeJuan Blair will compete with 6-8 Tyrell Biggs and 6-10 transfer Cassin Diggs at center, though the job is expected to be Blair's eventually.
Young has more experience than any of Pitt's other down-low players, and he's expected to play more than the 17.2 minutes per game he averaged last season, mostly at power forward. If needed, he can take over at times for small forward Mike Cook, who, with Fields, is one of only two Pitt returning starters.
``Sam's had a great offseason, he's been healthy, and we've monitored the playing in the offseason to really be proactive with the knees,'' Dixon said. ``He had a lot of problems with the knees last year, and different injuries throughout the year, and it really kept him out of a rhythm until maybe later in the year.''
One problem Dixon struggles with is Young may play too much, not too little. During the summer, Young often wanders in the Petersen Events Center at night and gets involved in any one-on-one or pickup game he can find.
``He'd play you guys if you'd show up,'' Dixon joked to a room of reporters.
At first, Young found it difficult to honor Dixon's request. Playing daily was a passion of his long before he led Friendly High in Fort Washington, Md., to two Maryland state titles in 2003 and 2004. He spent another year at a prep school before signing with Pitt.
``Me being a gym rat is what got me here,'' Young said. ``Me loving the game is what got me here, so I can't stop doing that. At the same time, I've got to be careful and I've got to watch who I play and where I play. I used to play outside a lot and now I don't. It's just a matter of being smart.''
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