Pitt's Young, Artis add different dimensions at power forward position

Kevin Gorman
| Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014, 10:39 p.m.

Mike Young and Jamel Artis have been friends since they were roommates in 2009-10 at St. Benedict's Prep in Newark, N.J.

When Pitt was recruiting Artis this past spring, Young urged him to sign with the Panthers even though he knew it might come at the expense of his own playing time.

The freshmen are splitting minutes at power forward this season, and they treat their competition as a healthy thing for the Panthers, who host Wake Forest on Saturday.

“I tell him every day to come at me as if he was coming at somebody he didn't know,” said Young, who has started all 15 games for the Panthers (14-1, 2-0 ACC). “I say ‘Play me hard. I'm only going to get better if you play your hardest, and I'm going to play you my hardest.'

“That's how we get better.”

Pitt coach Jamie Dixon saw signs that Young and Artis could thrive in the Panthers' system, given their combination of physical ability and mental acumen.

“To me, what your ‘four man' does dictates what you can do offensively,” Dixon said. “When we were recruiting these two guys … the skills that they brought were ideal for what I think we can do offensively. They've both got very good basketball IQs. You don't know that, but you sense it while recruiting them, and since they've been here, they've really picked things up.

“We're very fortunate and very lucky that we have two kids who are smart and are good kids and have the offensive skills that allow you to do some things, space the floor and play through them.”

Where the 6-foot-8, 245-pound Young is a powerful presence in the paint, the 6-7, 230-pound Artis has the versatility to play on the perimeter.

Both are learning to rebound and defend to Dixon's demands yet have shown an outside scoring touch and sure stroke from the free-throw line.

“Mike crashes the boards a lot. He's just a physical basketball player,” Artis said.

“When I get in there, I know I've got to do the same, whether it's boxing out, playing defense, shutting my man down. I know that's what I have to do, so that's what I do.”

Through the first two ACC games, the duo have combined to shoot 52.9 percent from the field and 70 percent on free throws while averaging 13 points and four rebounds.

The statistics, however, are a bit misleading.

Young and Artis excelled in going 6 of 11 from the field and 6 of 6 on free throws in scoring 19 points Saturday at N.C. State.

Those numbers dipped Monday against Maryland as they combined for seven points and five rebounds after Dixon went to a smaller lineup to better defend the 3-point shooting of Evan Smotrycz.

Whether they are playing together — Young at center and Artis at power forward — or substituting for one another, neither Young nor Artis is lacking in confidence.

“We've got a lot to improve on, a lot of room for growth,” Young said. “Just being able to come here and do some of the things we're doing as freshmen, it brings a different outlook on the power forward position. Me and (Artis) being a great one-two punch, a good combination, it's really good this year. Whenever we switch, there's not a drop-off.

“We kind of bring the same things, just in a different way. We still have a lot to improve on, get better and know the system, but so far it's been great to play with him sometimes when I play (center) or when I'm out, just to watch him play. I can learn from him, and he can learn from me.”

Kevin Gorman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at kgorman@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

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