Gorman: Pitt's Young learned to grow up fast
Mike Young's basketball career has been brought together by a chain of apparent contradictions.
To play at his hometown school, he had to leave home. And to enjoy his childhood, he had to learn to grow up fast.
A Duquesne native who also lived in McKeesport, Young went to Shady Side Academy as a freshman. That's where Lanette Braxton saw her son's anger disappear as he became a “more pleasant person.”
Yet, despite a frame that promised potential as early as middle school, Pitt assistant coach Brandin Knight gave Young a recruiting warning:
“I can't just give you a scholarship to Pitt,” Knight said. “You have to earn one.”
That Young earned it, and much more, makes him one of the most compelling stories of the summer.
Pitt's first hometown recruit since DeJuan Blair is going to school just blocks away from where his father was murdered.
Not only is Young, a 6-foot-9, 240-pound power forward, the centerpiece of Pitt's 2013 recruiting class but he's also the Panthers' most vocal advocate in getting players to join him.
“From my freshman year to now, I've made a whole 360 from on-the-court to off-the-court stuff, as far as maturity,” Young said. “I'm just a whole different player and person.”
Young spent three years playing prep ball in New Jersey, going from St. Benedict's Prep in Newark to Hudson Catholic and back to St. Benedict's, all the while working relentlessly on developing his game while dealing privately with the devastation of the death of his father.
Young was in his first semester at St. Benedict's when his father was killed in September 2010. Michael Young was only 33 years old when he was shot in the doorway of an apartment building on Milwaukee Street in the Hill District.
“The way I found out, it hurt really bad,” Young said. “It helped to be away. Not being around kept me on track. I just said, ‘You've got to keep pushing.' It was tragic, something I got through that made me tougher and more mature.”
Young credits his old roommate at St. Benedict's, a player he commonly refers to as his brother, for supporting him through that difficult time.
So, when Pitt was looking to add talent after Steven Adams declared early for the NBA Draft and Trey Zeigler and J.J. Moore transferred, Young kept calling Jamel Artis and urging him to pick the Panthers even though they likely will compete for playing time.
“Mike recruited him as hard as any of us did,” Knight said, with no hint of irony.
Raised by a single father, Artis understands the void of a missing parent. But he's still impressed with how Young has handled life's cards.
“He never brought it up,” Artis said of Young. “It's hard not having a father figure in your life. And Mike Young lived in a tough area. Guys in the projects pushed him hard. They knew he could make it big. It's about character. Character can take you far.”
Young revealed more character than he did emotion, keeping both in check.
Jamal Slappy, Young's former coach at Hudson Catholic and with the New Jersey Playaz, saw him channel his energy into endless workouts.
“Mike was always focused when it came to basketball,” Slappy said. “He dealt with the situation as if he were a grown man. He never used it as a crutch. Some people would, whether it was school work or practice, they'd say they're not feeling it today.
“He always pushed forward. He didn't allow it to affect him. I do think that it did affect him, but he never showed anybody. That's Mike.”
Young developed into ESPN's No. 57 prospect in the nation, one expected to play a pivotal role for the Panthers next season.
“He's mature beyond his years,” Knight said. “The kid has dealt with a lot. He's one of those kids that won't harp on his past.
“The funny thing is, Mike was not a good basketball player by any stretch of the imagination. He was growing but wasn't really good. He's worked his tail off the last three years to get to where he is, to become the player he is. His will to be good is what makes him very successful. If he can keep that up, he can be successful with us.”
Braxton calls Young's success story “amazing.”
“Sometimes, I still can't believe what has transpired with my son,” she said. “But he put the work in and transformed himself to be the player he is now. He's coming back home to make a statement to Pittsburgh to show all the hard work that he's done.”
And all that he's overcome.