Panthers' Young might not be ready, but NBA's money might be too much for him to resist

Sports commentary by Bob Smizik

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Wonder what was going through the mind of Pitt junior forward Sam Young while four of his teammates were being honored Sunday before their final home game at the Petersen Events Center?

Was Young thinking maybe he should be out there, too, accepting the accolades for a fine career? After all, it could have been his last Pitt home game.

Young's much-improved play this season, which earned him a place on the 11-man all-Big East Conference first team and league's most improved player award, has elevated him in the eyes of NBA scouts. He has reached a point where he's not just on the radar of the NBA but is a possible first-round selection.

It might not be known until late spring, by which time he'll have been thoroughly vetted by the NBA, whether Young will leave Pitt with one year of eligibility remaining. But it's a distinct possibility.

According to ESPN.com, Young projects as a "late first- to early second-" round pick.

That's more than enough to get a young man thinking. The possibility of guaranteed money, which goes to all first-rounders, is out there. Such money, even at the bottom of the first round, is difficult to bypass.

Before anyone starts screaming Young is not ready for the NBA, that is irrelevant.

Being ready is nice, but not necessary to be drafted in any sport. The Steelers, for example, drafted Troy Polamalu in the first round in 2003. He wasn't ready to start and made most of his contributions on special teams. A season later, he started every game, made the Pro Bowl and was on his way to becoming one of the best defensive players in the NFL.

Only a handful are truly ready. The rest need more seasoning. Sometimes, it's better to get that on the pro level than in college.

Young has some relevant recent history to consider while making his decision. Since 2005, three Pitt players have considered leaving early: Chris Taft, Carl Krauser and Aaron Gray.

Taft wasn't close to being ready, although early projections had him going in the top half of the first round. He had slipped by the time he made his decision to leave in April 2005. His stock reportedly plummeted in individual workouts.

He was taken in the second round by Golden State with the 42nd overall pick. Taft played 17 games as a rookie, averaging 2.8 points, 2.1 rebounds and 8.5 minutes, before injuring his back. He had surgery in March 2006. He was acquired by Rio Grande Valley of the NBA Developmental League in January of this year but waived later in the month because of injury.

The case could be made that Taft's early departure was a mistake. But Krauser and Gray proved that staying is no guarantee to improve one's standing.

Krauser considered leaving Pitt after the 2005 season, but, after going through the vetting process and being led to believe he'd be a second-round choice, he returned to Pitt. Although he had another good season, his stock fell. He wasn't drafted in 2006.

Gray considered the NBA after his junior season in 2006, but opted to come back to Pitt. He had an outstanding senior season and was one of four players unanimously named to the all-Big East first team. But it didn't help Gray get into the guaranteed money of the first round. He was taken in the second round by Chicago, the 49th player selected.

If Young chooses -- and he almost certainly will since he has nothing to lose -- he will get plenty of opportunity to show NBA people what he can do in the spring. He doesn't have to make an official decision until June. The NBA will get back to him with an honest opinion of where he'd likely be drafted.

Money is definitely a factor. On the 2007-08 NBA rookie scale, the 20th pick received a guaranteed $1,028,000 in his first season and $1.1 million the second. The 30th and final pick in the first round was guaranteed $771,000 the first year and $829,000 the second. If Young is told he's a first-round choice, it would be tough to pass up that kind of money. If he's told he's a second-round selection, the decision becomes more difficult. But, even without the guaranteed money, Young might feel he's ready, might want to start earning money. If he can't do that in the NBA, he likely could in Europe.

If Young returns, he would team with Levance Fields and DeJuan Blair to give Pitt an excellent nucleus for a team that could again challenge for the Big East title. If he doesn't return, Pitt will be hard pressed to duplicate its recent success.


Bob Smizik can be reached at bspg@comcast.net .


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