Freshman Michael Young will debut in Pitt's starting lineup

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The first start of a player's college career always is special, but Pitt freshman Michael Young's will be extra special because not only is he a freshman, but he also will do it for a team for which he grew up watching and dreaming of playing.

Young will start at power forward for the Panthers Friday night when they open their season against Savannah State at Petersen Center and, while he admits to being nervous, he can't wait to get onto the court.

"I'm nervous, excited, anxious, ready to play, hyped up, everything," Young said. "A lot of emotions have gone through me this week, thinking about the game, my first college start, and it is here. Just thinking about it, it seemed like summertime was two weeks ago and now I am playing my first college game Friday.

"I know it will be a lot of fun, it will be different, I just can't wait until tip off."

Young (6 feet 8) grew up in Duquesne, played his freshman year at Shady Side Academy, transferred to Hudson Catholic in New Jersey and finished his high school career at St. Benedict's in New Jersey.

He said he grew up watching Pitt and started going to all the home games in eighth grade. He looked up to DeJuan Blair and Sam Young and wanted to pattern his game after theirs.

"To be here now is special," said Michael Young, a consensus top-100 player in 2012-13 as a high school senior. "I think about [similarities to Blair, a hometown player who started early in his career] that a lot. I watched him and how he progressed. I'd like to implement some of the things he did in my game.

"I talked to him in the summer, and he talked about me just playing my game and playing under control and not letting my emotions getting the best of me."

Although Friday is the Panthers' first official game, they have played two exhibitions over the past two weeks, and Young had an opportunity to play in both. That has given him some idea about what he is about to face.

The Panthers beat Division II UC-San Diego,72-59, in their first exhibition, then beat Slippery Rock, 96-60, in the second. Young played 18 minutes in each, scoring a total of 17 points and grabbing six rebounds.

He said that experience has gotten him ready for the opener, but he knows it was only a small taste of the future.

"It helped tremendously, playing in those two exhibition games gave me some college experience playing against college guys who are older, bigger, stronger and maybe faster," Young said. "And the pace of the game, I had to get used to that and playing a lot harder than I did in high school and not taking any plays off and the attention to detail."

Young is athletic, has shown plenty of athleticism in the two scrimmages and can run the floor as well as anyone on the team, but he is also a physical player and said that was a big reason he felt Pitt would be a good fit for him.

"I knew their style of play before I committed," Young said. "It is toughness, defense; we play hard, and smart, but play under control and be efficient. It really fits my game, so I am very comfortable playing in [coach Jamie Dixon's] system."

Three returning starters -- Lamar Patterson, James Robinson and Talib Zanna -- will join Young and redshirt junior Cameron Wright in the starting lineup.

Dixon said the athleticism Young has shown in exhibitions has developed since he arrived on campus in June, when he was nowhere close to being in shape.

"He didn't have that athleticism in June," Dixon said. "He has worked hard to get into shape, he has lost some weight, he is more explosive now and he is dunking it on plays now he couldn't have four months ago and so that is a part of his improvement."

■ Game: Pitt vs. Savannah State in the season opener, Petersen Events Center.

■ When: 7 p.m. Friday.

■ Radio: KDKA-FM (97.3).

Paul Zeise: pzeise@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1720 or Twitter @paulzeise.


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