ROBINSON TWP — It was something of a stressful spring for the Pitt basketball team. The departure of longtime head coach Jamie Dixon and the at-the-time unpopular hiring of Kevin Stallings. The team went just six days without a head coach, but it was a nervous time for the program.
The specter of potential transfer and recruits bailing could have set the team back years. Instead, Stallings immediately stabilized thins. No one transferred, no one de-committed, and back together for summer workouts, the team seems to have bonded even more closely than it was before.
A big part of that was due to the leaders on the team. With four rising seniors, the mood was calm and collected, even when things on the outside was hectic. A big part of that effort was made by forward Michael Young. I caught up with young at the Pittsburgh Basketball Club Pro-Am at Montour High School Monday night and this is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation.
AS: What was it like going through that crazy part of the summer?
MY: When it happened, everybody was shocked. Nobody expected it. But it happened. I just stayed in the gym like I always do and waited on the decision. My mindset was that no matter what, whether we get a new coach, whoever the new coach is, or if I transfer, test the NBA, whatever the case may be, I still had to get in the gym no matter what. I just stayed in the gym and waited for them to make a decision. Once they made a decision on a new coach, I went up to talk to him, and we hit it off well from the jump. I got great vibes. From there, we’ve been working at better.
AS: We’ve talked before about the fact you consider yourself a leader on the team. Was that leadership especially important during that time without a coach?
MY: We got four seniors and a couple juniors, so we’re not a young team. We have a bunch of guys that have been around and have gotten minutes in crucial parts of big games, so everybody knew what they needed to do. We have a bunch of guys that can hold themselves accountable and pretty much monitor themselves, make sure they get into the gym. I was in the gym and pretty much the whole team was in the gym, too, waiting on a decision. Everybody pretty much took the same approach as far as getting into the gym, waiting for the decision, talking to the new coach and seeing how the felt.
AS: What are your early impression of Kevin Stallings?
MY: I love him. I love the whole staff. Everybody is coming with energy and positive vibes every day, just wanting to get better. They want you to get better and they want to make sure that you’re getting into the gym on your own, things like that. It’s just a positive environment. Not to say that the last environment wasn’t positive, but this is new, with new coaches, a new style of play and new voices. Everything is going well so far.
AS: Do you think that the change at this point in your career could help make you a better player?
MY: Definitely. The way we play now and some of the new things he’s taught us as far as on defense: guarding the ball, putting pressure on the ball, really trying to contain the dribble while also putting pressure on the ball, really being aggressive and physical and switching. He’s doing a lot different lineups. I haven’t seen the same lineup for workouts yet. He’s doing a lot of new things and getting a feel for us and what we can do. Everything’s going great. We’re working. The team is getting a whole lot better. We’ll have the same players, but it’s a different team.
AS: Are you playing the five or the four?
MY: I really don’t have a position. I don’t think anybody has a position right now. Like I said, he’s been mixing it up. There’s been practices where I’ve been at the three, four and five. Some day, I might be at the two. No one really has a position right now, we’re just playing basketball.
AS: Does it matter at this point which one you play?
MY: Not really. I just like the fact that he’s just letting me play my game letting me play with a free mind. I’m able to think the game and use my basketball IQ and really just play basketball versus dictating the game and dictating how I play.
AS: Most players have their best seasons as seniors. What can you do to improve on 2015-16?
MY: Just build consistency, building good habit and fundamentals, coming in with the right attitude every day, leading my team the way I’m supposed to. I think once I get my consistency to a new level, I’ll be able to take my game to another level and my team will go where we want to go.
AS: What are your goals for this season?
MY: For my team, Final Four. I want to play on that stage. You dream of playing on that stage. Ever since I’ve been at college, I’ve dreamed of playing on that stage. For myself, I feel like I’m one of the top players in the country, so ACC Player of the Year, ACC First Team, First-Team All-American, Naismith Award, that’s what you strive for individually and that’s what I’m striving for.
AS: You mentioned the NBA, and that’s looming after this season. Is that something that’s on your mind?
MY: It’s not something that I think about. Throughout my basketball career, I’ve just been a guy that’s made sure that I stayed in the gym as much as I could and let everything else work itself out. The NBA is something that when it’s time, it will come. Obviously, this is my last year, so when I finish here, I don’t have an option, but I feel like this year will build me a lot of momentum going into next year and I’ll be ready. But I’m not thinking about it. I haven’t made it past the second round of the NCAA Tournament. I’m trying to get to that Final Four. That’s what’s on my mind.