PITTSBURGH — Traditionally, point guards are the leaders of college basketball teams. They call the plays, dictate the tempo, distribute the basketball and are the players coaches lean on when they want to get a message across to the rest of the team.
Two of Pittsburgh’s Division I teams are doing things a little bit differently this year. While Pitt’s Jamel Artis and Duquesne’s Tarin Smith certainly have the requisite experience and attitude to be the leaders of their clubs, it’s the big men inside that have been doing heavy lifting on and off the court.
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Michael Young and Darius Lewis have always been imposing presences physically. But now in their senior year, they’re taking on a bigger role as leaders for their respective clubs.
“I kind of take it upon myself to be a better voice as a leader and make sure we’re all on the same page,” Lewis said.
He’s the only senior on the Dukes squad that features a pair of transfers and four freshmen, so there’s been plenty of getting to know one another. One thing that Lewis likes so far is his team’s energy, something that he hopes he can provide infectiously.
“When my teammates are doing well, I’m somebody that’s cheering,” he said. “I’m waving the towel if I’m not in the game. If I do something, I might scream. I think we have a lot of guys on the team like that, which is good, because we all have energy when we succeed and we see our teammates succeeding as well.”
The leadership role is nothing new to Young, who has been one of the team’s most outspoken players throughout his career, but this season did bring a new challenge on that front — integrated his three fellow seniors into a leadership group that first-year head coach Kevin Stallings has relied upon extensively to ease the transition to a new staff, system and scheme.
“I think this year, it’s a little different,” Young said. “I think in the past couple years, it’s been just me and other person that’s been a leader. Now it’s me, Chris, Jamel and Sheldon that are all leaders as seniors. It takes a little bit of a load off my back and lets me be more of a leader by example and also to teach and help guys that way.”
Young is looking forward to a bigger role on the court, as well. While he was already the team’s leading scorer, he feels that this year, the offense is more centered around what he can do and he’s going to get the opportunity to show off his talents to the fullest.
“Coach is letting me play my game,” Young said. “Whatever I can do, he’s letting me do it. The best part is just going out there and playing and showing what I can do. In the past years, I’ve been able to play but it’s a little bit different this year with how the offense is. We’re playing fast with more freedom and things of that nature, therefore, I can just play my game. That’s what I’m looking forward to doing.”
At Duquesne, it’s something of a rebuild on the fly for the Dukes as the try to replace a senior class that meant an awful lot to the program over the last three seasons. But that didn’t stop head coach Jim Ferry from scheduling a monster non-conference slate that includes Pitt, Penn State and Kentucky.
The trip to the Bluegrass State is especially appealing to Lewis, who is a Lexington native and will have a bunch of friends and family in the crowd.
“I’m definitely looking forward to it because it’s a challenge and I want to step up and be able to perform well for my teammates,” Lewis said. “It’s going to be a good test to see where I’m at and how we stack up. We’re just looking forward to competing.”
The Dukes and Panthers both tip off their regular season on Friday. Duquesne will host Loyola Maryland and Pitt will host Eastern Michigan. Both games start at 7 p.m.