When the Young Seem Old: Catching Up With Sam Young


When you are sitting 3 feet from Sam Young, he looks 40. It’s not uncommon for NBA players to physically resemble men much older than them (Lebron James, Greg Oden) but when you’ve been mingling with 19-year-olds all morning it catches you off guard. His maturity level matches his appearance: Although not particularly well spoken, he is calm, earnest and confident.

I began by asking whether he has worked out with the Spurs. He said no, mentioning Chicago and Indiana as his only private workouts so far. I directed the conversation towards two abilities that often attract the Spurs attention: the 3 and D.

“You shot the 3 ball well this season. How has your shot been adjusting to NBA range? Do you think you can sufficiently extend your range in order to maintain those numbers?”

He admitted to having concerns about that very issue. “I thought it would effect me but I have been shooting well.” Near the end of his answer another reporter sat down and, apparently having not heard my question, repeated it almost verbatim. This time Young gave a more confident answer.

“Definitely. I have NBA 3-point range.”

The reporter followed up by suggesting that he might be a better pro than he was a college player. Young agreed. “I’m a one-on-one player,” citing the increased spacing and less frequent usage of zone defense as aspects of the NBA game that would compliment his style. This comment struck me as odd; I primarily think of Young as a catch-and-shoot player who, although he can finish at the rim, struggles to create a shot for himself at other spots on the floor.

Before moving onto his defense, I asked about his age (24 on June 1st) and whether he saw his relative seniority as a strength or weakness. His initial reaction was even-handed (“People will see it how they want”) but as with his answer regarding the NBA’s extended 3-point range, he punctuated his remarks authoritatively.

“I am mature.”

“You were a very solid perimeter defender in college. Do you think you have what it takes to a good perimeter defender in the pros? When playing against players who have quicker feet, better ball-handling skills, etc…?”

Unlike his previous answers, Young began his response with a full head of steam. “Yes. I definitely do.” He cited his work ethic as a major source of his confidence. His physicality certainly seems up to the task: His wingspan is as impressive as billed, and the television does not do his solid upper body justice (one of the more valuable things about interviewing players is getting to see how accurate their “measurements” are).

Our interview ended with a somewhat unexpected and rather pleasant twist. Another reporter, having recently sat down, quickly interjected: “Your agent tells me you have some interesting off-the-court interests, such as playing the piano.”

“And I write poetry.”

He said his teammates at Pitt used to come to open-mic night and watch him perform. He struggled to name a favorite poem, but cited Maya Angelou is one of his favorite poets. It’s wise for a writer to be wary of anecdotes like this; agent’s oftentimes tell their clients to play up very minor aspects of their off-court life to make themselves seem well rounded. Given how the question began (“Your agent tells me…”), it’s completely reasonable to assume his agent had similar plans.

I may be playing the fool, but I’ll be honest with you: I thought Sam Young’s love of poetry seemed quite genuine.