Pitt held Basketball Media Day Friday and here are some of the highlights....
** The Panthers at times this summer have had only five healthy bodies. But as they begin practice Saturday Jamie Dixon said that all 13 of the scholarship players are either fully healthy or very, very close to it. Dixon said this will be the first time he has all the players together and so it will take a little bit of time to get them all on the same page and figure out how to make it all work. The good news is the health though as this summer they had six different guys with surgery.
** There are three walk-ons: Mike Lecak, Zach Smith (who transferred from Pitt-Bradford) and a freshman from Elk County Catholic, Ryan Seelye. Of the players from last year that still have eligibility - Joshua Ko, Josh Newkirk, Tyrone Haughton and Joe Uchebo all transferred. Last I heard Ko went to Florida Gulf Coast (but I’ve heard about three different places so don’t quote me), Newkirk to Indiana, Haughton to Arkansas Tech and Uchebo to Charlotte.
** There are a lot of new players this year and the incoming class breaks down like this: Three graduate transfers Center Rafael Maia (Brown), Center/Forward Alonzo Nelson-Ododa (Richmond) and guard Sterling Smith (Coppin State); Two junior college players in center Rozelle Nix (Pensacola JC) and guard Jonathan Milligan (Kilgore College) and one freshman, guard Damon Wilson (Our Savior New American).
** Given there are so many new players, it will take some time to make it all fit together but here is a very, very informal depth chart but to give you and idea (this comes after talking to players and coach today about their roles) of where the players fit and what the rotation might look like once they begin to roll through practices.
Again, I stress, this is a very preliminary informal and I’m sure it will change and be very fluid once the Panthers start to play games...
James Robinson, Damon Wilson, Sterling Smith, Jonathan Milligan, Mike Lecak
Chris Jones, Sterling Smith, Damon Wilson, Jonathan Milligan, Cam Johnson
Jamel Artis, Sheldon Jeter, Cam Johnson, Ryan Luther, Ryan Seelye
Mike Young, Jamel Artis, Sheldon Jeter, Alonzo Nelson-Ododa, Ryan Luther
Rafael Maia, Alonzo Nelson-Ododa, Rozelle Nix, Mike Young
I think the five returning guys that played a bulk of the minutes last year -- Young, Artis, Robinson, Jeter (who was starting by end of year) and Jones will all play - will all play significant minutes, though probably a little less than last year because they are going to be squeezed into four positions instead of spread out across five.
The three centers will be interesting to watch as they are all different in what they do. Nix is huge and is a guy who will clog up the lane and be a physical presence in the middle. Maia was a good rebounded at Brown and apparently can step away from the hoop a little bit and hit shots and then Nelson-Ododa is the most athletic of the three and blocks shots, runs the floor, etc. So it may be a game to game situation as to who plays the most, though my sense is Maia and Nelson-Ododa are more ready to play than Nix and will get the bulk of the time, at least early in the season. That’s especially true since Nix has a redshirt year available if needed and the other two don’t.
The guards, beyond Robinson and Jones are anybody’s guess. Talking to some of the players, Wilson is the real deal and Smith is clearly what you are looking for in a graduate transfer as he physically looks like a 23-year old or whatever. And then Milligan is a wild card, he is really athletic and has a different skill set than the others but it will be interesting to see how he fits into it all. And let’s not forget Cam Johnson is healthy and he has gained weight, looks a lot more physically capable of handling the physicallity of this level than he did last year right out of high school.
The forwards are probably a little more clear cut than the guards, though Nelson-Ododa could also play a little power forward. But Young and Artis are a virtual lock to be the four and the three and Jeter will play a bunch as well. Ryan Luther said he is likely to be more of a four than a three and Johnson could also play three depending on matchups.
Dixon said that he has 13 scholarship guys and he feels good about all of them and the thing is, if they all stay healthy, there should be a lot of competition for every spot and for every minute.
I’m actually interested to see how it all looks once the players start to appear in games and show what they can do against good competition.
*** Pitt opens up with Gonzaga and that’s a tough opener so Dixon has changed his preseason schedule a bit. Instead of playing two exhibition games as he usually does, he is only going to play one and will participate in one of those “secret scrimmages” against another major conference team. This will help them get better prepared to play at the level necessary to play against a team like Gonzaga. It is the first time Pitt has played a secret scrimmage as Dixon prefers exhibition games for a variety of reasons, but like I said, given the opener, he felt he needed better competition. These scrimmages are closed to the public and media and nobody is allowed to talk about them but everybody seems to know about them so it is a little silly that there is such a big deal made of the secrecy.
On the flip side of the trip to Japan against Gonzaga, the Panthers will come back to a game against a Division II (St. Joe’s) team and that’s mostly because the trip will be a grueling one (like a 21-hour commute one way) and they will likely still be jet lagged three days later.