BIG EAST RECRUITING REPORT: PITTSBURGH
Projected 2007-2008 Roster:
Seniors: Keith Benjamin (G), Ronald Ramon (G), Mike Cook (G/F)
Juniors: Levance Fields (PG), Sam Young (F), Tyrell Biggs (F)
Sophomores: Gilbert Brown (SF/G), Austin Wallace (BF)
Freshmen: Darnell Dodson (G/F)
The Panthers enter the 2007 recruiting season with a re-tooled staff after seeing NYC ace-recruiter Barry Rohrssen leave for the head coaching position at Manhattan College, vacated by SHU's Bobby Gonzalez, and Joe Lombardi move to the head coaching ranks at Division II Indiana University of Pennsylvania. After promoting former Panther Orlando Antigua from the Director of Basketball Operations to an full-time assistant spot and hiring Mike Rice from the staff at St. Joseph's, Jamie Dixon rounded out his revamped staff with the hiring of DC Assault coach and Assistant Principal at St. John's College Prep David Cox.
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It wasn't the best of spring's for Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon. After a 2nd round NCAA defeat at the hands of the Bradley Braves, the Panthers came up short on the recruiting trail with the likes of Tyler Smith, Hamady N'Diaye and Dan Werner when trying to hand out their last available scholarship. On top of that, Dixon was also handling the hiring of two new staff members with Barry Rohrssen and Joe Lombardi leaving for head coaching positions at other schools. However, none of those issues compared to having to deal with the tragic loss of Dixon's younger sister, Maggie, in April. Ms. Maggie Dixon was the head coach of the Army Women's team and the coaching siblings were very close. It was a tough spring all around for Dixon, his family and the Panthers.
Last month, Pitt did receive some good news when Aaron Gray turned down the opportunity to be a 1st round pick in the NBA draft to return for hs senior season at Pitt. With Gray returning, the Panthers are a consensous top 10 team and with that comes a great deal of TV exposure which will only enhance recruiting. Also, adding Mike Rice, who has extensive recruiting ties along the east coast from his days working for the Hoop Group and their Eastern Invitational basketball camps, and David Cox, who is very well connected in the DC area from his time with the DC Assault, the Panthers are ready to hit the recruiting trail with some aggression this summer.
Pitt picked up a commitment earlier in July from Darnell Dodson, a 6'7 wing with a reputation of being an excellent shooter from deep. Pitt has always seemed to be in search of a wing player with size that can consistently hit from the perimeter and they hope Dodson is that type of player that will develop with the Panthers. Dodson plays AAU ball for the DC Assault, helping Pitt with additional inroads to the very fertile recruiting grounds of DC/Maryland/Northern Virginia.
With Aaron Gray, Levon Kendall and Doyle Hudson all seniors this year, Pitt knows the priority is big men for the 2007 class and big men that can play right away is a real must-get. with only Tyrell Biggs and the raw Austin Wallace on the projected roster as big men, Pitt has the immediate playing time to offer front court prospects that high-end talent looking for a short stay in college might find attractive. With players like Herb Pope and Michael Beasley, although committed to Kansas St, on their radar, Pitt looks like a good opportunity for either to come in and play alot, especially BF Beasley. Other big men the Panther staff has had in their sites this summer are Julian Vaughn (BF/C) and Anthony McClain (C), who both play for DC Asault, and NJ native Hamidu Rahman (C) and CT prep schooler Ayodele Coker (C). Pope's AAU teammate DeJuan Blair is another PF that the Pitt staff can always be found laying eyes on while out on the AAU circuit and they have recently tried to get more invovled with Patrick Patterson (BF), Tyrone Nash (combo F), George Goode (combo F) and Trevor Mbakwe (BF). Somehow, someway, the Panthers are likely to add three front court prospects in this class. Adding three from this list would be an incredible job by the staff, but it is more likely that a few new names could surface and with the need for immediate contributions, JUCO players could also be explored in the fall.
With Dodson on hand and the liklihood of three front court prospects to be added, Pitt still has another scholarship to give. The biggest catch they are after with the last scholarship would be DC-area PG Chris Wright. Wright is an AAU teammate of Patrick Patterson with Boo Williams, but is very close to Pitt Director of Basketball Operations David Cox who was the Assistant Principal at Wright's high school. With Georgetown the expected leader, Pitt is fighting an uphill battle to land Wright. Outside of Wright, Pitt has also been seen recruiting Philadelphia guard Bradley Wannamaker and MD combo Malcolm Delaney as well as NJ guard Miles Beatty with an for a possible last scholarship. Other players on and off the Pitt radar include twins Marcus and Markeif Morris, Blake Hoffarber, DJ Kennedy and Earl Pettis.
With teams like Syracuse, Villanova, Georgetown, Louisville and Connecticut at, or near, their scholarship limit, the Panthers have a pretty good situation to sell themselves to recruits with an opportunity to come in and play early on a contending Big East program. With the buzz and exposure ahead for the upcoming season, the newly configured Pitt staff has an excellent opportunity to sell itself to prospects all over the east coast and beyond on the Big East. It is an important class for the Panthers as they try to maintain their spot near the top of the conference for the future while battling some of the biggest recruiting powerhouses in the country. We expect a lot of action out of the Panthers on the recruiting trail in the very near future. To keep abreast on Panther developments, we have recently found an excellent source to be a blog called Panther Rants on the blogger network as well as Pitt Sports Blather.