BIG EAST RECRUITING UPDATE: PITTSBURGH
September 27, 2007
Pittsburgh Recruiting & Team Update
-by Chris Dokish
*note- post edited 9/28 (see note below)
For Pitt basketball, as well as the rest of the country, the recruiting for the 2008 basketball class is winding down while the 2009 class is heating up. The Panthers already have their allotment for ’08, but that doesn’t mean they are done just yet.
Head coach Jamie Dixon and assistant Orlando Antigua have been trying to land 6’10” dynamo Eloy Vargas, of American Heritage School in Plantation, FL, for over a year now, long before he turned into a top 30 prospect. By all accounts, the Pitt staff believed they were the team to beat for Vargas, despite his growing popularity from some of the best programs in the country. Vargas and Antigua, both natives of the Dominican Republic, are very close and have been for a few years. Then the two time defending champion Florida Gators entered the picture.
Vargas recently visited both Florida and Florida State unofficially, but the Gators are the program that got his attention. There was some speculation that Vargas would visit Pitt one more time, but the lure of Florida was too hard for him to say no to and he committed to the champs last night.
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Orlando Antigua may take some heat from fans for losing out on Vargas, but he couldn’t have done any more than he did. Many of those close to Vargas thought Antigua had him wrapped up until Florida showed up. But there is no shame in losing a Latin kid in Florida who decided to stay close to home and play for the two time defending champs. In his first two recruiting classes, Antigua has been instrumental in landing Blair and McGhee. And with New York City making a comeback in talent, look for him to add more in the near future.
Vargas was not the only player that the Panthers were still looking at for ’08, though. The Panthers hope to bring Jones in for an official visit in the near future. Jones has visited Ohio State and will visit Indiana officially on October 12. Jones, from Mt. Vernon (NY) HS, is one of the best unsigned seniors in the county and is generally considered a top 50 prospect. Because he is one of the few top prospects remaining, his recruitment is hotter than ever. The slender Jones has the aggressiveness and rebounding ability of a power forward, but is also a good athlete with three point range. He is also excellent with the outlet pass, a skill much needed by the low post players in Pitt’s system. (photo courtesy of KevJones.com)
Another player that the Pitt staff is looking at should they not land Jones, is 6’7’ Dominic Rutledge of Edison (NJ) HS. Rutledge unofficially visited Pittsburgh recently and he may be back for an official visit soon. A sleeper with great athleticism, the slender Rutledge may best be suited for power forward, where his quickness around the basket is a major asset. Unlike Vargas and Jones, he doesn’t have an offer yet, but that could change if things with Jones falls through.
If the Panthers do not land Jones or decide to offer Rutledge, then there probably will not be another player added in the 2008 class. Although, 6’10” Roscoe Davis of Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia, is a possibility. The Panthers have been monitoring the Maryland native for a few years, but it is still up in the air if he will eligible in ’08 or ’09. He is definitely a consideration in either class, however.
Turning to ’09, the Panthers will be looking to replace Levance Fields, Tyrell Biggs, Cassin Diggs, and Sam Young with the class and are expected to go for two big men, a perimeter player, and then the best available prospect.
One of the more intriguing prospects is 6’11” Zeke Marshall of McKeesport (PA) HS. Despite media reports that the local prospect has a Pitt offer, the Panthers have not yet offered. However, it’s probable that if he continues to show progress he will be extended one. Marshall is considered a project that is still at least three or four years away, but his height and athleticism are intriguing. According to one college assistant, the big guy “can run like a deer”.
As far as low post players that have already received Pitt offers, the Panthers are targeting 6’8” Dan Jennings, a quickly improving low post player from Staten Island that recently reclassified and transferred to Oak Hill Academy in Virginia, and 6’8” 260 pound strongman Gregory Echenique, from St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark, NJ. Echenique, a native of Venezuela and a top 50 prospect, is coached by Danny Hurley, who twice turned done offers to be an assistant for Jamie Dixon. (Echenique photo courtesy of HoopGroup.com)
Other low post players that Pitt have interest in, but have yet to offer, are Wally Judge and Andre Gillette, both 6’8”. Judge recently transferred from the Washington, DC area to Arlington Country Day School, a prep school in Florida. The move makes Pitt less of a player for his services. Gillette, from Neumann-Goretti HS in Philadelphia, has improved a lot in the last year and should keep getting better.
Since the ’09 kids have not yet played in their junior season, a good number of low post prospects have yet to develop. The same can’t be said of the perimeter players, who develop much more quickly.
Perimeter players that have been offered by the Panthers start with 6’6” small forward Dominic Cheek of St. Anthony HS in Jersey City, NJ. Despite being a teammate of Panther signee Travon Woodall, the top ten prospect is considered a long shot. Also offered at the position is 6’6” Brian Oliver of William Penn HS in New Castle, DE. Oliver is becoming very coveted as he improves, and already possesses great court savvy, hustle, and a silky smooth shooting touch. He has already stopped into the Pitt offices to look around and the Panthers are considered a major player for his services. The last small forward offered by the Panthers is 6’6” sleeper Kevin Parrom of St. Raymond’s HS in the Bronx. Parrom does not jump out as a future star, but he is a solid player who can score from multiple places on the floor.
At the two guard, Parrom’s teammate, Omari Lawrence also holds a Panther offer. The 6’3” Lawrence is very versatile with good scoring ability, smarts, ball handling, and defense. Like Parrom, he is coached by Oliver Antigua, former Pitt player and brother of Pitt assistant, Orlando. Staying in New York City, the Panthers staff have also offered 6’4” Durand Scott of Rice HS. Scott is a tough minded kid with a lot of scoring ability. He can also project to small forward in the Panthers system. The last guard the Panthers have offered is 6’4” Maurice Creek, a Maryland native now at South Kent Prep School in Connecticut. Creek is a scoring machine that currently has Pitt in a top three that also includes Texas and Marquette.
Other perimeter players that the Pitt staff are following are 6’5” Dalton Pepper of Pennsbury HS in Fairless Hills, PA, 6’6” Dane Miller of Rush-Henrietta HS in Henrietta, NY, 6’4” Brandon Triche of Jamesville-Dewitt HS in Dewitt, NY, 6’4” Rodney McGruder of Archbishop HS in Washington, DC, and 6’5” Leek Leek of Our Savior New American School of Centereach, NY.
Pepper is a versatile, tough player with an excellent shooting touch, Miller is highly athletic, but raw, Triche is a great scorer who is recently recovered from an ACL injury, McGruder is a scrapper and a winner, and Leek is a native of Sudan with a lot of potential.
Also in the mix is 6’4” small forward Terrance Boyd, who had interest when his former AAU coach, David Cox, was the Panthers Director of basketball operations. Boyd has since moved back to Norman, OK, but both developments have not stopped him from having Pitt high on his list. The problem, however, is that, like McGruder, the Panthers have a similar player arriving next year in 6’4” Nasir Robinson.
One local 2010 prospect that the Panthers staff is watching closely is Tommy Droney of Sewickley (PA) Academy. The 6’4” Droney excelled as a freshman and he already shows good guard skills to go with his excellent size for a guard.
Other Notes: Unlike previous years, when both assistants on the road usually had assigned players to recruit, this year both Orlando Antigua and Tom Herrion will usually both recruit the same players.
DeJuan Blair has already made his mark in Pitt’s workouts. After ballooning to 300 pounds over the summer, he is now under 275 pounds and looking good. And while he is looking good physically, on the court he is already playing great. The big man has been a monster thus far in workouts and is everything the staff was hoping for. Playing like a bigger and more athletic Brian Shorter, Blair is proving he was worth the hype. While he has been impossible to stop in the blocks, the best surprise has been just how great of a passer he is, a must for low post players in the Panthers system.
Newcomers Cassin Diggs and Gary McGhee are practicing hard. Diggs needs to get in better shape, but both are huge and McGhee especially is progressing nicely.
The most pleasant surprise so far for the staff is the play of Darnell Dodson. The 6’7” freshman had the rep in high school of a scorer, but there have been many similar players who didn’t have their offense translate. Not so for Dodson who is impressing the staff by scoring all over the court.
According to sources at Pitt, Levance Fields is not expected to be dismissed from the team or suspended for the year. Jamie Dixon has not decided on a punishment yet and will wait for the court and the university to handle the situation before deciding on any punishment.
There is much speculation on how Pitt plans to add another prospect for the ’08 class and rightfully so. According to sources at the university, no player has said they want to transfer, and no player, either on the roster or committed for the future, is expected to be an academic casualty.
Chris Dokish, a Contributing Editor with the Pittsburgh Sports Report has graciously contributed an article to the Big East Basketball Report on the recruiting efforts of the Pittsburgh Panthers. Chris has been a sportswriter for five years with stops at CollegeHoopsNet.com, Insiders.com (now Scout.com) and Rivals.com. We look forward to regular contributions from Mr. Dokish going forward.
*note- post edited 9/28 to reflect Kevin Jones possible visit information. It was erroneously reported he did visit Pittsburgh.
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