Thursday, November 20, 2008


by Chris Dokish

It's been almost a decade now that Pitt basketball has been a national power and that longevity near the top is showing itself on the recruiting trail where prospects no longer have memories when Pitt was not a power. In the entire Ben Howland/Jamie Dixon Era, no class has more pure ability and talent then the four member 2009 class that the Panthers just signed during the early signing period.

The main point man for the class was recruiter extraordinaire Tom Herrion, Pitt's Associate Head Coach and head coach Jamie Dixon's right hand man. Now that he is allowed to talk about each prospect, Herrion was gracious enough to tell NBE his thoughts on the newest Panthers.

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Dante Taylor, 6'9" PF, National Christian Academy (Fort Washington, MD): "Plays with tremendous energy and effort. Has developed his overall game and is able to now play both facing and with his back to the basket. A relentless and passionate rebounder on both ends. Elevated his play in the summer against elite competition. He knew for a long time he wanted to be a Panther."

Lamar Patterson, 6'4" SG/SF, St. Benedict's Prep (Newark, NJ): "A young senior and his body is beginning to take shape and develop. He is a very skilled and versatile perimeter player and will benefit greatly playing at St. Benedict's this year. An ankle injury limited his exposure this summer, but had a great Spring before the injury. He has been a great ambassador of our program having committed so early."

J.J. Richardson, 6'7" PF/SF, Missouri City (TX) HS: "Truly someone who benefited from a great summer. He caught our eye as one of the harder playing kids we saw. He has a great work ethic and it has helped him to develop and expand his entire game. He has strength and toughness and is a very competitive player. He should have a terrific senior year on one of the best teams in Texas."

Talib Zanna, 6'9" PF, Bishop McNamara HS (Forestville, MD): "He just gets better and better all the time. Did not get much exposure this summer. He was adding some classes in summer school. An excellent athlete who can run the floor effortlessly and has worked hard on his ability to face the basket. He plays in one of the best high school conferences in the country. He has a ton of potential."

What Herrion doesn't say is how hard he and the Pitt staff worked to get their best class in over a decade. Richardson, for example, is one of the biggest sleepers in the nation who was hidden on one of the most loaded high school teams in the country after moving from Ohio. But Herrion found him at an AAU tournament and was enamored with his 6'7" 235 pound size, understanding of the game, and unparalleled effort. Herrion was so enamored with Richardson that he and Dixon drove through hurricane damage in Texas to seal the deal. Richardson averaged 6 ppg and 5 rbg as a junior, but this season Richardson will be more of the focal point of the game, and his production is expected to rise sharply. The staff feels it's all about to come together for the combo forward. Richardson is also extremely mature for his age and that should benefit him greatly as he moves on to the college game.

While Richardson is similar to former Panther Chevy Troutman in the way he plays, there is no recent comparison for Taylor, who is generally considered a top 25 prospect in the class. The staff was looking at Taylor's former teammate at National Christian Academy, 7'0" center Anthony McClain, who the staff eventually decided not to pursue. McClain ended up at Cincinnati, but the staff stayed enamored with the then raw, but physically gifted Taylor. The staff, as they do so often, was ahead of the curve on Taylor. He was targeted as somebody who would explode as a player over the summer so the staff recruited him hard immediately, before other big time schools became involved. Their due diligence paid off when Taylor turned into a top 25 prospect. Herrion, ever the bulldog, never let up on Taylor, and his effort was rewarded when, citing longstanding loyalty, Taylor committed to the Panthers. Unless something drastic happens, expect Taylor to start as a freshman.

Patterson was one of the better players in Pennsylvania at J.P. McCaskey HS in Lancaster when Herrion once again became intrigued, this time by the wing's great passing, athleticism, defense, and shooting. Not long after committing to the Panthers, Patterson transferred to powerful St. Benedict's Prep in northern New Jersey. St. Benedict's, coached by Danny Hurley, is one of the best high school programs in the country, and both in practice and in games, the better competition should bring out the best in the highly undervalued Patterson. Expect him to see significant time for the Panthers as a freshman and if he develops as expected, look for him to have a good chance of starting as a sophomore. He is the full package with a very high ceiling.

Last but not least is the Nigerian born Zanna. This may prove to be very serendipitous for the Panthers staff since they were targeting other frontcourt players before landing Zanna. Zanna is another diamond in the rough due to his great length and big time mobility and agility. On the recruiting circuit, he had the reputation as an interesting prospect who could be really good if it all came together for him. On Herrion's recommendation, Dixon stopped in to watch Zanna late in the recruiting season and he came away very impressed that Zanna was progressing so quickly. There are now signs that Zanna is about to explode and is already unstoppable in early scrimmages, just recently getting 22 points, 14 rebounds, and 8 blocks in one game.



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