Monday, December 22, 2008

Pitt Basketball Q&A

By Chris Dokish

New questions from Pitt fans about the state of the basketball program.

Q: DeAndre Kane? What's the deal? Did he commit to Seton Hall?

A: Good question. Seton Hall people claim he committed to them. He told the Pitt coaches that he didn't commit to anybody. He does make it interesting. I think if Pitt was sure that they wanted him, then he would have committed to them by now. But from what I can piece together, it seems that, while they think he can be a nice addition to the team, no other guards look like they want to leave the program. Of course, Pitt could always tell one of the current guards that they may be better off somewhere else, and if it was Dominic Cheek or Durand Scott, that probably would have happened. But it's something Jamie Dixon has always tried to avoid. He did it with Cassin Diggs and Diggs didn't go as quietly as was hoped. Bottom line, they aren't sure Kane is worth upsetting what they have. He's a good, not great prospect at this time and Pitt is merely letting it play out for now to see what will happen.

Q: Why didn't Kane commit when he visited and was offered?


A: I know a lot of fans were expecting that since Cheek chose Villanova that same weekend, that Kane would immediately commit to Pitt. But that wasn't really the plan. Kane was just off of school for that time so he visited Pitt. And the Panthers did not push him to commit for reasons that I explained in the previous answer.

Quite simply, Kane falls into the category of good local prospects who over the years have kind of had "half offers", if you will. They were never really given a flat out official offer, but it was kind of understood that if they wanted to come to Pitt, they were more than welcome because they were in fact good prospects. The thinking being, if you can get a good local player from time to time then it's in Pitt's interest to do it. But the truth is, there are better prospects out there who may fit the program even better. But those players are harder to get. Don't get me wrong. Kane is a good prospect and he could do well at Pitt. But he's not so good that Pitt is in any rush to toss somebody aside for him. Right now the only school really pursuing Kane hard is Seton Hall, so there is no hurry. If he commits to the Pirates, then so be it. Pitt will move on. He was far from a must get. If he waits, then Pitt can also wait to see what plays out. Maybe a guard on the team leaves or maybe Kane develops even more and Pitt feels they have no choice but to add him.

Q: If Kane does go to Seton Hall, does that mean that Pitt can now land Kyryl Natyazhko?

A: One has nothing to do with the other. If there is movement in the front court, then Pitt will pursue Natyazhko. They like him, and will monitor him closely, just in case an opening occurs.

Q: Do you think DeJuan Blair would be drafted if he came out after this season?

A: Yes. I think he would be a first round draft pick. I know fans try to bring up any perceived weakness he has to convince themselves that he won't be good enough, but I'm afraid that's just wishful thinking. His only real weakness is his lack of height,but his extremely long arms makes that only a minor weakness. He's a 265 pound manbeast with amazing hands and excellent agility. Just how many people like that do you think exists? I'm not saying he will go, however. Nobody at Pitt was told one way or the other by him. But they're not stupid. They know it's quite possible.

Q: You were very high on Lamar Patterson, but I saw him on TV recently and wasn't very impressed. Did he just have a bad game?

A: I saw the game in question and that wasn't the Patterson I saw last year. I think he is getting used to playing at an entirely different level. The kid can be a player, though. I know Tom Herrion likes him a lot and has said that he could be a "lights out shooter" eventually. In fact, Herrion just went to see him play today and word is, Lamar looked very good. He's a bull of a kid, who is an excellent passer and could be an excellent shooter. He is a decent athlete, but his lack of truly elite athleticism may prevent him from being a star. Bottom line, he should be a good player for Pitt if he shoots like Herrion says he can.

Q: Has any of Pitt's prospects looked really good this year?

A: They have all looked good. The Pitt staff knows what they are doing. But I said it once and I'll say it again. Talib Zanna could be special. He is filling out and he already had great length and athleticism. He's coming on like gangbusters and by the time he comes to Pitt he may have gone from sleeper to genuine top level prospect.

Q: Do you think Jamie Dixon will go to Arizona?

A: Dixon almost left before and was very close to leaving for Arizona State. I know this for a fact because I was talking to a mutual friend and confidante of ours who told me this, and a lot more that I don't need to get into. It was close enough that the Arizona State athletic director was devastated when he re-signed with Pitt. She thought it was a done deal. But the reason he almost left wasn't because he didn't love Pitt or because he was enamored with the state of Arizona. It was because he wasn't getting paid much by Pitt at the time and when somebody offers you a lot more money, then you have to seriously look into that. Deep down he wanted to stay at Pitt, but he was prepared to leave if they didn't step up to the plate. Well, they did.

From people I talked to, Dixon, while still not among the top paying coaches, got a pretty sweet contract to keep him away from Arizona State, and from Pitt's side a pretty substantial buyout. So to answer your question, I think any coach would be stupid not to listen (or as it is in most cases, get their agent to listen so they can pretend like their innocent), but it would take Arizona a lot of money to get him away from Pitt. And from what I was told by those close to the situation, Arizona doesn't have that kind of dough, especially in today's economy. So unless he secretly dislikes something going on at Pitt, which I haven't heard of, I don't see him going to Arizona.

Q: Am I the only one that thinks this Pitt team is top heavy in regards to talent?

A: I'm right there with you, actually. Before the season started I was worried that Pitt had two excellent players (Blair and Young) and two very good players (Fields and Brown), but the rest of the team had questions. But then once the season got underway, I was very impressed with Fields and it looked to me like Pitt had three excellent players. And, to me, if you have three excellent players you are a Final Four contender and you college basketball odds increase significantly.

But since then, things have changed again. Fields is not looking too good and is back to just being a very good player. And Brown still hasn't reached the level of a very good player. Tyrell Biggs has done a fine job as a scrappy role player and Jermaine Dixon has been decent. I know a lot of fans love Dixon, but I'm not sure I'm with them on that yet. He is a good defensive player and a good athlete, but he isn't much of a scorer. Despite averaging over 20 ppg in juco, he was not considered a very good offensive player, and he is shooting 40% from the field and 20% from three point range right now. Sorry, but that's not going to cut it. He's never going to be topnotch offensively, but he has to get better than that.

So you basically have two excellent players, one very good player in Fields, and three decent role players in Biggs, Dixon, and Brown. After that, the talent level drops off a lot. Brad Wanamaker is shooting a little better, but he still makes a bad play for every good play, and he is still a turnover machine. Ashton Gibbs has proved to me that he can flat out shoot, but I don't know if he's going to be out there long enough to do much of that this season. Gary McGhee is all heart and elbows, but his talent is limited. And Nasir Robinson and Travon Woodall can't even get on the floor. Woodall has been especially disappointing.

Bottom line, this team is No. 3 this season for two reasons. One, they have two bonafide stars in Young and Blair. I think both are among the top five players in the conference and maybe the top twenty in the country. Second is defense. They still can generate a lot of points in spurts by generally harassing teams to death. They will go as far as those two things take them because that is by far their two biggest strengths.

Q: How devastating of a loss was Darnell Dodson? I saw an article last week about how great he's doing.

A: I swear at this point, you would think the kid was George Gervin. Pitt could always use shooters and Dodson is a good shooter who would have seen time right away next year. There's no question about that. But I can also tell you that the people at Pitt did not all go out and cut their wrists over it. In fact, one person at Pitt who shall remain nameless said that he didn't even think Dodson was that good. I can tell you this, though. Of all the people that Pitt recruited since Dixon has been the head coach, Dodson is not even in the top 20 most talented players that they missed on. He is overhyped. The article in question was written for a Memphis newspaper. And he was not even considered a top recruit until he signed with Memphis. Then he miraculously shot up the rankings despite not playing in a single game, either officially or unofficially, between when he was committed to Pitt and when he committed to Memphis. A fact, by the way, that infuriated some people at Pitt to no end. I think ultimately it was the unfair way that Dodson was lost to Pitt that makes the fans maybe think he was better than he really was.

Q: Is it me or does Pitt look like they could have a big drop off next season?

A: On paper, Pitt may appear quite weak next year. Their two top talents could be Blair and Dante Taylor. But Blair may go pro and Taylor is not a guarantee to star right away. On the other hand, Blair could stay, Taylor could be a nice looking player right off the bat, and Brown may finally turn into a star. It could go either way. But I must say that the future at guard is rather suspect at this point so the frontline must be ready to carry the team. Gibbs can flat out shoot, but he has to develop other parts of his game or he won't be on the floor long enough to shoot. Wanamaker and Dixon just don't have much of an offensive game yet and it's unlikely they will suddenly turn into big time scorers. Woodall was going to be groomed to be the heir apparent for Fields, but has been a major disappointment so far. A lot of these guards are young, but they weren't considered elite prospects either, so it may be naive to think they will eventually turn into big time guards. Of course they will be scrappy bulldogs in the Pitt syle, but if the frontcourt is not dynamic will that be enough? Ultimately, it's hard to say how good, or how mediocre, Pitt will be next year, but considering the fact that Jamie Dixon always seems to get a lot out of his players, nobody should be surprised if he somehow managed to win 25 games again next year, even if he was starting the waterboy at point guard.



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