Friday, January 09, 2009


by Chris Dokish

The Big East boasts the No.1 team in the land, but this time it's not Connecticut, Georgetown or Syracuse. Instead, after nearly a decade of excellence, the program on top of the heap is the University of Pittsburgh. And to the victors goes the spoils.

For the Class of 2009 the Panthers have inked an excellent class of four, led by Top 50 prospect Dante Taylor and quickly rising 6'9" center Talib Zanna. But looking to strike while the iron is hot, Jamie Dixon and his staff are looking to continue their recruiting success in 2010, with two perimeter players especially in their sites.

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Senior point guard Levance Fields is down to his last few months as a Panther and 5'11" freshman Travon Woodall will be the only true point guard remaining on the roster next season. That's why the Panthers are targeting the position for 2010, and why they are zeroing in on 6'2" Isaiah Epps of Plainfield (NJ) HS.

Epps currently holds offers from Pittsburgh, Maryland, Seton Hall and Rutgers, while also receiving a lot of interest from Kansas, Marquette, and Houston. With the two New Jersey schools close, Epps has visited both unofficially, while he has visited Pittsburgh and Maryland.

"I loved both my visits to Pitt and Maryland a lot," says Epps, who was reached in the locker room last night after he scored 11 points in a 59-49 win.

There has been much speculation that Pittsburgh and Maryland are the current frontrunners for Epps, but Epps says he is in no hurry to make a decision. "I'm just focusing on this season, to be honest with you," says Epps.

But one thing that Epps is thinking about is the possible future of Maryland head coach Gary Williams. It's not a secret that Williams and Maryland Athletic Director Debbie Yow do not see eye to eye, and with the recent teams of Williams not faring well, including a recent loss at home to Morgan State, there is growing speculation that Williams will not make it to next season.

"I've heard that Williams may be in trouble," says Epps. "He told me he'll be there, but I don't know. To tell you the truth, I'm kind of confused."

That may open the door for Pittsburgh, who is looking to bring the combo guard in as a point guard, a position that Epps covets. "I love the thought of playing the point," says Epps, getting excited. "I want the ball in my hands at all times."

If Epps does end up at Pitt, he would battle Woodall, who just happens to be Epps' second cousin. Would that bother Epps to battle a relative? "Not at all," replies Epps. "He's always trying to get me there to Pitt".

Woodall has played very little this season and has not cracked the ten man rotation for the Panthers, but his lack of early progress may help the Panthers in landing Epps. When asked what was the main thing he was looking for when making a decision, he answered, "I want to play a lot from the get go".

As of now, the Panthers only have one scholarship open for 2010, but they are also looking to upgrade the shooting guard position, and the player they are pursuing the hardest at the position is 6'4" Will Barton of Lake Clifton HS in Baltimore, MD. But they aren't alone. Besides the Pittsburgh offer, Barton also holds official offers from Georgetown, Maryland, Central Florida, South Florida, Providence, Kentucky, Indiana, Tennessee, Villanova, Virginia, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Xavier, James Madison, and UNC-Charlotte. If that wasn't enough, he is also receiving heavy interest from Connecticut, Memphis, Louisville and Florida.

While the competition for Barton's services is extreme, the Panthers ace in the hole may be their current top 50 signee, Taylor, the best friend, as well as teammate of Barton last season at National Christian Academy. Barton has said that he would love to play with Taylor again, this time in college.

"It does help Pitt that Dante is there," says Barton. "Pitt is recruiting me very hard, they are No. 1, and Dante is always trying to get me there."

But Barton is not in any hurry to commit. "I could happen any time," says Barton, "but right now I am wide open. I haven't even made any visits yet and I would at least like to make some visits first."

Barton does know what he's looking for, at least, saying, "I am looking at academics, a program that is family oriented, somebody that will push me to the next level, and someplace that I can make an immediate impact".

Barton's offer list should only grow and the competition should get tougher. Lake Clifton is currently 8-0 and Barton says he is currently averaging 22 points and 12 rebounds a game. But only one college team is currently No. 1, which is why Jamie Dixon and his staff have been seen all around the country since they were deemed the best in the land.

Both Epps and Barton are top 50 prospects, something Dixon has only had four of since he has become Pitt's coach. The first, Chris Taft, was a star before leaving for the NBA after his sophomore season. The others, Sam Young and DeJuan Blair, are All-American candidates this year and will be first round draft picks. The other is Taylor, who should start at power forward next season and is considered a future NBA player.

All of this shows that Dixon is more than just a coach that can take a slew of good prospects and make them a team that wins a ton of games. He has proven that he can also develop elite prospects into elite college players, who also end up in the NBA. All he needs is a Top 50 prospect or two and he can be No. 1, as he is currently proving. Now all eyes will be on Pitt to see if Dixon can turn the program into one of the handful that will always have the players to be a national title contender. And for the Class of 2010 that starts with Epps and Barton.



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