Monday, April 06, 2009

Pitt Basketball Notes

By Chris Dokish

DeJuan Blair is expected to announce tomorrow that he is declaring for the NBA draft. Before Pitt fans jump off a bridge, this is just normal protocol. He can not go through the next steps without first declaring. It is common sense that he will go through the process of determining his options. It does not mean he will definitely leave for the NBA.

You can scratch Sean Miller off the list of possible future Pitt basketball coaches, at least for the foreseeable future. If the reports are true, Miller could be getting as much as a million dollars a year more than Jamie Dixon is getting at Pitt. The rumored salary is so high that Pitt, never a school that paid huge money for a coach, would likely never be able to approach what it would take to get Miller away from Arizona. Sometimes that wouldn't matter to a coach. But it apparently mattered to Miller, who many basketball insiders feel is making a huge mistake by leaving an excellent Xavier job for an Arizona job that could initially have very bad teams. It's that factor that kept most of Arizona's more desirous candidates from taking the job.

As for Dixon, it is impossible to know just how much he thought about listening to the Arizona people about their opening, but this much is sure- he has now said no to at least nine different openings in the last three seasons, all of which would have offered him more money then he was getting at Pitt. The bad news, of course, is that eventually Dixon may get sick of getting less than the Sean Millers and Anthony Grants of the world. The new going rate for an elite coach is 2 million a season or more. Dixon is making about 1.5 or 1.6 million a season. There may be a time when Pitt will have to decide just how high they will want to go to keep Dixon. He is already the most paid coach in Pitt history, but like I previously stated, he is still underpaid, relatively speaking.

At Arizona, either Miller will succeed and be worth an even bigger fortune, or he will fail and Pitt would have to wonder if they would really want damaged goods. They have hired Dave Wannstedt, however, who was considered the poster child for damaged goods when he was hired so clearly being a "Pitt guy" goes a long way.

One candidate in the future could be Tom Herrion. Herrion was a successful coach already at the College of Charleston, he is an excellent recruiter with a great reputation in college and high school circles, he will coast half as much as the coach du jour, and like Dixon before him, he would carry on the same style of play. But that would only be if Dixon left soon, which is looking more and more unlikely, because Herrion will get a head coaching job soon. Note- For those who think Herrion is a source of mine, let me say that I have talked to the guy exactly three times in my life and I have had scoops on Pitt basketball four years before he even arrived at Pitt.

Apparently there was a KDKA-TV report stating that Will Coleman was heading to Pitt. That is obviously jumping the gun. Memphis has to hire a new coach, then Coleman has to decide whether or not he wants to stay, then, if he doesn't want to stay, he will have to get out of his scholarship, then Pitt will have to recruit him again. So Pitt is far from even talking to him and, in fact, are not allowed to talk to him until he is released from his scholarship. According to his coach at Miami-Dade, Coleman can get out of his scholarship without penalty, so if he does do that, then Pitt will probably come after him. But with Darnell Dodson being Coleman's friend, and Dodson not allowed to go to Pitt, Coleman may just decide to stay at Memphis.

Another rumor I was approached with was that DeJuan Blair has not been attending classes, and I guess it was then hinted at that this may mean Blair has already made his mind to leave Pitt. It is true that Blair has not been physically in his classes lately but according to Pitt it's because, like other elite players at this time of the year, it is because he is on the awards circuit. I was assured that Blair's classroom participation is not something out of the ordinary and it is nothing that would keep him from Pitt next season, should he decide to stay.

Speaking of Blair, I think intellectually it makes sense to go. He's not going to get taller, he's not going to play above the rim next season either, and he's not going to develop a jump shot. Does anybody seriously think Dixon is going to let Blair shoot a slew of 15 footers next season so that he can audition for the NBA? No way. These coaches, even those with great success like Dixon, think they are always a year away from getting fired. He will not let Blair leave the paint next year, and that's guaranteed. Also, if Blair stays, he could get hurt or he could show scouts that he is not progressing. Either occurence would hurt him. And even if he's not ready for the NBA, he is a First Team All-American and an unusual talent who would make a large fortune in Europe. It's not like he's going to be a ditch digger if he doesn't become a lottery pick. But there is always the emotional issue. Blair will never be BMOC again once he leaves Pitt. He will never again be as big of a star as he is at this level, and he will never again be able to play in front of all of his friends and family.

Looking at next season, the ideal situation would be for Blair to stay and Pitt still land Coleman. That is always a possibility and if it happened, Pitt's roster, 1-13, may be the most physically talented they ever had. The team would also be inexperienced at PG so they may still not be as good as they were this year, but Top 10 would be a very good possibility.

If Blair does leave, Coleman would be expected to take his spot, if he somehow does end up at Pitt. He and Dante Taylor would be intriguing in the low post, if inexperienced. The worst case scenario would be if Blair leaves and the Panthers don't land Coleman. In that case, look for the Panthers to have a small starting lineup of Travon Woodall, Jermaine Dixon, Gilbert Brown, Brad Wanamaker, and Taylor. There will be no true center in this lineup, as Taylor is not a center. But he would be forced to defend on defense from the center position and he will not be allowed to flourish offensively with opponents in the Big East taking him out of the game. Talib Zanna is also not a center and will probably not be ready to get a lot of quality minutes early next season, and maybe even all season. Don't forget that most freshmen big men do not excel right away unless they are top 30 or 40 prospects, at least. Likewise, Kyryl Natyazhko, who Pitt is far from landing at this time, would not start as a freshman for Pitt. Dixon will not start two freshmen in the frontcourt and three overall. Bottom line, the Panthers better have Blair and/or Coleman to pair with Taylor or he will not be able to properly flourish as a freshman.

Another thing I have been hearing from fans is that Pitt should "save" a scholarship for next year. That sounds great in theory but coaches don't think like that. They see every season as an audition to keep their job and they max out their team the best they can every season. That means all scholarships filled if you can do it. Plus, it's not so easy to save a scholarship next year to just get a Doron Lamb or Will Barton. Those kinds of players are hard to get and coaches never just assume they will get them. They will just try to land either the best they can and if they end up over 13 then so be it. They will worry about that then.

Lamar Patterson is making fans realize why Pitt was so high on him. He is in much better shape now, both leaner and quicker, and he has the makings of a very effective Big East small forward. His shot is only going to get better (the Pitt staff thinks he has the ability to be a "lights out shooter"), and now that he's in better shape he is even showing his athleticism more, as evidenced by his dunk over Tiny Gallon this weekend.

As the article under this one states, Isaiah Epps is looking more and more like a coup for the Pitt staff. He's a decent 6'2", he has long arms, runs like a roadrunner, and can really fill it up offensively. As a prospect, he has the most talent for a Pitt point guard since at least Vonteego Cummings, who really was a shooting guard that was forced to play the point at Pitt. If you don't count Cummings, there may not be a more promising point guard to ever enter the program.

For some reason, I still get people trying to tell me that Wanamaker or Dixon will be the point guard next season. I don't know how many times I can say this, but here it goes again- Wanamaker or Dixon will not be a point guard next season!!! Ideally, the staff wants Woodall to be the man. If he fails, then it would be Ashton Gibbs. Or Gibbs could just flat beat out Woodall. The staff does not consider Dixon or Wanamaker point guards and if they do end up playing the position next year, that means Woodall and Gibbs bombed unbelievably, and in that case, the season will be disastrous. And that's not going to happen.

While Woodall is obviously a huge question next season, two others are Gilbert Brown and Wanamaker. Neither has star ability, but both are better than they have shown so far. Wanamaker made progress this year, especially with his shooting, but he still too often plays like a bull in a china shop, complete with one on three fast breaks. If he can get that under control, he could be very good. Brown has the opposite problem in that he is not very aggressive and appears to lack topnotch basketball instincts. If he progressed from his freshman season, I didn't see it. It's naive to think Brown will automatically raise his level to match Sam Young, who has always been a much better prospect, and player, than Brown. Young used his athleticism as a weapon whereas Brown acts like he doesn't know what to do with his athleticism. He better learn quickly because Pitt needs him next season.


At 8:05 PM, Blogger Nick said...

If you had to guess what do you think the odds are we see Will Coleman in a Panthers uni next year? And does Isiah Epps have the elite ability of a Ty Lawson or is he just very good ala Levance Fields?

At 10:16 PM, Blogger Chris Dokish said...

Tough to compare a HS kid to two All-Americans, but I can say that at the same time in his career he is much better than Fields was and he is a little below Lawson. But he is going to play at a prep school next season, just as Lawson played his last year at a prep school. So he could develop just like Lawson did.

Just to compare him to Fields since he was a Pitt player, Epps is much more athletic, much faster, much better defensively, a much better shooter, and taller. Fields obviously had the savviness that made him special so we'll see if Epps has that, too. I think he will. He is a tough minded and mature kid. I will be very surprised if he isn't an all-star caliber player.

As for Coleman, it's too early to tell what he's going to do. All I know is that he can get out of his scholarship if he wanted and I'm pretty sure Pitt will go after him if he does. But Memphis just named Josh Pastner as their new coach today and he is a very young coach with excellent recruiting skills. In other words, I would not be surprised if Coleman stayed there.

At 9:16 AM, Blogger Dan said...

thanks for the insight. I agree that, emotions aside, Blair should leave Pitt. Harkening back a few years for comparison, he is a more athletic but less polished version of Craig Smith who plays about 20 minutes a game for the T-Wolves now as a 10 & 4 guy. I think he goes top 10 or 12 and if it doesn't work out, can go to Europe and have a very nice career there.

As for next year, I'm a big Wannamaker fan, who I think can give us 14-16 points/game, 6 boards and 3 assists as a 2; I don't think Gibbs is the answer at point, so it would either be Epps or Woodall I guess?

The bigger question for me is who takes over the leadership that LF and SY provided; I just don't see a "steadying influence" type of guy or a clock winding down, wants the ball in his hands guy. What do you think?

At 1:37 PM, Blogger Chris Dokish said...

The fact that Wanamaker improved so much from his freshman to his sophomore year is a good sign that he could be a very good player. He is a big, thick guard with good athleticism and very quick hands. He can rebound, he can pass, and now he can shoot. All he has to do is get himself under control more and he could be excellent next year.

At PG, Epps won't be at Pitt until 2010, and he is too good not to start to at that time. But in the meantime, Woodall has to bridge the gap.

Lastly, the leadership vacuum could be a major problem. Wanamaker, Brown, and Dixon are really the only underclassmen who will see time. That means there will be probably be NINE players on the roster who are either freshmen or sophomores. Yikes.

At 9:24 AM, Blogger Yinzer said...

Is there any chance that Pitt could possible get involved with Lance Stephenson again now that Blair is gone, and the Calipari switch has Lance unsure of his decision it seems. I doubt it, but I'm not sure there is any chance this will happen. Also, now that Pastner is highered at Memphis is there less of a chance of landing Coleman? Is Coleman less likely to leave because of this higher?

At 2:16 PM, Blogger Chris Dokish said...

They aren't going to get involved with Stephenson and I really doubt Coleman will leave. While they were keep their eyes and ears open for somebody that interests them, I don't think the Pitt fans should be waiting for a high impact player, if anybody at all. And that include junior college players. The staff felt they got lucky with Jermaine Dixon last year and as of now, at least, they don't see someone similar. So there's a good chance that this is it. But if they don't use it, that will keep open a spot in 2010 for possibly Will Barton, an another may open for a center if they feel perhaps that Gary McGhee would be better off elsewhere.

At 2:47 PM, Blogger jhaskins23 said...


You wrote an article awhile back where Adriaen Payne and his coach said they really liked Pitt, thought they would be a perfect fit for him, and would like to go to Pitt for an unofficial soon. Obviously he never took that unofficial although I recall reading they tried to get him to come to the Uconn game. Is pitt still making a strong push for Payne like they were when that article was written, and is Payne still as into pitt as he seemed to be when you interviewed him? His coach also said in your interview that Payne could decide by the end of the season but that did not happen. Do you have any insight into his time frame?

At 2:53 PM, Blogger Chris Dokish said...

I'll have to check on a time frame but Payne seems enamored with staying in Ohio. So much so that, despite being a top 20 prospect, he is visiting Akron.

At 3:09 PM, Blogger jhaskins23 said...

Yeah I saw that. I believe I read that he wants his grandmother to be able to see him play. While Pitt is not in Ohio it's only about 4 hours from Dayton. I guess if he is hung up on borders then we have no shot. However, geographically Dayton is as far from Pittsburgh as my hometown and closer than Philly by about an hour and a half. I guess I would rather he go to Akron than OSU but it still seems weird. I was reading on a Xavier board they though they had a shot but who knows with Miller gone. They also thought Cincy and Dayton had a chance.


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