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.