Q&A for September 18th
By Chris Dokish
Q: Jermaine Dixon was the only really experienced player on the team. How badly will the loss of him hurt?
A: Maybe very little since the staff thinks there is a good chance he won't miss a single game. He is in great shape and heals quickly, according to people I've talked to at Pitt, and they think a quick and full recovery looks good. And even if it takes him some time to get back into shape, he can shake the rust off early in the season before things get too serious.
Q: You seem very high on John Johnson. Why did the Panthers take another point guard when they already have Isaiah Epps coming in?
A: Two reasons. One, he was too good to pass up. Two, while he has point guard skills and can play the point, they think he will combine nicely in the back court with Epps in a few years.
Q: Is is a sure thing that Epps will be a PG and Johnson will be a SG?
A: Not all. There is a long way to go yet and nobody knows what will happen. I can tell you that if some day Epps and Johnson starts in the same back court, they expect Epps to run the point. That doesn't mean they both will start, though. And Johnson is a combo guard who will no doubt get minutes at the point in his career.
Q: With Gilbert Brown and Jermaine Dixon out for awhile, what do you expect the starting lineup to be?
A: I have no idea and the Pitt staff has no idea. They will wait to see who wins the jobs when preseason practices get underway.
I think it's obvious that Chase Adams and Travon Woodall will get first crack at the point and if both fail, then Ashton Gibbs will take over. At SG, that's Dixon's spot. No matter what happens, though, Gibbs will play a lot. The favorite at SF should be Brad Wanamaker with Nasir Robinson and Lamar Patterson getting minutes, too. When Brown comes back, they will have to see where they are there. By that time, he may find it difficult to get minutes from any of the three because all three are hustlers who will not give up minutes easy. Dante Taylor will probably start at the four or five. If he proves he can play at the four, then Gary McGhee will probably start at the five. If Taylor can't learn the tough four position yet, then I suspect Dwight Miller or J.J. Richardson will start there.
Ideally, I guess it would be Adams or Woodall at the one (since they are both pretty even going in it's pointless to pick one), Dixon at the two, Wanamaker at the three, Miller at the four, and Taylor at the five. That would leave Richardson and McGhee as the back up big men, Gibbs with a ton of minutes at guard, either Adams or Woodall at the back up point, and Robinson and Patterson getting minutes on the wing. And Brown will see if he can carve out minutes when he comes back, but I would not assume that he will. But that's only ideally, as in if everybody played up to their potential, that would be the best lineup. That never happens, though, so any starting lineup is possible, and I suspect it will actually change quite a bit this season.
Q: With Gary McGhee doing so well in the summer league this year do you think he could start at center over Dante Taylor?
A: Well, if McGhee starts this year and Taylor doesn't, then Pitt will not be making the NCAA tournament, because that will mean that Taylor either flopped or got injured. I like McGhee as a person and I hope like hell he proves me wrong, but he was a Kyryl Natyazhko signing away from playing somewhere else this year so I don't see how playing in a summer league filled with players from small colleges should suddenly fill people with confidence. Let's be realistic here. And before anybody asks, yes, I will admit I'm wrong if McGhee becomes a quality Big East player this season. And you never know, it could happen. Nobody expected much out of players like Darren Morningstar, Andre Alridge, or Jaime Petersen either.
Q: You mentioned that Pitt wanted a big SG before signing John Johnson but didn't they already get that with Cameron Wright?
A: I was coming home from the airport in the taxi when I wrote that and I didn't explain exactly what I meant. What I meant was that Pitt was looking to get a big shooting guard who can really shoot well from the outside. That's not Wright, because he isn't a great outside shooter, and that's not Johnson, because he's only 6'1". But that's okay because both are very good players, especially Johnson, who I think could be a star. I'm not one for hyperbole, but the thoughts of a possible future back court of Epps and Johnson is very exciting and I can tell you that people at Pitt are ecstatic over getting these two. And Wright is a fine player, too. The future back court is loaded.
Q: There have been some rumblings that Johnson may have trouble academically. Any truth to that?
A: No truth at all. He is a good student and he goes to a tough school. The staff has no worries at all about him academically.
Q: Does the signing of Johnson mean they won't go after Mike Taylor now?
A: They didn't sign Johnson, he's only a verbal commitment, but I can assure you they won't stop talking to Taylor. I don't know if he would be as interested in Pitt now, though. He really likes Pitt and the Panthers had, and maybe still have, a legit shot at him, but Johnson was just too good to pass up. If they left Johnson out there longer, he would be even tougher to get because he is expected to blow up even more. Then if they lost Taylor, they would have been left with neither. They just couldn't risk it. Not that Johnson is inferior. He may prove to be every bit as good.
Q: You wrote that small forward and post player are the two positions Pitt wants to add still. Does this mean J.J. Moore and Maurice Walker? And since both are 2010 kids, does that mean if they sign both that two players will be forced off the team?
A: That's obviously the two they have coveted the most, but both are far from sure things. Walker and his dad keep their thoughts close to the vest, even to the coaches recruiting them. The fact that he is a true center, and a big one with some athletic ability at that, makes him highly coveted. That will be a tough get. Many at Pitt are also thinking that Moore is becoming increasingly difficult to get also. Louisville wants him very much and Florida is entering the picture hard. I'd say both are under 50% at this moment, but that could always go way up very quickly.
As for who would leave, I don't want to get into that, but Moore has a lot of work to do academically and will probably be a 2011 kid.
Q: With Gilbert Brown being out for the first half of the season does that mean Nasir Robinson will stay at SF instead of moving to PF?
A: While things can always change, the staff has never wanted Robinson to have a lot of minutes at the four, and very much want him to stay mostly at the three. If he ends up starting at the four it's only because others failed there. They do expect him to get some minutes there, though.
Q: Where do you expect the team to finish in the Big East this year?
A: I started off having them seventh, but then was slowly moving them up. Now I am slowly moving them back down somewhat. I'd say seventh or eight. That seems very low for a Jamie Dixon team, but on paper, they probably aren't even that high. And by that, I don't mean they don't have talent, because they do. It's just that the Big East is not kind to inexperienced teams and this is a pretty inexperienced team. But the players and coaches are acting very slighted by how little prognosticators are thinking of them so that may give them the drive to do even better.
Q: You seem especially high of Pitt's recruiting classes recently. Does this mean that the program is moving to a higher level?
A: Time will tell, but with potentially elite players like Epps, Johnson, and Taylor to go along with potentially very good players like Gibbs, Patterson, Zanna, and Wright, the future is as bright as it's ever been. All of those players are either underclassmen or not even on the team yet. And there's still probably another wing and another post player on the way. If Pitt can continue their hot streak with those two yet to be named players then it's even more obvious that the train is just going to keep on rolling.