Q&A for February 23
By Chris Dokish
Q: How shocked are you that this team is now a top 15 team?
A: I'm very shocked, of course. Anybody who says they aren't are either delusional or biased. I had many people think I was crazy for saying before the season started that they would win 20 games and could slip into the tournament. Now they will end up closer to 30 wins than 20 wins which is unbelievable, amazing, insane, and any other adjective you want to throw in there.
Q: Do you and the other media now realize that Pitt has talent?
A: Nobody ever said Pitt didn't have talent. Of course they have talent. Every team in the Big East has talent. What I, or any other rational person said, was that they didn't have elite talent. And they don't. They have one player on the roster that was highly recruited coming out of high school, they have no All-Americans, no future pros, just one all-conference player, and no players on the All-Freshman Team. That means they don't have elite individual talent. Anybody who thinks they have great talent needs to take off the blue and gold glasses because only then can you truly appreciate what is happening in this program.
Q: How is Pitt doing this and will it carry over into the NCAA tournament?
A: I see them the same way they have been every year, both in the regular season and in the tournament. And that's that Jamie Dixon amazingly gets every ounce of ability out of his players, and he gets them to play hard and smart at all times. It seems so easy, yet nobody in the country does it as consistently as Dixon's teams, so obviously it's an amazing accomplishment. Thank God he is a nice guy because he has the kills of a cult leader in that he can convince his players of anything.
On the other hand, like other years, elite talent rises to the top in the tournament and plays just as hard as Pitt does in the regular season, and that's where Pitt's lack of elite talent will prevent them from getting past the Sweet 16 again. On the bright side, college basketball is not great this year and you never know if this team can keep surprising. May as well hope that the Cinderella season keeps going, right?
Q: How amazing is Jamie Dixon? Do you really think he hasn't had great talent all these years?
A: The answer to your first question is, pretty damn amazing. The answer to the second is that I think it's obvious. Put it this way, we all agree that Dixon is a great coach. That can't be stressed enough and even though that word is highly overused, if Dixon is not a great coach then I don't know who is. So let's look at it like this. If Dixon is a great coach and has great talent, he would have done better than one Elite 8 appearance in his six completed seasons. Isn't this common sense? You can't have a legitimately great coach with legitimately great talent and not do better in the tournament. He had two excellent players once and that was the one year he made it to the Elite 8. He just didn't have much behind those two. If Gibbs was as good last season as he was this season, the Panthers would have at least made it to the Final Four. But of course he was only a freshman then. It's always just one player away for Dixon and his lack of great recruiting always leaves him a bit short. That doesn't mean he isn't great at getting awesome kids who are tough, smart, give their best, and have good talent. It just means they don't have the elite talent that's needed to win national championships. But on the bright side, two seasons from now could be a national championship contender if things fall the right way. The young guys will be veterans then, Gibbs will be a senior, Taylor should be a lot better, and J.J. Moore, John Johnson, Isaiah Epps, and Cameron Wright will be very talented additions.
Bottom line, I understand that some fans get others fired up by twisting what I say so that they can use the "it's us against the world" thing (10 bucks says I get at least five emails saying some message board has a thread that reads "Doke says we have no talent"), but I think the Pitt program is nothing short of amazing and it's an honor to cover them. Just because I point out the fact that they don't have elite talent shouldn't get fans angry. What they should concentrate on is the fact that they have an amazing coach and amazing kids who win huge despite that. And that eventually I do believe the stars will align and Pitt will get to the Final Four- at least.
Q: Do you agree with Bob Smizik that Gary McGhee should not only win the Most Improved Player Award, but that the award should be called the Gary McGhee Award?
A: I don't even think McGhee will win the award, though he should. I think Tim Abromaitis will win it. I never even consider Gibbs for the award because he was already good last year. He was just a true freshman on a veteran team. McGhee and Abromaitis were actually awful for their first two seasons. McGhee actually had three fouls in one second one time and literally couldn't catch a basketball without it bouncing off his face. Now he has gone from awful, to passable, to a genuinely good player. His only real weakness is that he has no offensive game. But he is smart enough to know that and he doesn't try to do what he can't do. His rebounding is excellent, he can pass, and he is a very underrated shot blocker. He is also a sneaky good athlete who can run, and does so hard at all times. But the thing that impresses me the most is his stamina for his size. I never see the kid tired. I've said many times before that he was the nicest kid I ever interviewed, so I'm just very happy for him.
Q: You said in the past that you thought Maurice Walker would move on and not wait for Pitt, and now it's looking like that may happen. Do you still think that?
A: I know many Pitt fans aren't that enamored with Walker, but all you need to do is look at McGhee this year to see the benefit of having a big kid in the middle with some ability. One of the main reasons why the Panthers just beat West Virginia and Villanova was because those teams had nobody who could control a giant like McGhee.
But I never had high hopes they would get Walker. They definitely want to add him but I don't see how they can, especially if Moore is eligible. From what I'm hearing now, it's probably not going to happen with Walker.
Q: If the Panthers don't add Walker, what are they going to do for a future center? Leave Taylor there or add Desmond Hubert?
A: Finding a center is the main goal for the staff right now, but it's never easy. Adding Walker will settle it, but as I previously stated, that's more doubtful as time goes by. They would prefer to eventually move Taylor to the four, but they can only do that if they find a center. They see Hubert as a four so he isn't the answer, and he is a very long shot anyway. After that, there isn't much in the pipeline yet. They really like Jaylen Bond and Mikael Hopkins, but they are also fours.
Q: Outside of center, where else is Pitt looking for 2011? Any chance that Durand Johnson is still in the mix?
A: They would love to add Johnson but once again they are hurting for scholarships. I could throw out a bunch of other names they are interested in but since they may not have room for any of them, it's pointless right now.
Q: Do you think Pitt has a real chance at Omar Calhoun?
A: He's a 2012 kid, and quite the player, but it's way too early on him. For all we know, Tom Herrion and Brandin Knight may be head coaches somewhere by that time.
Q: Do you think Gibbs will make First Team All-Big East?
A: I think he will make Third Team.
And while I'm talking about Gibbs, let me say what I like most about him. Yes, he is best known for his shooting, but it's his all-around steadiness that I marvel at. Even in the games when his shooting is off, he doesn't compound the problem, like many do, by pressing in other areas. When the shooting isn't there he is still as solid in every other facet of his game as he always was. He doesn't press by continuing to shoot just for the sake of it (I'm looking at you Jeremy Hazell), and he doesn't let it effect his defense or floor game. He realizes that defense, hustle, and brains doesn't slump like shooting does, so there is no reason why you can't be consistent with that at all times. It's a great asset in a player, and very rare.
Q: What are your thoughts on Pitt going to the Big 10 and do you think they will be asked?
A: I addressed this before on here, but I think it will hurt the basketball and football programs competitively. And I'm not even sure that Dixon would stick around if the change was made. In fact, if I had to guess, from what I hear, he probably wouldn't. On the other hand, it's highly beneficial to the university as a whole.
As for being asked, I have no idea. I know Texas was the sexy rumor at one point, but I don't see how that helps them and I have since heard that they aren't even among the 16 universities under consideration. Notre Dame will never do it. That leaves Missouri as a real possibility and they are actively begging.
Bottom line, it's all going to come down to what others are doing. The Pac 10 wants to expand, then that will change things in the Big 12, which will then effect the Big 10, which will then effect the Big East. Pitt has to make sure they have a chair when the music stops. The Big East may not be able to sustain another body blow and if it means staying in a weakened conference, then they may have to try to get into the Big 10. But in a perfect world, I would preferably stay in the Big East, if the conference has no changes, because I think for competitive reasons it is best for the football and basketball programs.