Q&A for March 26 (Updated at bottom)
By Chris Dokish
Q: Maurice Walker was quoted yesterday as saying that Pitt now has a scholarship available. How did that happen and what does this mean?
A: As of now, I don't think it's as dramatic as it sounds. But, like I said, that's as of now. If I get info stating otherwise, I'll let people know, but as of now, the article was making it sound like somebody is leaving Pitt and Walker is coming in.
I look at it this in various ways. One, Walker may have misunderstood what the Pitt coach told him. That's definitely possible. Look at how many kids claim offers that they don't have. Usually they're not lying. They honestly believe they have an offer when in reality it was a coach using carefully worded language to keep the kid thinking they are interested, until the time comes when the team really has to make a decision on him.
In this case, that means that the Pitt coach may have led Walker to believe there would be opening. Why do that? Because, let's say for example, that Dwight Miller decides to transfer on his own. That leaves the spot open for J.J. Moore, right? Well, Moore is far from a sure thing as far as eligibility so he may not be there next year. But you won't know this until maybe two months or so down the road. But, assuming Moore is not eligible, and Miller has already left, suddenly you have a spot open. Hello, Mr. Walker.
Now, obviously this is not easy because Pitt would have to try to get Walker to hold off a month or two until they know for sure that Miller is gone and Moore is ineligible. But they don't lose anything by trying it.
The alternative theory may be too risky. And that's that they expect Miller to leave and sign Walker immediately. In this theory, Moore again has no scholarship available to him, and yet another player has to leave if he were to become eligible. Admittedly, it's probably less than a 50% that Moore will be eligible, but it's definitely not impossible that he does make it. And as far as I know, nobody is looking to leave, including Gilbert Brown (except for the obvious one that must leave if Moore is eligible). That's what I was told by a coach about two weeks ago. The only way this theory could work is if Moore is doing so badly in school that Pitt has given up on him being eligible this season, and I have not heard that either.
And, by the way, I'm not saying Miller is going to transfer. The fact that he has played little in his first two seasons would make him a good guess. On the other hand, he has already redshirted so unless he plans on going to a smaller classification, he may not want to leave. That doesn't mean he still won't leave. It just makes things much more difficult.
I guess what I'm saying in all of this is that it could go many ways and right now we just have to wait and see which way it goes because I have no idea what they are planning right now. The last I heard, Walker was probably not an option because there was no room. Then last night Walker confused everybody with his statement.
Q: You sparked some controversy this week by saying the Panthers won't improve much next season. Do you really feel that way?
A: I'm glad to know I got people riled up, and I didn't know that, but, yes, that's what I said and that's what I meant to say. But you make it sound like I said it about a poor team. They won 25 games this year. Next year, I said I would guess 28 wins and a Sweet 16. That's an amazing season. Could they make it to a Final Four? Of course. Any team that wins 28 games could go to the Final Four. But it's very unlikely, and I think anybody who thinks Pitt is destined for a Final Four next season doesn't understand what it takes to get there. Pitt has two bonafide college stars last season, not to mention one of the better point guards in the nation, and they didn't even get to the Final Four. That's how hard it is.
I wrote something a few months ago to show what it takes to get to the Final Four, and it was something like five top 50 players on average. You could have two or three also, but you need a superstar in there, too. Now this year, either Kansas State or Butler will be in the Final Four and neither have many top 50 prospects. Kansas State has two and Butler has none. But amazingly nobody had a lot of top 50 prospects in that region. Kansas State could actually get to the Final Four without playing a single team in the top six conferences. Pitt has one top 50 player and no superstar so it may be just wishful thinking. And that's what fans do and that's great, but the problem is, if Pitt doesn't go to the Final Four next year, the fans will complain that they underachieved. In reality, they wouldn't have underachieved, it was the fans who overvalued them. My advice, be happy with what will probably be a team that could hover around the top 10 all season, and should go to the Sweet 16. And then you can be ecstatic if it gets better than that. But don't expect so much and you won't be disappointed. Be pleasantly surprised. No matter how you look at it, it's going to be a great year with maybe even better years to come.
Q: Do you really think none of the players will improve?
A: Now, I know I definitely didn't say that. I'm sure every one of them will improve. The question is, will they improve enough to be a Final Four contender? It seems unlikely. Ashton Gibbs averaged 15+ ppg this season. Does anybody see him scoring 20 ppg next season? I don't. Brown may go from 10 to 14. I could see that. But that still doesn't make him DeJuan Blair or Sam Young, and that's the type of talent you need. Pitt has nobody at that level. Not even close.
One thing I get a lot in emails is how much potential and depth Pitt will have next year. You don't know that. Who do we know for sure are good players? Gibbs, Brown, Brad Wanamaker, and I'll even give you Gary McGhee. Then who? Don't say Travon Woodall. He is not good yet. Yes, he has potential and yes he could be good next, maybe even very good, but then again he may not. The truth is, while he has shown flashes and is cat quick, he is not a sure thing. Same goes with Dante Taylor. I stand my prediction that Taylor will eventually average 14 ppg and 8 rpg, but it may not be this year. Nasir Robinson is never going to grow or shoot at a high level so I think it's safe to say he isn't going to suddenly be a star. I hear fans tell me how great Talib Zanna may be, but guess what? He couldn't even see time at the beginning of this season when they badly needed help. That doesn't mean he won't be good. In fact, I think he will be good. He's just not going to be a star next year. He's pretty raw from what they tell me. The freshman are all going to be good, too, but I think there's a decent chance that Cameron Wright will redshirt and Moore won't be eligible. That leaves Isiah Epps, but he's not going to be an all-conference player as a true freshman either.
Q: How do you think the freshman will fit in next year?
A: I just touched on this, but Wright is long and athletic, and he has a bright future, but I could see him getting redshirted with all of the perimeter players the Panthers will have next season. He's a little raw still and could use a year. Even if he doesn't get redshirted, I don't think you will see much of him next season. Moore, I think has the ability to be a star, and could see significant time perhaps, but again, there's the eligibility thing. As for Epps, you guys don't ask too much about him, but I'm telling you this kid is going to be a really good player. He won't be redshirted as some have suggested to me. He has NBA talent and is already a little older so a redshirt won't be in the cards. But that wouldn't matter anyway because he should be ready to contribute right away. I think you will see him playing the point a lot early in the season because they want to give him every opportunity to shine. I'm guessing that Woodall will actually start, but if he doesn't take the bull by the horns, Epps could carve out some time. The kid is very quick, very fast, has great passing skills, and when he wants to, he can shoot the lights out. Possible big time player.
Q: Do you think the Panthers have a good shot at Omar Calhoun?
A: A shot? Yes. But I wouldn't fall in love with him too much. He is a big time prospect and a straight A student. He's going to have all of the biggies coming after him so it would be Pitt's biggest coup in a very, very long time.
Q: Is there really any way you could see Jamie Dixon end up at DePaul or Oregon? And do you see him staying here for his entire career?
A: The DePaul thing was ridiculous so I'm not even going to comment on that one. Oregon would be a possibility if they offered A LOT of money and from what I understand, that won't happen. Arizona had a lot to offer Dixon, including more money, and he still didn't think too long about it.
As for will he ever leave, I think it's probable that he eventually will. It's not like the old days when a coach didn't have many options and just settled in at one spot. The coaches these days have great agents, and they have NBA options, and more money, and all of that. It's something that the old school coaches never had. They both share the love of a challenge, but present day coaches can actually act on it. Not that I'm saying Dixon will leave soon. It could be another ten years for all anybody knows. The fact that he hasn't broken through in the tournament has stopped the elite programs going after him, and if he ever does break through, then it may be harder to keep him. But that would be a good problem to have.
Q: Do you see Tom Herrion or Brandin Knight getting a head coaching job and not coming back next season? What about Knight to Robert Morris?
A: Herrion has his name bandied about after every season and I'm sure it will happen again. Hofstra could be one possibility. Knight is just 28 and has only been an assistant for two seasons so he isn't even close to being ready. That doesn't mean Robert Morris wouldn't try to get him, but it seems like a stretch. I could see Rice asking Knight to join him at Seton Hall should he get the job. Knight will probably eventually leave, even if it's just as an assistant, because it's good for your resume to work with different coaches. Seton Hall would be the prefect opportunity for him since he knows Rice and he knows New Jersey. I'm not saying that will happen, but it does make sense.
Q: Have you heard anything about Nkereuwem Okoro or Cleveland Melvin?
A: Way too early on Okoro. He's a '12 prospect that will get monitored over the summer. Melvin they would have taken for sure if they had room, but they don't. I know there were some articles with him talking about Pitt, but just because he's talking about Pitt, that doesn't mean Pitt is talking to him. And they're not.
UPDATE: After spending much of the day investigating the Walker situation, it appears that my theory was right. What I discovered is that Walker did misunderstand what was said by the Pitt coach but that the Pitt coaches would still love to add him if there is a transfer and if Moore is ineligible. However, I was also told by those close to the situation that Walker would probably not wait and will probably end up at Minnesota. However, Tubby Smith could easily move on and maybe Walker will find that it's worth it to wait for Pitt. But no matter how you look at it, there will not be more than one player leaving, and it won't be a major contributor.