Sunday, May 30, 2010

Q&A for May 31st

By Chris Dokish

Q: I assume Dave Letaio was the assistant coach that you were referring to a few weeks ago that Jamie Dixon wanted. Was Pat Skerry a big drop off?

A: Letaio was the coach I mentioned, but as my boss at NBE can attest to, Skerry was who I thought Pitt should hire. He has all it takes to be an absolute dynamo at Pitt and he will be an excellent head coach in the near future. It was another major statement by Pitt that they are in the big time. Not just anybody can hire a superstar assistant from a rival school. Bottom line, Skerry will make a big splash at Pitt.

Q: There was a big story about the two giants at Kiski being in Pitt's sites. One of them even got an offer from West Virginia. How good are these kids?

A: Well, put it this way. I have a better chance of getting a scholarship to play at Pitt and I'm 42 and out of shape. I told one Big East assistant that it was reported that WVU offered the kid, and he literally laughed and said, "There's no way in hell, but I wish they did". In other words, don't believe the hype. Even if one of these kids did somehow get a major offer, they would never see the floor. And Pitt will definitely not be that team.

Q: It was reported in the Post-Gazette that J.J. Moore is eligible because he can play in the Pro-Am at Greentree. Can you verify that?

A: He is still not eligible and being on the roster means nothing. From what I was told, it's still too early to say if he will eventually be eligible.

Q: With Skerry now the assistant there is a lot of chatter about Pitt landing Khem Birch, Andre Drummond, and Omar Calhoun. What do you think the chances are of the Panthers landing all three?

A: I don't know, maybe 1%. And that's being optimistic. I know some fans want to get all excited and I love the hiring of Skerry, but if some of the fans are going around talking about landing all three then I would be remiss not to say something. Better to have your hopes crushed now before you believe it too much.

The most likely possibility is Birch. It will be interesting to see how that one plays out. I could definitely see that as a possibility, but it's too early to say yet. Skerry was never heavily involved with Calhoun so he can't help much there. The person who is close with Calhoun is Rasheen Davis but he will likely be gone before Calhoun would ever step foot in college so I don't see how that will help either. Do the Panthers have a chance at Calhoun? Yes. Do I think they will get him? No. The competition will be too tough. Because of his great academics he will be able to pick his school. As for Drummond, forget it. He will be in even higher demand than Calhoun. But even if Pitt only gets Birch, that would be an excellent pickup. And if they get none of the three, they will still get somebody good. They usually do.

Q: Where were you at during the hiring of Skerry? Usually you are right on it.

A: I was in the middle of moving to Moon Township from New York City. I got the word but I was on the road at the time and really couldn't do anything about it. But I was very happy for the Pitt program when I heard.

Q: If the Pro-Am has no value, then why did you say that you will be there for all the games this summer?

A: I didn't say it didn't have value. It's a great thing. I just don't think there's a coach in the country that thinks that such leagues have any bearing on how a player will play in the upcoming season. In fact, every coach I've talked to on the subject has told me that exact thing. You have high school players, college players, and graduated college players playing, then even amongst the college players you have players from high major schools down to very small colleges. The disparity among all of these levels is great. In other words, if Lamar Patterson lights up a kid from Geneva for 40 points this summer, what exactly does that prove? It means he could average 40 ppg in Geneva's league probably but that doesn't mean he could average even 5 ppg in the Big East this season.

Plus, you have different levels of intensity. As an example, let's say that somebody like Keith Benjamin was playing in the league this year and he came up against Isaiah Epps in a game. Epps could be playing like a madman to prove himself and Benjamin may be just trying to stay in shape. The result would be that Epps would outplay him and everybody would assume he was better than Benjamin, when in reality Benjamin could school him at any time due to his experience and physical maturity. So what you would get is a skewed result. But that doesn't take away from the fact that it was fun to watch and that it was beneficial to Epps. It just doesn't mean that Epps is better than Benjamin right now and I think that's how a lot of fans would see it.

The benefits of the league, on the other hand, are many. It keeps the players in shape, keeps them out of trouble on some boring summer nights, and helps the newcomers assimilate to the increased speed of the game. In addition, it's great for the fans to see the players up close and personal, not to mention show their love of basketball by, in at least one case, pay for a team to exist. And that latter fact may be the most impressive thing about the entire league. Bottom line, I will be there and I'll be enjoying it just like it did in the past when I caught some games.

Q: Your cohort at NBE, Ray Mernagh, said that John Johnson will be a top 35 player soon. Is he crazy?

A: No, I've been saying for months that he is a top 50 talent. The kid is the deal real, trust me. And if you don't want to trust me, then trust Ray.

Read more!

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Q&A for May 3rd

By Chris Dokish


And like I said before, I have rewritten the questions for the sake of clarity. If not there would be too many incoherent questions that are written phonetically or in shorthand. And I also felt it was best to combine and edit questions, again for the sake of clarity.

Q: Any word on the replacement for Tom Herrion? What's taking so long?

A: Jamie Dixon is busy recruiting and he has been taking his time looking for an assistant. There's really no hurry. But if the replacement is who I'm hearing it will be, the fans will be doing cartwheels. I can't say any more than that because, well, you have to just trust me that I can't, but the fans will be very happy if it is indeed him. At least they should be. You can't please everybody.

Q: Why doesn't Dixon just promote Rasheen Davis?

A: Davis has a very bright future and, in fact, I wouldn't be surprised if he is on a staff next season (with Mike Rice at Rutgers?). If Brandin Knight wasn't the other assistant, I think it would be a done deal. But Knight has only two years experience as an assistant and Davis has none. That's just not going to cut it in the Big East. I said from the beginning that it will probably be a veteran who can be an associate head coach, and if what I'm hearing is true, that's exactly what it will be.

Q: How do you feel about Jaylen Bond? I hear he is another Nasir Robinson, in that he's a small forward who can't shoot.

A: I love the commitment of Bond, and if I thought he would actually be a three then I would also be a little dismayed about another three that doesn't have a great outside shot. Hey, down the road, he may be a three, but from what I'm told, he will definitely be a four for the Panthers. He is a solid 6'7", plays good defense, can rebound, is bull strong, and is athletic as hell. A forward combo of Bond and J.J. Moore in a few years (with Talib Zanna thrown in as well), could be one hell of a tandem.

Q: Is it just me or are the Panthers really recruiting at a higher level next season? That's unless you look at the current top 150 list from Rivals.

A: It's not just you. The last five of Moore, Cameron Wright, Isaiah Epps, John Johnson, and Bond are pretty special, in my opinion. A lot of that may have to do with the fact that none are big men who need developing, so it's pretty obvious the talent that each has (except to the Rivals national recruiting writer, I guess). Bottom line, the last five recruits the Panthers have landed may be the best five player stretch in their history as far as a combining athleticism, basketball talent, and Panthers-style mental strength. Every one should make Pitt fans ecstatic.

When DeJuan Blair was rarely in anybody's top 100, I told you guys over and over again that I talked to actual coaches who said he was a top 50 player. And I'll tell you this time that in my opinion, Moore is around 50, Epps, Johnson, and Bond are in the 50-75 range, and Wright about 100. But better yet, they all have very high ceilings. Somebody like Robinson was in the 75-100 range, but he was just a scrapper who everybody knew was never really going to be a star because of his weaknesses. Not to bash him because I never bash anybody with heart but it is what it is.

But any one of these five could really take off into something special. If more than one turns into something special, and the rest merely live up to their potential, then Pitt should go further in the NCAA tournament than they ever have. And of course this isn't even including some guy named Dante Taylor, who just happens to be a McDonald's All-American, a deadly shooting guard who was all-conference as a sophomore, a couple of promising redshirt freshmen, and the normal group of hard nosed role players. I get some fans all fired up because I say Dixon doesn't recruit at a Final Four level (which somehow gets turned into me saying he can't recruit), but he has definitely turned up the recruiting in the past few years thanks to Herrion and Knight (thank Herrion for the parting gift of Bond, by the way). If any Pitt fans aren't excited about the future of this program, then they simply aren't paying attention, because if I had to guess I would say that the future may be even brighter than the past.

Q: I saw that NBE had a power poll already. Did you vote, and if so, what did your vote look like?

A: I did vote and this is how I voted:

1. Pittsburgh- Scariest sentence in the conference- "Jamie Dixon has an experienced team".
2. Villanova- Most pure talent than anybody else in the league and it's not even close.
3. Syracuse- Even without Johnson, Rautins, and Onuaku they may actually have more talented players this season.
4. Georgetown- Wright and Freeman both have Player of the Year potential.
5. West Virginia- Some devastating losses in Ebanks and Butler, but Bob Huggins can never be counted out.
6. Marquette- Butler and Johnson-Odom return, plus some high impact newcomers.
7. Notre Dame- Harangody is gone, but the Irish may now excel by not always relying on him.
8. Providence- Some seriously good offensive talent, with even more coming, makes the Friars a potential sleeper.
9. UConn- Kemba Walker will have to do a lot because the rest of the team is young and untested.
10. Louisville- You can never count out Rick Pitino, but this is a team of unproven players at this time.
11. St. John's- A lot of experience and a new coach, but they are lacking the top level talent.
12. Cincinnati- He had his issues, but Lance Stephenson leaving still hurts a lot.
13. South Florida- Gilchrist and Famous are good enough to keep the Bulls competitive.
14. DePaul- This is where it starts to get ugly, but at least Oliver Purnell is a solid coach.
15. Seton Hall- The Bobby Gonzalez experiment was a disaster and now it's time to pay.
16. Rutgers- Dane Miller and nobody else, including a coach at this time.

And remember, that we were asked to vote with the thought that every player who is currently in the NBA draft will continue to stay there. We will do another one after the deadline.

Q: Any word on whether or not J.J. Moore will qualify?

A: The last I heard, I was told that for the first time that the chances were "realistic". That was the exact word that was used by a source who would know. From what I understand, Moore had to really work hard, then get the grades, and so far he has really worked hard. That's half the battle. It's going to be touch and go all the way but there is definitely a chance.

Q: What do you think the Panthers will do with their last 2011 scholarship?

A: Well, it's pretty obvious that they need a center and I know for a fact that they really want to land one. So it would be a good guess. As for which center, I'm guessing it's probably somebody most Pitt fans have never heard before.

Q: Do you see Pitt getting Desmond Hubert or Kadeem Jack to play center?

A: Hubert isn't even a center, he's a power forward. Jack may be able to play center. As for getting either, I would doubt it. Pitt has never recruited Jack hard. If he preps, could Pitt then go hard after him? Quite possibly. But if the likes of UConn and Arizona want him again in 2011, they will have a big leg up because they have been recruiting him much longer. As for Hubert, he is skinny and very raw offensively so he is very much a project. But there is one thing he does extremely well, and that's block shots. That's like being a left tackle in football or a left handed reliever in baseball in that it's a special skill that makes you very coveted. My guess is that he will wait to commit which will make him very much in demand.

Q: Do you see Pitt landing Mike Taylor or Myles Davis in 2011?

A: There's no doubt that they would love either but like I said before, they really feel that they need a center and that's the position they would love to land in '11.

Q: Could Ryan Rhoomes be a sleeper for the last scholarship in 2011?

A: He is a solid prospect, but from what I was told, he is not near the top of the list.

Q: Do you think Tom Herrion will bring his Marshall players to the Pro-Am in Greentree this summer?

A: I actually ran into Herrion and jokingly said that to him and he said he would love to and wishes it was closer. Of course, it's four and a half hours away, so that's not going to happen.

Q: Have you ever been to the Pro-Am in Greetree and are you going to be there this summer?

A: I have seen some games and I will probably be there for every game this summer since I'm moving back to Pittsburgh at the end of May.

Q: What does it say about the state of college basketball that a good guy like Jamie Dixon can't make a Final Four, but a jerk like Bob Huggins can?

A: You can dislike Huggins all you want, but the truth is, he is very well liked in basketball circles.

Q: Any word on whether or not Pitt will join the Big 10?

A: I have no idea. I would think if they went to 16 then Pitt would get in. I know a lot of people mention Notre Dame and Nebraska, but I'm told Notre Dame won't join. Nebraska may join because of the money the Big 10 provides. Missouri seems like a done deal practically. Rutgers seems like a sure bet, too, if they go to 16. That would leave two more and you would think Pitt and Syracuse would be in above UConn or perhaps Kansas. How about:

Big "10" East:

Penn State
Ohio State

Football strong teams for the most part (Pitt, Penn State, Ohio State, Wisconsin), basketball strong teams for the most part (Pitt, Ohio State, Syracuse, Wisconsin, Illinois)

Big "10" West:

Michigan State

Football strong teams for the most part (Michigan, Michigan State, Missouri, Nebraska, Iowa) and basketball strong teams for the most part (Michigan State, Missouri, Indiana, Purdue, and Minnesota as long as Tubby Smith is there).

Read more!