21 June 2011
I wasn't able to make it out to Greentree last night, and apparently I missed quite the show by one of Pitt's young power forwards. Khem Birch Talib Zanna was by all accounts dominant, with 26 points and nine rebounds in an overtime win. What seemed to impress the most was Zanna's ability to score from all over the floor, including long jumpers and post-up moves.
As for Birch, you can't help but feel for the kid who seems to have the weight of a fanbases' expectations on his shoulders:
"I'm a little nervous to be honest," Birch said before he took the court for his team's 69-63 loss to a team led by Pitt standout Dante Taylor. "I know what the expectations are and I am ready for them, but I just want to relax and play my game. I want to do the things I am good at and just get better."
"I know there is pressure on me, there is always pressure," Birch said, "and hopefully I can live up to those expectations. I haven't played basketball in two weeks [before Monday] because I had a lot of school obligations, so I'm just happy to get out there and start playing.
"The big thing is I need to get my confidence up and work on my cardio and getting in shape, but I'm ready for this challenge, I've worked for it my whole life."
Birch had a pedestrian outing matched-up against Dante Taylor with four points and five rebounds. He'll get there. No need for concern. The kid literally had his first day of college yesterday. He did, however, light it up defensively with eight blocked shots.
The other star of the night seemed to be freshman John Johnson:
Perhaps the most impressive performer of the night was Pitt freshman John Johnson. He put on a scoring clinic. In a losing effort, Johnson had 26 points, doing so in a variety of ways. He showed his range by hitting a fade away three-pointer and a couple of deep two-pointers early on. He followed that by aggressively driving to the hoop all game long. He also added two rebounds and one assist on a night in which he did not disappoint.
Johnson was matched-up on redshirt Isaiah Epps, who by all accounts more than held his own.
As for the veterans, they did exactly what you'd expect: Ashton Gibbs crushed three balls for 24 points and Nasir Robinson played in front of a crowd for the first time since the infamous Burtler foul:
"It's life," Robinson said. "Things happen. I'm not going to sit and dwell on that one play. I'm going to move on with my life and get better and prepare for my senior year."
Robinson received waves of support in the wake of the foul. NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley called. ESPN columnist Tim Keown praised Robinson for carrying himself with dignity after "one of the biggest NCAA Tournament blunders" in decades.
Robinson has dealt with adversity before. When he was a freshman at Pitt, his younger brother, Kareem, was shot twice in the lower back while walking into a Chester housing development. A bullet remains lodged a quarter-inch from his spine.
"Things have happened in my life," Robinson said, "that were worse than that (loss)."
Tough to not continue to be impressed with Robinson.
I plan on being there Wednesday so I'll have some observations on the players who didn't get a ton of ink on Thursday morning. Thanks to Mike, Allison, the Zoo and Pantherlair's Matt Steinbrink for keeping me up to date on twitter. It was just like being there, but without the crushing humidity.
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