By Brian Batko
Each summer, the Pittsburgh Basketball Club Pro-Am held in Greentree gives the truly hardcore Pitt basketball fans a glimpse of next season's team. Growing in popularity every year, it offers an oasis of Pitt hoops right smack in the middle of the long and boring off-season. So without further ado, here's a player-by-player breakdown of what to look for from the Pitt guys (Pro-Am team names in parentheses) out at Greentree this summer (note: Tray Woodall and J.J. Moore will not be participating as both are recovering from off-season surgeries).
Dante Taylor (Steel City Tickets) – With many Pitt fans coming to the conclusion that Taylor, as he prepares for his final season as a Panther, is a lost cause, there might not be a whole lot he can do at Greentree to change those minds. He actually looked pretty solid in the league last summer only to disappoint yet again once the regular season rolled around, so what I’ll be looking for from (former McDonald’s All-American) Dante Taylor is pretty simple. I simply want to see him look focused, locked in, and taking the Pro-Am very seriously. He was the second leading rebounder in the league last year and Pitt followers probably expected Taylor to be dominating at Greentree by the time he was a senior, and if you’re as good as Taylor was supposed to be, you probably should. He’s going to have to prove to a lot of people – within and outside the program – that he still deserves a shot even with Steven Adams coming in, and he’ll get a chance to do that on the first night of the league when he goes head-to-head with Adams’ squad.
Talib Zanna (SPK Law) – Like his experienced frontcourt counterpart in Taylor, Zanna was relatively impressive last summer in this setting, looking like one of the top bigs in attendance. Some of that success carried over into the fall and winter and some didn’t. At this point in his Pitt career, I’ll be looking for Zanna to be more physically imposing this summer at Greentree. We know he has the skills, we know he has the athleticism, but he’s never been a grinder in the post like past Panther power forwards. It also wouldn’t hurt to see the redshirt junior continue to make strides in terms of his face-up game and high post skills. He shot the ball from the free throw line and out pretty well last summer and hopefully he’ll show that side of his game again.
Lamar Patterson (PGT Trucking) – Undoubtedly one of Jamie Dixon’s most significant pieces for 2012-2013, Patterson’s Greentree performance last June and July was awfully similar to his regular season play – solid, steady, consistent, and effective. In many ways, the goal for Patterson in the Pro-Am should be pretty simple – be the best player on the court night in and night out and let the success of his rookie Panther-laden team reflect that. He’ll be surrounded by Adams, Trey Zeigler, and James Robinson, three guys that he’ll be flanked by at times 5 months from now, and this will be Pitt fans’ first glimpse at how Patterson fares as the centerpiece of next year’s club.
John Johnson (SPK Law) – Given his exhilarating play at times last summer, we already know he can thrive in the style of play that goes hand-in-hand with the Pro-Am, which is why it would be nice to see the sophomore guard show improvement in some of the less-heralded aspects of the game. His defense – on the ball and away from it – was a big point of concern last year when he was on the court so that’s an area where progress would certainly be welcomed. In his freshman year he did a surprisingly good job of playing under control and within the offense so it would be nice to see him blend together his pick-up style mindset and also a more “realistic” mentality when he takes the court in the Pro-Am this summer. And of course, as is always the case with young combo guards, we’ll look to see how his outside shooting, ballhandling, and decision-making is coming along.
Durand Johnson (Steel City Tickets) – In a lot of ways, it’ll be important for Johnson to just “look the part” of a Big East/ACC player this summer. After redshirting last year, he’s flying very under-the-radar and with the wealth of depth on the wing, he may not play much this upcoming season either. But last year at Greentree, he almost looked more like an offensively raw, athletic slasher than he did a deadly outside shooter as his reputation preceded. Hopefully this summer Pitt fans will see Johnson for what he was known as coming out of high school – a wing that is lethal from downtown and can really score, a commodity this program can always use more of. And hopefully for Johnson, he’ll show that he’s still very much a factor on this roster moving forward even if that’s not the case for 2012-2013.
Cameron Wright (UPMC) – Pretty much anyone that watched Wright on the floor last year could tell you what they’d like to see out of the redshirt sophomore this summer, and that’s a player with much more confidence and offensive acumen. So far he’s offered little to no help to his teammates from an offensive standpoint, so trying to put the ball in the hoop should be something he focuses on throughout the Pro-Am. It would also be encouraging to see him take steps toward becoming the shutdown on-ball defender many Pitt fans believed he could be.
Malcolm Gilbert (UPMC) – Gilbert is to “polite” as the Dos Equis man is to “interesting.” There really might not be a nicer guy in the world than the sophomore center, which isn’t necessarily a great trait on the hardwood. Seeing him work up a little bit of a mean streak and showing some actual aggression out on the court would be fantastic. He also looked lost at times during his freshman season (something that could be said of many freshman big men) so an angrier, more court-aware Malcolm Gilbert would be a vastly improved Malcolm Gilbert.
Steven Adams (PGT Trucking) – For many, just seeing the one they call “Tower D” take the court with and against his future teammates will be enough. But man would it be great to see the big guy dominate the other post players in the league. From the little I’ve seen of him on TV and in-person, some of the major aspects of the game he has to work on are his overall aggressiveness/activity, developing a few post moves, team defense, and rebounding. Obviously the kid has it all, it will just be a matter of him putting it together and seeing him do so at Greentree would be impressive.
Trey Zeigler (PGT Trucking) – The main thing that sparks curiosity when it comes to Zeigler is how he’ll mesh with Adams, Patterson, and Robinson on the PGT team. He’ll likely get the opportunity to handle many of the same responsibilities he’ll shoulder during the real season – handling the ball, scoring, and making plays – so we’ll see what he looks like playing alongside more talent than he did at Central Michigan. At his old school he was “the man.” Will he figure out how to fit in with new teammates while still doing all the things he can do at a high level?
James Robinson (PGT Trucking) – Though Robinson will miss opening night, that will give the diehard Pitt folks a second highly-anticipated debut when he does return from his stint with the USA U18 team in Brazil. By this point, much has been made of Robinson’s ability to control the pace of the game and run a team but it will be reassuring to see those attributes up close and personal. Also, how will Robinson fare among current and former college players from an athletic standpoint? He may be an elite floor general but he’s not an elite athlete. So far in his career he’s been able to compensate for a relative lack of explosiveness by virtue of his basketball IQ and other skills and it will be fun to watch and see how that translates to the next level.
Chris Jones (SPK Law) - Somewhat similarly to Durand Johnson, the big thing Pitt fans will probably be looking for from Jones is just that he look the part of a major conference player. Some were skeptical of the staff offering Jones a scholarship when he was still, for the most part, a lightly recruited prospect but plenty of analysts and scouts claim Jones is underrated and a late bloomer. It'd be pretty absurd to expect Jones to be anything close to an impact player right away but as long as he can show the potential to be a valued contributor in two or three years, it'll be a successful summer for him.
More info on the Pro-Am, including full schedules and rosters, can be found at the Pittsburgh Basketball Club website:no comments
Buddy the Elf is really, really excited this weekend. First, Zach Challingworth committed to Pitt on Friday of this weekend. Today, Pitt picked up a commitment from 4* New Jersey running back Corey Clement.
Clement had 14 BCS school offers, including Florida State, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Nebraska, Miami, and Penn State...just to name a few. Scout.com lists him as the #27th RB in the class of 2013 and has this to say about him:
An instinctive runner with good hands, Clement has very little wasted motion. He is smooth in and out of his cuts. He has good vision and patience setting up his blocks. He'll fight for yardage in traffic without trying to do too much. Clement is a capable blocker in pass protection, a skill that should help his transition to college. Lacks the extra gear in the open field, but gets the most out of each of his carries - Scott Kennedy
I'm sure deciding between all of those offers wasn't easy. What may have helped is that Clement even received an endorsement for Pitt from former Virginia Tech and current Philadelphia Eagles QB, Michael Vick.
"My dad knows a guy who knows (Philadelphia Eagles quarterback) Mike Vick's bodyguard, so he set something up where we had diner and then sat down later and talked for a little while," Clement told Panther-Lair.com. "We were talking about picking a college and what I should do, and Mike Vick said he saw my highlight tape and said I should go to Pitt."He said, 'You run just like (Eagles running back) LeSean McCoy, and he went to Pitt. You should go there, too.'"Vick wasn't the only Eagle to draw the McCoy comparison."I met a few of the players and the coaches, and (Eagles head coach) Andy Reid came over and said, 'Was that you on the highlight tape?' I said yes, and he said I reminded him of LeSean."LeSean McCoy is my idol. I've been following him since he was at Pittsburgh. It was ironic that they said to go to Pitt, because I was already thinking about Pitt a lot."
It's nice to see the new coaches establishing ties back in the great state of New Jersey, where Pitt has had great success recently with both Dion Lewis and Ray Graham (both recruited by NJ native Jeff Hafley). With his addition, Pitt will head into the ACC with a backfield consisting of Rushel Shell, Corey Clement, and Isaac Bennett. Not too shabby.
Welcome aboard Corey. Hail to Pitt.no comments
Well that did't take very long. As Bryan mentioned yesterday, Zach Challingworth committed to Toledo on Tuesday but quickly decommitted on Wednesday after receiving an offer from Pitt. This afternoon, Challingworth made it official and committed to the Panthers. Buddy the Elf likes this, very much.
A 2* recruit, all of Challingworth's offers were from MAC schools, excluding Pitt and Temple. However, he does have good size (6'2", 185lbs) and speed (4.43) and marks the first WR in Paul Chryst's first class.
Hopefully this is just the beginning of a committment-filled summer as 4* OT Dorian Johnson and 4* QB Tra'von Champan both are prepared to announce their decisions soon. Fortunately for us, both appear to be Pitt leans.
Stay tuned.no comments
RAY GRAHAM. ISAAC BENNETT. RUSHEL SHELL. READY, GO! ESPN's BIG EAST blog takes a look at the Panthers' backfield for this upcoming season, and how Paul Chryst might handle the rotation of the three.
NCAA SAYS PITT BASKETBALL IS GOOD IN SKOOL. The NCAA released their latest APR ratings, and Pitt once again ranked in the top 10 percent of 336 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball programs.
ASHTON GIBBS HEADS TO INDIANAPOLIS. For a workout atleast. Gibbs has also worked out for the Heat, Clippers, Spurs, and Nets.
LAMAR PATTERSON TO PLAY THE 4? That's what Jon Rothstein is saying of Patterson, who has reshaped his body and worked on his outside shot since the CBI ended. Rothstein also says that James Robinson has been outstanding for the USA U18 team, and has a shot at being the starting point guard.
THINGS WE'RE GLAD THE PITT PATHFINDERS DO NOT DO. Yes, I know. This is the second time this week I've posted a video for this song, but this is just so so bad. This would make me leave TCU before ever starting there...it's OK, that's what they do there at TCU.
THE TALLEST EDUCATIONAL BUILDING IN THE WESTERN HEMISPHERE. The Cathedral of Learning, the centerpiece of the Pitt campus, built out of LEGOs.
IF HE DIDN'T HAVE BAD LUCK, HE WOULD HAVE NO LUCK AT ALL. It was only a couple days ago that we linked an article about Greg Romeus trying to earn a spot on the Saints roster. Unfortunately, Romeus tore his ACL and MCL in his non-surgically repaired knee when running down the field in practice.
DAHN ON THE SOUSIDE. ESPN BIG EAST blogger Andrea Adelson ranked the football facilities of the eight BIG EAST schools. Pitt came in tied for 4th because their world class facilities "are not technically theirs" and off campus. UCONN, whose football stadium is 21 miles from campus (17 miles further than Heinz Field) came in 2nd. Keep up the good work Andrea.
GEOGRAPHICALLY ASSIGNED DIVISIONS IS CRAZY TALK. Atleast that appears to be the thought of the ACC leaders after Florida State's president suggest altering the recently assigned 7-team divisions once Syracuse and Pitt join the league.no comments
South Fayette receiver-defensive back Zach Challingsworth made a verbal commitment to Toledo Tuesday, but the commitment didn't last long after Pitt got more involved.
After Challingsworth committed to Toledo, Pitt got him to make a visit today. The Panthers had been showing interest, but had not offered a scholarship - until today.
Challingsworth said this evening that he has not made a verbal commitment to Pitt, but he said he did call Toledo tonight to "de-commit."
It sure seems like Pitt was trying to "slow play" Challingsworth and he turned the tables on the coaches by committing to Toledo.
Challingsworth is a two star recruit that has offers from most of the MAC.
It seems like he'll end up a Panther.no comments
PLAYOFFS? DON'T TALK ABOUT PLAYOFFS. In the ongoing saga that is the conference commissioners determining what the playoff format will be that replaces the BCS, ACC Commissioner John Swofford has taken a stand. He's OK with one format, but is also OK with another.
JOHN SWOFFORD IS THE DUDE. Talks of Florida State and Clemson have simmered recently. However, regardless of what happens to the ACC in the future, John Swofford is the right man to maintain the ACC as a viable league.
RANKINGS, RANKINGS, AND MORE RANKINGS. CBS Sports has ranked the basketball recruiting classes within each of the conferences. Getting Steven Adams and James Robinson is good enough for 3rd in the BIG EAST, behind Providence and Syracuse respectively. The ranking does not take into account transfers such as Trey Zeigler.
A FACE FOR RADIO. This week, Paul Chryst joined the fellas on 93.7 The Fan in studio to discuss the upcoming season. Take a listen if you have some time.
PENNSYLVANIA, KEEPING EDUCATION AFFORDABLE! In a recent national survey, Penn State and Pitt ranked as the two universities with most expensive in-state tuition for a four-year public university. All that money for a History or Psychology degree your kid will probably never use!
THIS MAN ONCE COACHED UNDER DAVE WANNSTEDT. Paul Rhoads, now head coach of Iowa State and once the defensive coordinator of Pitt under Walt Harris and Wanny (think 13-9), has grown some mighty fine facial hair.
Pitt will once again be represented on Team USA's Under 18 team this year. Incoming Pitt freshman James Robinson was one of 12 players selected to compete for America in Brazil next week. His high school teammate - and Syracuse signee - Jerami Grant was also selected to participate. Including Robinson and Grant, half of the players selected for the team are committed to current or future ACC schools, with Pitt, Syracuse, Duke, North Carolina, North Carolina State and Maryland each having a player on the team.
Robinson is following in the footsteps of Ashton Gibbs, who by all accounts had a great experience representing Pitt and America for the U19 team before his sophomore season, eventually winning the gold medal with the Jamie Dixon coached team. Hopefully Robinson will have a similarly positive experience.
The games begin Saturday at 3:00 EDT against the Virgin Islands. The team is being coached by Billy Donovan, with help form Mark Few and Shaka Smart.
Oh, and Robinson and Grant have another teammate, center BeeJay Anya, who's working with the Under 17 team right now. Anya might be the best of three Dematha players when it's all said and done. His recruiting has blown up recently, but it sure would be nice if he followed his friend James to Pittsburgh.no comments
BETTER LATE THAN NEVER. The BIG EAST has just filed a suit against TCU for exiting the conference without paying the $5m exit fee (or playing a game).
UCONN'T TOUCH THIS. A female NBA employee is suing UCONN Women's coach Geno Auriemma for making unwanted advances towards her on a 2009 Team USA trip. She claims Auriemma tried to blackball her career when she said no.
KEEPING ON THE TOPIC OF LEGAL TROUBLES. A sad weekend near Auburn University as two former football players were shot and killed. Two suspects have been arrested, one remains at large.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL'S NEW HIRES. Sporting News ranked the Top 7 new head coaches by their chances of success in their first year. Paul Chryst came in at #7. Todd Graham did not make the list, but Charlie Weis came in 3rd. I guess they rate success in Kansas by ones ability to eat a 96oz. steak in a single sitting.
AND THE SEARCH BEGINS. The BIG EAST has hired a search firm to find their next commissioner. Talk about a fun job...not only will the new commish have to find balance between basketball only schools and football/basketball schools, but also football only schools...across three time zones.
SO NOT COOL. Our friends over at the Card Chronicle are running a bracket for "The 2011-12 Least Cool Person Tournament." The current matchup places local Louisville newspaper The Courier-Journal against Pitt Chancellor Mark Nordenberg. Hey, it's not his fault you guys didn't accept that ESPN TV Contract. Oh wait...no comments