Jamie Dixon already had a very talented duo arriving next season with 6'8" PF Mike Young and 6'2" combo guard Josh Newkirk, but with recent defections, the staff now has four more openings. While I know a lot of fans would prefer that Dixon save some of those scholarships for next season, that's not the way he thinks. For that reason, if he can pull it off, I expect him to use all four.
This is just some of the more confirmed prospects that the Pitt staff is looking at, but there are plenty more that they are following. When Pitt's pursuit of those players gets more serious, I will add them to the list.
Josh Davis, Tulane graduate transfer- From Raleigh, NC and committed to NC State out of high school. Not highly recruited out of high school but played in ever game as a freshman and even started two games. Though he only averaged 2.6 ppg and 1.7 rpg, he endeared himself to many because of his hustle and tenacity. Fearing that then coach Sidney Lowe was recruiting higher ranked prospects behind him, Davis decided to leave for Tulane.
Rather than just sitting around during his non-eligible season, he improved his game to 11.2 ppg and 9.3 rpg as a redshirt sophomore. This past season, as a redshirt junior, Davis continued to improve to 17.6 ppg and 10.7 rpg, and developed other aspects of game, too, as his FG% went from 42.0% to 49.2%, and his FT% went from 54.3% to 71.6%. And if you think he only did well because he was in a weaker conference, think again. In the opener, he scored 27 points against Georgia Tech. He also had 19 points and 13 rebounds at Nebraska, 18 points and 12 rebounds at Alabama, and 13 points and 12 rebounds against Memphis. In the conference tournament, he played against Memphis again and went off for 21 points and 15 rebounds. On the season he had an incredible 18 double doubles, including 6 games of 15+ rebounds. And even though he wouldn't be called a shot blocker, he had a game at Central Florida in which he had 6 blocks. The only real negative is his sometimes sloppy play, which has resulted in an 8 turnover game against SMU, and a 7 turnover game against Alabama. His 2.6 turnovers a game is an extremely high number.
Now that Davis has graduated, he can transfer to another school and play immediately. One report has a quote from Davis's high school coach who said he just got off the phone with him and that Pitt was one of the four schools being considered, along with Gonzaga, Illinois, and Iowa State. It seems like an out of the blue list since usually a player transfers closer to home, especially when his home is in ACC country. There are many rumors that Davis will simply go back to NC State, an even more unusual move since it's almost unheard of for a player to go back to where he once transferred from. But there has been no actual reports that NC State is heavily in the mix, so for now everything is up in the air. If for whatever reason, Davis does not want to go back to NC State, and those are in fact his four options, Pitt being in the ACC, and a program where rebounding is featured, could make them a very attractive option.
How it would help Pitt: Needless to say, it would be huge if the Panthers can land Davis. He is a relentless rebounding machine which is exactly what Dixon loves. His signing would mean Dixon would move Talib Zanna to center and it would enable incoming prized freshman Mike Young to ease himself into college basketball by taking on a supporting role. In fact, if the Panthers were to land Davis, they are top 25 caliber again.
Jon Severe, Christ the King HS (Middle Village, NY)- Underrated as a college prospect, even though he was recently named Mr. Basketball in New York. A combo guard who is probably best suited at shooting guard. At 6'2", he's not the prototypical height for the position, but he has so many other skills that being slightly shorter is not much of a problem.
Athletic, with a good combination of skills, but it's his shooting that stands out most. He can make shots from all over the court, and is well above average from three point range. He also can get into the paint and score. He has the New York City moxy that Pitt has missed over the past few years. To put it simply, he's a winner with ice water in his veins.
He's currently down to Pitt, Wake Forest, WVU, and Fordham. Dixon has been relentless in his pursuit and is trying to get him to visit the campus. But Severe doesn't say much and it's hard to gauge exactly what he's thinking.
How it would help Pitt: With James Robinson and Josh Newkirk already in the fold as point guards, that position is not essential at this time. But Cameron Wright and Chris Jones are still question marks for the two spot, and Severe, with his excellent offensive game, stands out as somebody who would see early action for the Panthers, and would soon be a leader on and off the court.
Joseph Uchebo, Chipola College (Marianna, FL)- It doesn't take long to realize what Uchebo's best attribute is. That would be his 6'11" height. But he's more than just that. The Nigerian is very athletic and amazingly agile for his size. In fact, he runs and moves more like he's 6'7", and even dribbles easily through his legs in games.
The one time North Carolina State signee asked for, and got his release, from Mark Gottfried after he replaced Sidney Lowe. Uchebo had little chance of becoming eligible anyway as he got bad advice about how much of his academic work would translate from Nigeria to NC State. The likes of Kentucky, Indiana, and Florida State quickly swooped in, but it quickly became apparent that he was better off going to a junior college to become eligible. He ended up at Chipola, a basketball factory that Pitt frequents often. In his freshman season he showed his great potential by averaging 12.3 ppg and 12.3 rpg. A possible NBA career loomed.
But then Uchebo found out that he had a micro fracture in his knee, a sometimes serious injury that some players never fully recover from. Uchebo had offseason surgery after his freshman year, and despite his coaches trying to get him back on the court, he wisely decided to continue his rehabilitation first.
Uchebo, who is a former teammate of Josh Newkirk, will visit the campus soon. It will be interesting visit, to say the least. If he can prove to the Panthers staff that he's healthy, then Pitt may have hit the jackpot. He will still be raw, and it may take time to get back into playing shape, but as one college coach told me when he heard that Pitt was pursuing him: "with somebody like that you take a chance because he could be a force if he's healthy".
How it would help Pitt: The ideal situation obviously is if Uchebo is healthy and productive. If by some miracle Davis becomes a Panther, Uchebo can ease into the lineup at center with Zanna getting starter minutes. Uchebo has a nice offensive touch, is a strong rebounder and defender, and can really pass for a big man. All things that Dixon (or anybody else for that matter) craves in a big center. He has three years of eligibility but he may not last that long at Pitt. If he is healthy and takes off, then an early exit to the NBA is a real possibility. And if he's not a quality player, then academics and recruiting may force him out of the program. But like that coach said, there's simply too much potential there not to take the chance.
Jamel Artis, Notre Dame Prep- Even though he is currently playing at a prep school in Vermont, the 6'7" Artis is a Baltimore native. He has kind of fallen through the cracks somewhat in recruiting because he's a bit of a tweener, and because of academic issues. But the Panthers are no strangers to tweeners, and have stuck with him to see if he makes the grades.
While he can definitely play power forward, he may be best suited at the three for Pitt. He is not a spectacular athlete, but he is at least above average in that category. His shooting is also just okay. But his rebounding is very good and his passing is at an elite level for a point guard, let alone a forward. Very reminiscent of former Pitt star Jaron Brown in that he may not look flashy, but his combination of versatility, toughness, and leadership makes him somebody you really want on your team.
He has practically been a Pitt commit for a very long time, but that is contingent on his grades. The results should come soon and Artis is visiting the Panthers this weekend to see where he stands.
How it would help Pitt: I know this isn't the high scoring wing that Pitt fans want, but you need players like this to win, too. The problem with Panthers teams in the past is that they had nothing but these kinds of players, but even with nothing but players like this they would win a ton of games.
Sai Tummala, Salt Lake City Community College- Played high school ball in Arizona but turned down offers from smaller schools so that he could be a preferred walk on at Michigan. He redshirted his only season there but coach John Bielein raved about his athleticism and quickness.
At 6'7", Tummala has a good offensive game, especially from three point range, where the lefty made 40.4% of his threes this past season. But his defense, a Dixon necessity, is considered below average.
He has no visit set up to Pitt yet, but is visiting Nebraska this weekend. Also a 4.0 student. Has three years to play three years.
How it would help Pitt: While he may help the Panthers this year and beyond, especially because of his shooting, I'm guessing that he is more of a backup plan for Dixon in the event that Artis is not eligible.
Cameron Forte, Howard College (Texas) - Another Arizona native, he originally signed with Billy Gillispie at Texas Tech. He didn't last long there, however, and never played a game for the Red Raiders. He then tried to transfer to Northern Arizona thinking that he could get a waiver to play immediately. When he didn't he headed to Howard College where his former high school coach is an assistant.
At 6'6", Forte is a solidly built combo forward that can play the three or four equally. Not a great long range threat but has a nice touch around the basket. Averaged 23 ppg, which was good for third in the country. Excellent in close and made an incredible 63% of his shots from the field.
Will be visiting Georgia this weekend and is also considering Pittsburgh, as well as Minnesota, Colorado State, and Long Beach State.
How it would help Pitt: A 6'6" combo forward with touch around the net is never a bad thing. He would see time immediately at the four, I would guess, but how good he can be is really anybody's guess.
Achraf Yacabou, Villanova transfer- A one time top prospect, he chose Villanova over the likes of UConn, Kentucky, Oklahoma State, Maryland, and Wisconsin. However he could not play himself into the lineup with the Wildcats and averaged just 2.6 ppg over his first two seasons.
The Long Island native did make 39.6% of his threes in his limited time, and is considered a good defensive player.
Yacabou is interested in Pitt, Miami, UNLV, Georgia Tech, and St. Louis. Whether or not those same schools are interested in him remains to be seen,
How it would help Pitt: To be honest, other than another body, I'm not sure it would. Sure there's always a chance that he could make a giant step and be the player many always thought he would, but there is better potential already at the guard spot for the Panthers, Yacabou would also have to sit out a year.
There are other names being bandied about, such as Memphis graduate transfer Tarik Black, and Rutgers decommit Shane Rector, but to be honest, I don't see either coming to Pitt. Black is a head case but is being pursued by a lot of big schools. It seems unlikely that he will end up with the Panthers. And Rector is a true point guard, and the Panthers already have a better one of those. I don't see why Pitt would want Rector, and even more importantly, I don't see why Rector would come to Pitt to play behind James Robinson.