Monday, April 29, 2013

Panthers land a lineman

The Panthers got their first verbal commitment of the recruiting season with 6'4" 290 pound offensive guard/center Connor Hayes of Traverse City West HS in Traverse City, MI.  Hayes has a reputation for being a tough, nasty offensive lineman, while also having good feet.  Other offers came from Indiana, Syracuse, Duke, Central Michigan, Western Michigan, Bowling Green, and Toledo.  Michigan and Michigan State were also keeping tabs on him.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Panthers strike out on Severe

The Panthers staff only got on Christ the King guard Jon Severe recently, and it proved to be too little too late as Severe chose to stay home and play at Fordham.

I know there will be Pitt fans who will make much more of this than it is, but it's not a huge deal- at least not yet.  Severe is potentially a good player, but he's not a program changer.  And like I've said before, he is a different kind of kid, one that doesn't just go for the best program, so it's not a surprise at all that he decided to stay with the hometown school that's been showing him love for years.

As for how much of a shot this is for Pitt, I look at it the same way as I look at the football program losing Troy Apke.  And that's that you can only keep score with recruiting when all is said and done.  If Pitt gets an equal or better player in that slot then it's not a big deal at all.  If they don't, then missing out would be considered a failure.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Pitt releases ACC basketball opponents for next season

Home:

Duke
Florida State
Virginia
Virginia Tech
Wake Forest

Away:

Boston College
Georgia Tech
Miami
North Carolina
Notre Dame

Home and Away:

Clemson
Maryland
North Carolina State
Syracuse

Thursday, April 11, 2013

A look at who Pitt basketball is pursuing now

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.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Shell prevented from schools

As a condition of his release, Rushel Shell has been prevented from transferring to Arizona or Arizona State.  Reportedly California and UCLA are two schools in the Pac 12 that he's considering.  Obviously, in addition to Arizona or Arizona State, he is also not allowed to transfer to any ACC schools.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The end of Pitt sports is not near

I know the Pitt fans are highly depressed right now, but let's look at the reality.  First the football program because that one really only lost one player.  Granted, Rushel Shell could have been a highly productive player for the program but it was far from the sure thing that people are acting like it is.  Shell was somewhat productive as a freshman, but he was also injury prone, got suspended just as his career started, and didn't take instruction.  I think the chances were just as good that he would have flamed out at Pitt.

On a larger note, this is one player out of 85 scholarship players.  And at a position that is not the end of the world if you lose somebody.  In the NFL, running backs rarely get picked in the first round anymore because they are considered interchangeable.  And the fans agree with that.  But for some reason when it happens to Pitt people go into hysterics.

Look, I'm not naive.  Shell could have run for 1,200 yards this season.  I don't deny that.  But in the last eleven years that Paul Chryst has run an offense, he had at least one running back gain 1,000 yards, including one year when he had two run for over 1,000.  There were eight different running backs in that span, and only one, Steven Jackson, was a first round pick.  And it's not just at Wisconsin either.  At Oregon State, Ken Simonton ran for over 1,000 yards under Chryst, and he was 5'7" and went undrafted.  Other nondescript players include Brian Calhoun, James White, and P.J. Hill, the latter a 2-star player that run for over 1,000 yards three times under Chryst.  Bottom line, running backs under Chryst almost always run for a lot of yards, whether it be Shell, Isaac Bennett, Malcolm Crockett, or James Conner.  Maybe none of the three will run for over 1,200 yards (though it's far from impossible, as history suggests), but together they can still get the job done in a Chryst offense.

As for the rest of the program, I expected Pitt to be around .500 again this year, with or without Shell, but if the 2014 recruiting class comes through, and that is very possible at this point, then the program's future actually looks very bright.  A possible offense that could include Chad Voytik or Travon Chapman at quarterback, Shai McKenzie at running back, Tyler Boyd at wide receiver, and Dorian Johnson, Adam Bisnowaty, Gabe Roberts, Mike Grimm, Alex Bookser, Jared Jones-Smith, J.P. Holtz, and  Scott Orndoff is potentially excellent.  And the Panthers either have those players already or have a legit shot at the rest.

This isn't pie in the sky dreaming. It's all very possible.  Now, if Pitt strikes out big time with these local stars, then it's going to be a problem.  But that's not the case.  If these players do join the program, people will forget about Shell very quickly.

As for basketball, the loss of Steven Adams, or any other of the players Jamie Dixon has lost, would not be devastating.  The problem is, all of them combined has the Panthers in a bind.  But the best thing about basketball is that the rosters are small, and any team can get good in a hurry.

I'm going to dismiss the rumors of any more players leaving because right now that's all it is.  For some reason there are some Pitt fans who love to be miserable so they will start, or repeat, any bad rumor that will make them feel better.  If any more leave then I will address that then, but for now it's all b.s.

Now, look at where Dixon can go for this season and beyond.  One potentially very big answer, in more ways than one, is 6'11" Nigerian juco center Joseph Uchebo.  A former top 100 player, and North Carolina State signee, Uchebo was also pursued by many other big problems, including John Calipari at Kentucky.  Unfortunately for him, he was not from the country and he got bad advice about what he needed to be eligible. If not for that, he would have had many major offers since he his considered a possible NBA player.

Uchebo was forced to go to Chipola JC in Florida, where Pitt often looks for players, and was a great success as a freshman with 12.3 ppg and 12.3 rpg while earning all-conference honors in one of the best junior college conferences in the country.  A knee injury, however, cost him the rest of his time at Chipola.  If he's now healthy, which he should be, he would be quite a nice get for Dixon. One college coach who saw him play told me, "He's very talented.  Definitely worth the risk".  He will visit Pitt in a few weeks.

Then there are players like Jon Severe and Jamel Artis, two players who would help the Panthers.  The competition for Severe is getting tougher and tougher, but the Panthers are a major player.  If Artis gets the grades, he's guaranteed to be a Panther.

But these aren't the only three players that will be available.  There are always others who at this time of year that become available. Sometimes it's because of a coaching change, sometimes a kid simply wants to change his commitment, or sometimes it's a kid who transfers, a fifth year senior with instant eligibility, or a prospect that gets reclassified.  Granted, there won't be a ton of highly talented players that meet any of those requirements, but any that do will have to consider Pitt to be a major option thanks to the ability to see time immediately.

Then let's not forget that Dixon has never had a losing record.  Like him or not, the man wins games- period.  Even if the worse case scenario happens, and Dixon has a losing record this season, it won't be for long.  He's simply too good of a coach.

Many fans love to be depressed for some reason, and a lot of the media are feeding off that hysteria, but the truth is, neither Pitt's football program or basketball program are going to be awful.  Dixon is too good and Chryst is too good.  Even a slight dip this year will be remedied quickly in the coming years.


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Steven Adams leaving for NBA

Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse for Pitt, star freshman center Steven Adams has decided to enter the NBA draft.

Trey Zeigler is transferring

Jamie Dixon has announced that Trey Zeigler is transferring from the team.  The acquisition was considered a coup for the Panthers when the 6'4" Zeigler transferred from Central Michigan, but it was apparent this season that he was not a good fit for what the Panthers were trying to do.  The program now has three available scholarships for next season.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Rushel Shell transferring

Former top WPIAL recruit Rushel Shell has decided to transfer.  In my opinion, at this point, it's for the best.  On the field, Shell was injury prone, out of shape, and was having trouble learning how to be an all around running back.  Even if he did physically got better and ran for a lot of yards, it was clear that mentally he does not have what it takes to be a feature running back. Being a cancer on the team would negate a 1,200 yard season.  The Panthers are better off with Issac Bennett and Malcolm Crockett combining for the same 1,200 yards, and being great teammates,

Pitt will be better in the long run. I know maybe people think that the team will be worse off this year, but we don't know that for sure.  When people think of Shell they are thinking of a 1,200 yard rusher this season who will always be there to get the tough yards.  The reality is quite different. He's proven that he's not somebody that can be counted on and for that reason he was never going to be what Pitt fans think he will be.

Bottom line, there are many reasons why a kid would transfer, and most of them are for understandable reasons.  However, I see no good reason why Shell would transfer.  One cannot say that it's because of his home life because Pitt is already the closest school to home.  And one cannot say it's because of playing time because he was already a starter.  He didn't leave to help his NFL stock either.  His NFL stock will be damaged, not to mention his personal reputation.  That means Shell leave for petty reasons and somebody like that is better off not being in the program because cancer spreads.