Tuesday, April 22, 2014

How Jamie Dixon fills out his roster

It seems like every recruiting cycle has Pitt fans confused about what Jamie Dixon is doing with the roster, most specifically who is coming, who is going, and why he take certain players. Let's explain how this works.

1. Dixon believes in filling the roster every single year. This is important to those that think he will save spots for the following year, or that he takes too many lesser recruited players.

2. The truth is, every program, even programs like North Carolina and Duke, take kids that are lesser recruited than others. Nobody fills up a roster with elite prospects. Admittedly, Dixon has gone heavy with developmental prospects in this recruiting cycle. Probably too heavy. But if any of those players don't end up developing then they will be gone. 

3.  A scholarship is for one year only. If a player is not good enough he will move on to someplace else. I know many feel this is cruel, but a kid wants to play, and if he's not good enough to play at Pitt then he will not want to stay any way.  

4.  Looking at the lesser recruited players over the last six seasons:

2009: J.J. Richardson- A late signee to finish off the roster. He didn't work out and transferred out.

2010:  Isaiah Epps- A one time top 50 prospect that didn't develop past his sophomore year in high school. Had potential as a passer and shooter, but he didn't work out and transferred. 

Cameron Wright- A one time Ohio State commit that the Panthers added him after he became available again. He's become a good contributor, even becoming a starter. 

2011: Malcolm Gilbert- Took a chance on a 7'0" center, something that every school will always do, and he eventually transferred out.

John Johnson- Probably lacked too much to be a starter, but could have been a good four year combo guard in reserve, at least. But he also transferred out.

2012:  Chris Jones- Another late riser that was signed late. Athletic and 6'6", worth a shot, and may still end up being a productive part of the team.

2013: Joseph Uchebo- Late signee who was a former NBA quality center that had a bad leg injury. Took a shot to see if he would get healthy. It was a long shot but it's not like he would take a roster spot for three years if he does not pan out physically. 

Detrick Mostella- No, he's not Sasquatch, he really does exist. Big time talent that had major grade issues. Even after a year in prep school his arrival seems unlikely. But once again, it was worth a shot. Like Uchebo, since he was a late addition it was him or nobody, so it's worth the gamble. And I put him in this list because by the time Pitt recruited him he had limited options because of his eligibility questions.

2014: Shaq Doorson- I admit I'm not a huge fan of this signing, but he's a giant man so he could theoretically develop into a bruiser in reserve. Not every player has to be a star. If he can be a presence in the middle in reserve then he's a plus. Worse case scenario, he doesn't pan out and goes back to play overseas.

Tyrone Haughton: He doesn't give you any offense at all, but he's an exceptional shot blocker who will help the Panthers with a much needed defensive presence in the paint.

Cam Johnson- Another late signee that's 6'7" and could probably be 6'9" by the time he's done growing. May never be a star, or even a starter, but a potential 6'9" kid that can shoot well is somebody worth taking a shot on.

Ryan Luther- Very similar to Johnson in that he's already got good size at 6'8", but there's talk that he may actually grow to 6'10". A 6'8" power forward with solid all around skills is one thing, but a 6'10" power forward with solid all around skills is another story all together. Worth a shot.

5. Of the above list, three between 2009-2013 were late signees that were made to fill up the roster. I didn't include 2014 yet since we don't know yet what will happen with that class. Of the three players in the five years mentioned, Jones has only completed his redshirt freshman year, and though he shows some promise, it's unknown which way his Pitt career will go. Uchebo will likely not be in the program for long, and Sasquatch never arrived, and probably never will. 

6. In the same period, the five lesser recruited players that were not taken early were Richardson, Epps, Wright, Gilbert, and John Johnson. Four transferred out of Pitt with only Wright making a contribution to the program.

7. With so many misses, it's a wonder that the Panthers have been so successful. But that's the point. Attrition at the bottom end of the roster, with lesser recruited players, is natural. Now look at the players in the same time period that were more coveted prospects.

2009: Lamar Patterson- A solid four year player and an all-star in his senior season.

Dante Taylor- The McDonald's All-American did not live up to his lofty ranking but at least he was a solid, if very unspectacular, reserve for four seasons.

Talib Zanna-  Solid four year player who had a very good senior season.

2010: J.J. Moore- Solid three year reserve before transferring in his last season.

2011: Khem Birch- Big time recruit didn't even last a full season before transferring out.

Durand Johnson- Just coming into his own this past season before blowing out his knee. If he recovers he should be an important part of the team for his last two seasons.

2012: Steven Adams- A gem that was found by Tom Herrion and Jamie Dixon in New Zealand. Left for the NBA after one season.

James Robinson- Two year starter and could be a four year starter.

2013: Jamel Artis- Showed in his freshman season that he has a very bright future.

Josh Newkirk- Had a nice freshman season and could be a star in the future.

Mike Young- Started as a freshman and should be a four year starter at power forward. 

8.  Of these higher ranked prospects, you can tell why Pitt wins games. Birch transferred out early, but Patterson, Taylor, Zanna, Moore, Johnson, Adams, Robinson, Artis, Newkirk, and Young have all contributed to a lot of victories.  

9. If one was to go back before 2009, the higher ranked prospects include Aaron Gray, Chris Taft, Keith Benjamin, Tyrell Biggs, Levance Fields, Sam Young, Gilbert Brown, DeJuan Blair, Brad Wanamaker, Ashton Gibbs, Nasir Robinson, and Travon Woodall. 

10. Before 2009, lesser recruited players include Jermaine Dixon, Dwight Miller, Cassin Diggs, Gary McGhee, Austin Wallace, Doyle Hudson, Antonio Graves, and Dante Milligan.  

11.  The disparities between the higher ranked prospects and the lower ranked prospects is huge. 

12.  What this tells us is that the CORE of the team is what wins games. For next season the core will at least be Robinson, Wright, Young, Artis, Jeter, Newkirk, and Johnson. That's a core of seven productive players, which is good enough to win a lot of games. And six of the seven will be back for multiple years making the bottom half of the roster even less important.

13. For comparison, the 2008-09 Elite Eight team had a top rotation of Blair, Young, Fields, Dixon, Biggs, Wanamaker, and Gibbs, but really the top three of Blair, Young, and Fields were much better than the other seven at the time. Biggs, a starter at power forward, averaged only 6.8 ppg.  The reserves were Wanamaker (5.8 ppg), Brown (5.4 ppg), and Gibbs (4.3 ppg). Those three would eventually become very good players in their own right, but they weren't during this season. The remaining four scholarship players did even less- Woodall (1.7 ppg), McGhee (1.2 ppg), Robinson (1.2 ppg) and Miller (redshirt). 

What this all tells us is that it's the core of the roster that wins games, not the players at the end of the bench. So when Dixon fills out his roster with a late project, or even an early project, it's not the end of the world. As long as Pitt has a strong core the team will win a lot of games. And if any of the projects don't make it into the core, there's no reason to worry because there's always a project to replace him when he moves on. Bottom line, success depends on the players on the floor, not the players who those players hone their skills against in practice. 


  1. Your core seven in paragraph 12 lacks a big man. Therefore, one of the four project bigs has to break through. I do not hold out much hope for Randall, Uchebo or Doorson in 2014-15, so I guess we will have to settle for Haughton's defense.

    1. The other possibility, if none of the bigs takes a big step forward next year, would be moving Young to the five and having Jeter share the four with Artis. Dixon had good luck playing small for stretches this year. Patterson, at the four, was usually able to beat his slower opponent.

  2. I understand the "filling the roster" concept.
    However, I don't like the recent trend of transfer out whether it be voluntary or involuntary. It was rare when you see that happen at Pitt. Perhaps 1 per year.
    I'd rather see Dixon give the scholarship to some walkon to "fill the roster" like the kid from Hawaii.
    I'd rather see the Malcolm Gilbert or John Johnson stay as they can contribute and they know Dixon system versus a new player. So long as they are not a detriment if they have a poor attitude, etc.

    Turnover is not good, even if it is the end of the bench.
    That said, transfers in basketball has been getting bigger and bigger the last 5 years. Over 400 transfers last year or about 1.3/team.

    1. Your last paragraph contradicted every concern that you mentioned previously.

      A John Johnson or a Malcolm Gilbert is not going to get through the Pirates through even one more round. And both left on their own.

    2. I agree that if Dixon is going to fill out his roster, he should give the schollie to the "walkon". That is what they do in most other sports. The walkon is dedicated, etc. Dixon needs 13 players just to have practice and allowing for injuries. Basically these walkons are like practice squad players. They earned the schollie and should get it over some lackluster player that may only be at Pitt for 2 years before transferring.

    3. That makes no sense to do that. These lesser recruited kids have a much better chance than a walk on to be productive, plus they provide better competition in practice. It's crazy to think that Pitt will give six walk ons a scholarship.

  3. Solid article, but:

    #6: John Johnson was not a late get. Lesser recruited, I'll concede. He was an early commit, though. Committed in 2009 as a Class of 2011 kid.

    #9 - No one had Gray, Woodall, Benjamin, or Ashton as highly regarded recruits. All were solid, Gray & Gibbs especially, but I'd have to see who had them as highly regarded before buying their inclusion with the others.

    Jeter will be an interesting case. Not highly recruited, but could conceivably work his way into the core.

    1. I didn't write that Johnson was a late get. In fact, I wrote that he was not a late get.

      Gray, Woodall, Benjamin, and Gibbs were all good signings in the 100-150 range, and they all had major offers. They are of a higher caliber than the lower ranked prospects.

  4. Where are the comments that Dixon can only get lesser recruits because he doesn't let the players shoot and play fast break basketball. Come on, someone wants to say it...LOL


  5. Doke... You got a good point that it is the CORE of the team that really makes the team.... and what you are saying about the Elite 8 team... is totally on the money... and is exactly the way I feel. It is sad but Brown, Wanamaker and Gibbs contributed almost nothing in the post season... and Biggs and JD3 were under utilized. It was almost exclusively the big 3 with that team.

    But, IMO, it was too much emphasis on the big three that led to this team's demise. In the NCAA tourney we were just beating teams that we should have beaten by a lot more... and NEEDED scoring past the big 3 to do that. We were waiting until the last minute to beat teams and that worked for the first three games but... in the end Nova and @#$% Scotty Reynolds one-upped us and that was that.

    So, you need more than the big 3 to make a good team.

    1. It was definitely a problem that there were only three good players on that team but that's all they had. They had to ride them as far as they could and it almost got them into the Final Four.

    2. IMO Dixon COULD have made Biggs more of a focus during the regular season... Biggs had some good potential and could have been the '4th' guy.

      As far as JD3 is concerned, he was used every game as a defensive player on the other teams best guard. I am not sure if there was anything they could do about that... the only other guard they had was Gibbs and Gibbs.... was a scorer not a defensive standout. If they had another reasonably good defensive player they could have used him to spell JD3 allowing JD3 to bring more offense, which he had.

      I don't really know what happened to the bench come the NCAA Tourney. Wanamaker had a good game in the last UConn game but did very little in the NCAA Tourney. Gil Brown... was Gil Brown and very inconsistent. Gibbs, IMO ran out of a gas as a freshman with his 3 ball shooting.

      IMO, JD3 just decided to ride that one out and we indeed had 3 good players but.... too much of the big 3 and not enough of the rest of the team when all was said and done.

  6. Tackle made by HughApril 23, 2014 at 11:07 PM

    this is the best explanation I have ever read about recruiting.
    two or three top guys a year are all that's needed.
    i guess that is why the Fab 5 most likely will never happen again.

  7. @Tackle made By Hugh
    see every Kentucky team coached by Calipari