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.