Media Day!

Pitt had their annual basketball media day today, and I was lucky enough to be in attendance, along with various other members of the Pittsburgh and national media. The session started off with Agnus Berenato and three members of her Sweet-16 women’s basketball team- Xenia Stewart, Shevonte Zellous, and Jania Sims. The theme of the press conference was “Team”: each of the three players was wearing a shirt that said “TEAM” on the back in capital letters with the word “me” in lower case underneath. They all commented on how even though Pitt beat Baylor and hung close with Stanford in the national tournament, they were left out of most preseason national rankings. When asked about the loss of All Big-East center Marcedes Walker, arguably the most important player in Pitt women’s basketball history, Agnus did acknowledge the loss of a great player but said that Pitt would now have to focus much more on perimeter play than interior play. Coach Berenato was also high on her freshman, especially 6’7″ center Pepper Wilson, a beast of an inside player who has looked very good in earlier workouts, and 6’3″ center Kate Popovec, who has been staying an hour after most practices to work on her conditioning and her shooting.

Jania Sims was very excited to be back, saying “Now that I’m back, we made a Sweet Sixteen, but we gotta make it further.” She’ll be running the point for the guard-heavy Panthers, and as Xenia Stewart said, “we feel that we need to bring everybody along with’s about the program and where we want to take it.” This team has a lot of experience–losing Mallorie Winn and Marcedes Walker will certainly hurt– but Agnus has used her current players in many different positions, noting that senior Xenia Stewart played all five positions against Baylor, and this is a group of girls that “can post up and play straight up…we teach everybody everything.” We’ll do more women’s previews as the season approaches, but this is a team with something to prove, a team that feels they should have a target on their back but have taken a huge backseat to UConn and Rutgers, a seat they do not feel they deserve.

The men’s portion of the Media Day was much different- Jamie Dixon started out alone on the podium, talking for about twenty minutes about the expectations for this team. As the Pitt men’s team is one that is already ranked top-5 in many polls across the country, Dixon was trying to tone down expectations, saying instead that the games played would determine ranking. This is a fairly common statement for any team with such high rankings–obviously no one is going to come out and say “of course we’re fantastic,” it’s all about tampering expectations until they can be proven on the court. That being said, Jamie raved about his freshman class, saying that they’ve picked up very quickly in the preseason workouts, and he was excited to see how they would play in full workouts and scrimmages. Freshman Ashton Gibbs said that the more experienced players had been “bumping me around…I’m gettin used to it” so this should be an exciting class for Pitt. Levance Fields is out right now, and he said he would be out until December with the foot injury that had been bothering him since August. Travon Woodall is supposed to be the backup, though he’s currently sidelined with a mild concussion he sustained yesterday (along with a few lost teeth) and Ryan Tiesi would be the 3rd option at point guard. I wouldn’t be too concerned, I think having Travon study under Levance before the Big East schedule will be good long-term, and I don’t think we’ll see Tiesi start at the point on opening day. In other injury news, Gil Brown has been having some ankle issues, which Jamie said are fine at this point, but that ankle injuries are the sort that reappear throughout the season and Gil will have to play at slightly less than 100% at some points this season; Dwight Miller is also sidelined with a bruised heel, which has sidelined him for the last six weeks or so. I’ll write more in a few days with individual player quotes and reports, but a very positive media day for Pitt.


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