Zanna, and the Upcoming Season

I know I’ve been a little late on the news (a few tests and papers tend to throw off the blogging schedule), but for those of you who didn’t hear, Darnell Dodson will not be a Panther at any point in his basketball career. The one-time Pitt recruit didn’t academically qualify for his freshman year in 2007, so he went to Miami-Dade CC for two years of junior college, using up only one year of eligibility. The plan was for him to return to Pitt in the fall of 2009 as a redshirt sophomore and contribute to this team for the future. Unfortunately, the NCAA took too long to rule on Dodson in 2007, and he learned he was ineligible only after he was enrolled in classes at the University. Big East law prohibits non-qualifiers from going to prep school after enrollment, and since he was in classes already, he can’t transfer back to this (or any) Big East university. Chances are that Dodson will sign with Gary Williams in Maryland, and I wish him the best.

The bright side of that unfortunate incident is that Jamie Dixon got a 4th freshman commitment out of that class, 6’8″ center Talib Zanna out of Bishop McNamara HS in Forestville, MD. This is a guy with a lot of upside, another “sleeper” for Jamie Dixon. This is a good pickup, with the depth in the frontcourt we’ll have for 2009 (Gary McGhee, Dwight Miller, DeJuan Blair, Dante Taylor) we’ll have the flexibility to redshirt JJ Richardson and/or Zanna. Hopefully the Panthers can wrap up the 5th recruit they’re looking for in either SG Durand Scoot or wing Dominic Cheek, both blue-chip recruits for the 2009 class, and look ahead to our small class of 2010- probably Tom Droney with the possibility of Isiah Epps, both possible 4-or-5 star recruits.

I know this is a basketball blog but I wanted to give a quick shout-out to the Panthers football team for the win last night against South Florida. We’ve come back to establish ourselves as a top-3 (if not the current favorite) team in the Big East, and I’ll take a 4-1 record after 5 games with the upcoming schedule. Notre Dame and WVU are looking like very winnable games, as is UConn, and we can definitely take this conference. I don’t wanna get too ahead of myself but…dual conference champions, anybody?

The basketball season officially kicks off October 16th with Pitt’s media day, so between now and then I’ll put up previews of Pitt’s classes (freshman through seniors) in preparation for the season. Hail to Pitt!

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Big Man for 2009

So, after a 2008 recruiting class composed of mainly guards/wings (Gibbs, Woodall, Dixon, Robinson), Pitt was looking to go big for the 2009 class- literally and figuratively. After getting commitments from top-100 players Dante Taylor and Lamar Patterson, as well as the added re-commitment from Darnell Dodson, Jamie Dixon was looking for one last recruit to add to the class, and he was looking for a center. Well, today he got one from 6’7″, 235-pound J.J. Richardson out of Missouri City, Texas. He’s a 3-star recruit with a lot of promise as a power forward, and scouts have commented on his toughness inside and his rebounding ability. He hasn’t shown the offensive moves of someone like DeJuan Blair or the range of Dante Taylor but Jamie’s done a great job of recruiting players that will fit his system, and Richardson seems like a player who fits this perfectly. This might mean that Pitt is planning on having Taylor play center after DeJuan graduates (or leaves for the NBA), though we’ll try and get a real center (think Chris Taft-esque) in 2010. This is a good get for Pitt, we have the ability to develop a guy like Richardson considering the amount of talent we have on the team right now. In two years we’ll have a very solid inside game with Blair, McGhee, Miller, and Taylor, and should have the luxury of bringing Richardson along slowly or even giving him a redshirt.

2009 Recruiting Update

I’m working at a summer camp so I’ve been a little behind on Pitt news, but (if you haven’t heard by now), Pitt just landed a fantastic recruit for the 2009-2010 season in PF Dante Taylor. One of the top 50 players in his class, Taylor joins a recruiting class that seems to be full with Lamar Patterson and Darnell Dodson, unless another scholarship opens up by then. This is a huge recruiting boost for the Panthers, as both Patterson and Taylor have shots to be All-Americans in their senior years, giving the Panthers their first All-Americans in nearly 20 years. Also, the addition of Taylor means that for the 2009-2010 season, we could have a frontcourt of Blair, Taylor, and Robinson, which would be one of the top front lines in college basketball (not to mention a great backcourt of Patterson, Wanamaker, Woodall, Gibbs, and Dixon). This will be a special few years for the Panthers, and this recruit could signal the true emergence of Pitt as a national power on the level of Kansas and Memphis. I know we haven’t won as much as those programs, but the next few years could very well see Pitt entering that upper echelon.

Not a Huge Surprise

Cassin Diggs is no longer a Pitt Panther. He either quit, or transferred, it’s a little unclear at this point, but the fact that he’s no longer on the team shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody who followed the Panthers this year. After Jamie got the 5th commit from Jermaine Dixon, there was rampant speculation that the extra scholarship would come from the loss of Cassin instead of Sam Young. While it was nice to see Cassin fire up the team before the games, especially in the later part of the season (after the loss of Austin Wallace), he was really a non-factor for this team. I know that he had a hip injury, but he never had the footwork or defensive presence to really help this Panther team.

With the need to develop Gary McGhee next season, Cassin would have been riding the pine for all of 2008-2009, and the scholarship is much better off in the hands of Jermaine Dixon, who can contribute (hopefully) some leadership and depth in the backcourt. At this time last year, Cassin was being projected by some as the starting center for the 2007-2008 team, so I’m going to hold back on praising Jermaine too heavily until I can see him actually play. Hopefully, with the basketball pedigree in his family and the reports out of Tallahassee Community College being very positive, Jermaine will be a huge contributor for two years.

Ashton Gibbs Interview

Through a series of lucky circumstances, we at the Oakland Zoo were lucky enough to get an interview with Ashton Gibbs, a 6’1″ combo guard out of Seton Hall Prep in New Jersey. The versatile three-point threat is coming to Pitt next year as a member of Jamie Dixon’s solid 2008 recruiting class, and we got to chat a little with him about his basketball career so far. Here’s the highlights:

Oakland Zoo: So, what drew you to Pitt?
Ashton Gibbs: The loyalty that the coaches showed, they’ve been recruiting me since freshman year. Also, the balance of academics and athletics.

OZ: Are you excited to play for Jamie Dixon?
AG: Yea, I’m really excited. He’s down to earth and easy to talk to, but he seems like he can get the most out of you, especially on the defensive side.

OZ: You’ve been to a few games at the Pete?
AG: Yea, I only went to the exhibition versus IUPUI but it was a crazy atmosphere. The fans are ridiculous.
OZ: We try.
AG: (Laughs)

OZ: Have you heard at all about the rivalry with West Virginia?
AG: Yea, I heard it’s a crazy rivalry, but I haven’t heard too much yet. The two games this year were very tough and crazy games, though.

OZ: So, looking back on your high school career, what stands out the most for you?
AG: I think the all-time leading scoring record [at Seton Hall Prep] and my freshman year, winning the TOC (Tournament of Champions) Championship- we worked hard, and we got the title.

OZ: Looking at the other members of the class of 2008, specifically the other true freshmen (Nasir Robinson, Travon Woodall, and Dwight Miller), how do you see yourself fitting in with them?
AG: I think I can fit in well. Travon and I are close friends and have played with each other already, while I played with Dwight over the summer at the Rbk U (Reebok University camps), and have played against Nasir as well. They are all good, tough players who should thrive in the Pitt system with myself.

OZ: Where do you see yourself fitting in this upcoming year? Pitt’s losing our top three-point threat in Ronald Ramon, do you see yourself stepping up in that aspect?
AG: Yea I think I’m similar to him because we are good three point shooters- plus, I could always help out at the point as well- so I should fit in well.

OZ: Alright, enough with the tough stuff. What kind of music do you like?
AG: Rap and R&B
OZ: Favorite artist(s)?
AG: Jay-Z

OZ: Who would you say is your hero?
AG: My mom, because she’s done so much for me and never complains.

OZ: Do you have a favorite NBA player?
AG: Dwayne Wade and Ben Gordon.

All in all, Ashton was a great kid to talk too and I’m sure all of us in the Zoo are excited to watch him grow and mature as a Pitt Panther. Much thanks to him for letting me grill him for a few, and hopefully we’ll be able to bring you some more previews of the 2008 recruiting class as the summer goes on.

After Louisville, a Look Ahead

Well, this was a bit of a more promising loss (if there is such a thing) than the Notre Dame debacle. We never really had a point in the game where we fell asleep completely, we just were never able to hit that key basket to tie the game or take the lead- the Cardinals did just enough to keep us at finger’s length the entire game. Obviously, defense and three-pointing are the main concerns at this point. We’re 0-6 when we shoot under 33.3% from the arc, which really shouldn’t be much of a surprise to anybody who’s been paying attention to Pitt basketball lately.

Pitt is, for right now, on the NCAA bubble, but I’m fairly confident, based on how we played yesterday, that we should be able to get in. Going 3-1 over the last four games, along with a win in the first round of the Big East tournament, should solidify that, but I’ll take two wins in the tournament just to make it a sure thing. We might not make the Sweet 16 this year (it really depends on matchups), but I really wanted to write about how everybody shouldn’t panic about this Pitt basketball program. A few people complained about my last post, saying I was overreacting and that the program isn’t completely screwed, and that wasn’t the point I was trying to make. I was saying we were playing poor basketball for the moment, but I really think our outlook is very positive at the moment.

Jamie knows the kind of basketball he wants to play, and he’s now getting the kind of recruits he needs to play it. The next class (and already the 2009 class) have some solid shooters and great defensive players who are going to love Dixon’s style of play, and along with the growing maturity and skill of our current freshmen, our next few years should be increasingly good to watch. Nasir Robinson’s Chester team just won the PIAA District 1 AAAA title, and I very much enjoyed the following:

“Pittsburgh-bound Robinson added 18 points and 12 rebounds and Johnson collected 12 points and five rebounds. What won’t show [in the boxscore] is the stellar defense Johnson, Jefferson, Robinson, Burrell and Mark Collins played.”

This whole season, scouts have raved about Robinson’s tenacity and defensive intensity, so I can imagine this will only pick up under Dixon, and Nasir should be a fantastic player for Pitt- if not his freshman year, definitely by his sophomore. Ashton Gibbs and Travon Woodall are both very solid guard recruits for next year, as is JUCO transfer Jermaine Dixon. By my junior year, this Pitt team will have an abundance of talent, defensive know-how and intensity, as well as what should be a very dominant inside-outside game. DeJuan Blair, Gary McGhee, as well as Nasir Robinson and Lamar Patterson should be really hustling for offensive boards, and Patterson, Robinson, Gibbs, Woodall, Wanamaker, and Brown will all be able to shoot from anywhere on the court. I don’t want to say to forget about this year, but thinking ahead to the future is something that shouldn’t worry any Pitt fan. This is a team that is going to flourish in the next few years, and I’m excited to see who else Jamie Dixon can bring to Pittsburgh.

Short Recruit Update

Just to give everybody out there a little update on how our diaper dandy class of 2008 is working out:

-Nasir Robinson’s Chester team is taking on Jeanette on Friday night at the Prime Time Shootout in Villanova, a competition that St. Anthony (NJ)- Travon Woodall’s team- is playing in. That’s right, Nasir Robinson is going up against Terrell Pryor. I’ll let everybody know how that one goes.

-Ashton Gibbs’ Seton Hall Prep team beat Morris Knolls 78-42 on Wednesday night, with our new guard pouring in 32 points, including 7 baskets from beyond the arc- very impressive numbers.

-Schenley shooting guard Deandre Kane decommitted from Duquesne, and he’s very interested in Pitt although he has no offer. While he does lead the WPIAL with 30.7 ppg, I don’t see him coming to Pitt because he’s not a Big East caliber player, plus we already have two guards in this recruiting class. He might come on as a preferred walk-on, and I know DeJuan has been pressing for him to come be a Panther.

EDIT: Robinson’s Chester team beat Jeanette 80-70 behind Robinson’s 18 points and 13 rebounds. The Clippers move to 22-1 and will probably be seeded first in the District 1 tournament, with seedings announced tomorrow. “Robinson has given up parts of his game this season for the betterment of the team. He’s looked to pass first before shooting in many games, and has been content on doing all the nitty-gritty work of rebounding and providing interior defense. But last night, he played with a certain vigor, maybe because Pryor played opposite of him.” This sounds exactly like the kind of kid that Dixon loves to coach, and hopefully he’ll be a great player for the Panthers for all four years.