May 31, 2007

Darrell Strong didn’t take Memorial Day off from causing trouble.

Strong, 21, of Sunrise, Fla., is accused of damaging the woman’s purse and cell phone during the altercation that began in an apartment and moved to a fast-food restaurant in the Waterfront complex where police were called at 7:55 p.m. Monday, Homestead police Chief Jeffrey DeSimone said.

Of course it’s known that Dave Wannstedt can be harsh with his punishment of players, even for seemingly small offenses.

“After meeting with Darrell, I have decided that he will be subject to internal disciplinary measures effective immediately.”

Thankfully he wasn’t stupid enough to injure her and is was a dispute with some shoving (not like that kind of action should be condoned either) or else we could have another pretty big punishment handed down my Wannstedt.

GrayWatch: Orlando Camp, Day 2

Filed under: Alumni,Basketball,Draft,Good,NBA — Chas @ 11:34 am

Again, something of mixed views. No one seemed to think he dominated, but the views varied from decent to bad. The squad he is on looked really bad. Considering all the players are trying to get drafted, none of them were really helped as they got smacked 106-84.

In practice, before the actual game, Gray apparently got abused by a smaller teammate.

In a full-court practice against players from his own team – there are six squads at the camp – Gray was dominated by unheralded Coleman Collins, an undersized power forward from Virginia Tech who at 6-foot-8 and 205 pounds has a major physical disadvantage against the former Pitt star.

Collins had his shot working and did not look the least bit tentative against Gray, who was being outworked at both ends of the floor and could not find his shot.

Things got a little better during the scrimmage when he didn’t have to worry about Collins – who scored a camp-high 22 in his game – but Gray still was poor defensively and seemed to get the bulk of his 15 points (seven at the foul line) due to his size advantage, a dominating edge he won’t always have in the NBA.

When asked if he felt the need to dominate, considering he is one of a small group of players at the camp with first-round potential, Gray admitted to feeling some extra pressure.

“Maybe a little bit, you definitely think about it,” Gray said. “You just wanna go out there and show teams there’s a lot of positives to your game and I think I did that. Hopefully, I’ll continue to do that.”

Hopefully, Gray will relax a little and just play rather than seek to impress. The Collins kid apparently had a bit of a breakout game — or he just had his shot that day. He abused Syracuse’s Daryl Watkins in the game. Not that Gray should want to be compared to Watkins — ever. Demetris Nichols led the winning squad with 18 points and looked good.

Gray was 7-10 at the free throw line, which of course is a bit surprising. Part of the problem was that on Gray’s squad, the point guard was Virginia’s Sean Singletary, who showed nothing but inconsistency. Gray may not have been as bad as that report made him seem.

Aaron Gray was solid though unspectacular with 15 points and a game high 9 boards. He attempted a few dunks where he was just a bit too far from the rim and either got his shot stuffed or had the ball go off the rim. Gray got to the line bunch converting 7-10.

Gray still did the job on rebounds. Getting to the line at least meant he was trying to go to the basket. With his size, he will be drafted. Gray has to remember he is simply playing to get drafted before the end of the first round. This isn’t about being a fringe draft pick.

The other thing Gray needs to remember is that he has to be looking to Eastern Conference teams. Teams that prefer the half-court offense.

Aaron Gray, who struggled mightily on Tuesday, redeemed himself with his play on Wednesday… that is when he could catch the ball. Gray again struggled to catch passes with any amount of force behind them, and it’s obvious he really struggles in a high-tempo game. However, when the game slows down and he has time to get low-post position, he’s very tough to stop. He finished with 15 points and 9 rebounds during the scrimmage.

That’s going to be the part of his game that needs more work regardless of the style of play. Catching the ball on the move. He’s got to improve on his cut and catch. It’s not an uncommon problem for big centers, and takes time. The one thing Gray can point to is that he has been willing to work and improve on his game his whole time at Pitt.

Palko As A Project

Filed under: Alumni,Football,Good,NFL — Chas @ 9:54 am

Not a lot about how Palko is doing with the Saints, but little tidbits here and there suggest Tyler Palko will be given every chance to develop and succeed.

For what it’s worth: Saints coach Sean Payton loves un-drafted quarterback Tyler Palko, who was inconsistent at Pitt and. at 6-1, lacks ideal height — but so does starter Drew Brees. The coach likes the rookie’s football IQ and passion for the game.

There’s always the risk he will be cut, but there aren’t many other bodies at the QB spot and there doesn’t appear to be any other additions right now.

There’s a steady dropoff from starting quarterback Drew Brees to the passers who sit behind him on the depth chart. Jamie Martin is Brees’ backup, but is in the last year of his contract, with Jason Fife and Tyler Palko also on the roster.

But Payton doesn’t plan on bringing anyone else in to camp.

It will take time, but it seems that Sean Payton is really planning to see if he can make Palko his latest Tony Romo.

May 30, 2007

GrayWatch: Orlando Camp, Day 1

Filed under: Alumni,Basketball,Draft,Good,NBA — Chas @ 12:24 pm

Well, in the time since the season ended and yesterday’s start of the NBA Orlando Pre-draft camp, Aaron Gray has had a lot of time to really work on getting ready. Physically, he seems to look great.

Aaron Gray 7-1 280 C Pittsburgh Sr. — It appears as though he’s lost a good 15-20 pounds. He’s still a plodder, but he’s moving a little better than he was during the season. It’s obvious he’s put some hard work into losing weight and adding mobility. We’ll see how that added cardio translates to his play over the next three days.

He is on Team 5 that includes Curtis Sumpter (Villanova) as the only other Big East player.

While Gray’s improved physique is noticeable, his opportunities to show what he can do aren’t.

The first thing that stands out about Gray is his improved physique. Gray is much closer to obtaining his ideal playing shape, a testament to the work he’s been putting into his draft preparation.

Unfortunately for Gray, the pre-draft camp doesn’t cater to his strengths as a half-court player who is best when being fed in the post. The first day of scrimmages proved this point out as Gray didn’t act as much more than an observer. He’ll have to be more vocal if he wants to command the attention of his teammates to the point of having an impact.

That would be the concern at this draft camp. The style is definitely a lot more running. Not many other big men in camp, so a lot more wing players and guards.

Still Gray is a 7-footer and with noticeable work on his body, that will help. It lets NBA teams know how serious he is about playing in the NBA and his willingness to work hard.

UPDATE (2:34): One other observation, was less flattering to Gray’s performance.

One player predicted by many to be a late first round pick or early second rounder is Pittsburgh 7-footer Aaron Gray. On Tuesday, Gray didn’t look like a player who fit the aforementioned criteria. He had trouble catching the ball in traffic and often looked clumsy in transition. He was at least competing on the defensive end which left a number of GM’s with hope for the big man heading into play Wednesday.

Gray looked awkward and clumsy at times?

May 29, 2007

Get To Class Early

Filed under: Football,Practice — Chas @ 10:53 am

One of the things Coach Dave Wannstedt also hit on while doing interviews last week, was that several of the incoming first year players were already taking classes.

Quarterback Pat Bostick from Manheim Township (Pa.) High School, linebacker Max Gruder from Charlotte (N.C.) Country Day School, wideout-kick returner Aundre Wright from Perry Traditional Academy High School in Pittsburgh and Milford Academy prep school in New York, defensive tackle Tommy Duhart from Glades Central (Fla.) High School and Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College, and running back LeSean McCoy from Bishop McDevitt High School in Harrisburg, Pa. and Milford Academy prep school on their classwork and working out with the Panthers.

Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt noted that all the incoming recruits, except for possibly one that already had a family vacation planned, should be enrolled for the second summer session that begins in mid-June.

The common theme for all is that they are all in the mix for starting job or at a minimum #2 on the depth chart. It’s also worth noting that 3 of the players have been itching to get to a D-1A campus for at least a year. Wright and McCoy had a year of prep school and Duhart was at community college. That the NCAA legislation that is about to go into effect to shunt any kid, who goes to a prep school for a year after high school, to community college would have been brutal for Pitt.

Of course getting all the players on campus as early as possible means they can at least begin the strength and conditioning program and bond with their teammates.

On the injury side, it  seems MLB Greg Webster is still trying to find the physical balance as he copes with Crohn’s Disease. He’s taking classes and can do normal things, but getting the physical conditioning and medical clearance for football just has not happened at this point. As much as LB is a concern and depth issue, Webster shouldn’t be rushed.

DE Doug Fulmer is still recovering from surgery on a torn ACL suffered in spring practices. He likely won’t be cleared to practice until at least September. Mike McGlynn, surgery on a torn labrum went very well and might actually be in for August training camp. Where on the O-line he will be playing is a different question.

Last week’s NBA Draft Lottery was a huge surprise. I was about as shocked by that as I’ll get for anything related to the NBA. With all of the teams set in their draft spots (and as I write this I’m laughing at the Celtics), it’s much easier to accuartely predict where draft prospects will go once the order is known. Teams with needs at a certain spot who draft higher will allow a player to rise a few spots.

With that, it’s time to look at where old friend Aaron Gray is predicted to go. With the draft about a month away, he rose from the mid-late 2nd round all the way to the first pick of the second (and final) round. That pick belongs to Seattle, who is either going to land Greg Oden or Kevin Durant based on who Portland takes. Simply put, if Durant goes first and Oden falls to the Sonics, Gray won’t being their second round pick. Chances are, however, that Oden goes #1 and Seattle picks up Durant who will be playing the small forward spot in the NBA.

Again, this is all speculation and guesswork. It’s pretty safe to say he won’t be going Top 10 though, like some thought he might before the 2006-07 season tipped off.

AAU Recruiting In North Carolina

Filed under: Basketball,Recruiting — Chas @ 10:08 am

This one is called the Tournament of Champions in Chapel Hill. A darn good reason to be there is that one remaining scholarship in 2008. The one they are holding for Eloy Vargas. And Vargas looked good once more.

It seems that every time Eloy Vargas steps onto the floor, he gets better. On Friday night, the 6-foot-10 forward from Team Breakdown was knocking down three-pointer after three-pointer, showing off good ball-handling skills and a skilled inside post game.

Vargas, the No. 46 ranked player in the country, matched Terrence Jennings, a top 10 prospect step for step and did a fine job against the bouncy 6-foot-9 forward. Vargas tallied 25 points to Jennings’s 16.

The list remains the same (and long) for Vargas. Pittsburgh, Maryland, Clemson, Louisville, Miami, Florida State, Florida, Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina, Indiana and Minnesota were all mentioned by the four-star prospect.

Pitt has a lot more competition for his services, now that his stock has continued to rise. Like DeJuan Blair, he is only looking better and better the more he plays top competition. I’d be thrilled if he verballed now, but it would still be nearly 6 months until the early signing period.
There was also a Connecticut Shooting Guard who Pitt and other teams are starting to notice.

Gibbs had help on his side as fellow guard Chris Prescott did some damage. Slick with the ball, the 6-foot-2 guard from Northwest Catholic in West Hartford, Conn., scored over 20 points in the victory.

He said he has offers from UMass, Rhode Island, St. Joe’s and Fordham while Seton Hall, Wake Forest, Pitt and others are looking at him.

Looking to 2009, Pitt may have lost David Cox and his DC connections when he took the Georgetown assistant coaching job, but that isn’t stopping them from pursuing DC area players.

Those in the D.C. area that watched Jeff Green grow into a projected lottery pick say they are seeing similar traits at the same stage in 2009 forward Wally Judge.

While not the perimeter threat that Green showed he can be at Georgetown, Judge is a terrific rebounder like Green. The 6-foot-8 big man from Bladensburgh (Md.) High School scored 20 points in the heated game between Team Final, a team DC Assault played tightly in Pittsburgh.

Much like their spring pairing, this one went back and forth and Judge showed flashes of why he recently found himself in the five-star range for the 2009 class. Judge is good around the basket and showed off nice versatility with both hands. He finished everything inside and ran the floor like a guard.

Clearly a high-major prospect, Judge will certainly be a must-see guy for the ACC and Big East come July. He said Georgetown, West Virginia, Maryland and Pittsburgh are the highest on his list.

Gluing all of the talent together beautifully for the Assault was mighty mite point guard Daryl Traynham. The throw back floor general did a little bit of everything in the victory. Offensively, he was knocking down midrange jumpers and a pair of three-pointers. He directed the offense with poise and commanded the attention of his teammates with vocal leadership and patience in a heated game. Defensively, the 5-foot-7 guard got into his man and forced early turnovers and bad shots.

He may be small but his basketball IQ is off the charts and guys like playing with him. Judging point guards, what else do you want in a guy that has the ball in his hands at all times?

Traynham said he has an offer from St. Joe’s while Maryland, Pittsburgh and Xavier are recruiting him early.

When it comes to shooting, Rodney McGruder was the go-to guy for the Assault. The 6-foot-4 guard from Archbishop Carroll scored 19 points in the victory. He was solid at the foul line and knocked down his shots on the wing. McGruder said he is hearing from Seton Hall, Clemson, Georgetown, Buffalo and Pittsburgh.

Judge, for the record, is already listed at #23 in early lists of top 2009 players.

Out of the NYC area, Pitt is apparently showing some interest in 6’5″ forward Kevin Parrom. So far only Dayton has offered him, but schools like Pitt, UConn, Memphis and NC State are in the “evaluation” phase.

There are very few fans that would be against a return to the script Pitt and colors from Pitt’s better days. There’s been plenty of discussion about it and I don’t care why we’re not wearing it, whether it be something legal or someone just making an executive decision about it — I just want to see a return to those colors.

Are we going to see that soon? Well, there are some seemingly small changes being made according to Sitting Ringside.

The “PANTHERS” across the chest will be replaced with “PITT” and blue pants will return for the first time since 2003, when they were worn against Virginia Tech.

It seems like we’ll never get to the point where we see the same jerseys that we wore against Youngstown State in that throwback game. Thankfully I picked mine up in that auction of the game-used jerseys because we might never see them on a Pitt team regularly for a while.

May 28, 2007

So, Coach Wannstedt and the assistants are back from traveling the state and a few others as well. Upon his return, he engaged in a local media blitz. As the various local news outlets had stories with similar quotes.
He figures it was important to get and see the rest of the area since he’ll be fighting some of the biggest names for some of the local talent this season.

Wannstedt is not allowed to comment specifically about recruits, but there are a number of big-time prospects in Western Pennsylvania this year — players such as Jeannette quarterback Terrelle Pryor, Aliquippa receiver Jonathan Baldwin and Thomas Jefferson lineman Lucas Nix — and he said that is evident by the number of colleges he bumped into in Pitt’s back yard.

“USC has been here, Texas has been here, Florida has been here, Notre Dame has been here, Miami has been here,” Wannstedt said. “The list goes on; there are a lot of national-level recruits here, and we know this. But we’re not going anywhere. We’re going to battle for all of them, and I know we’ll get our share. We have to be careful because we only have about 15 scholarships to give, but we’re going to have another excellent class, I promise you that.”

In other articles, the number was 16 scholarships. Either way, that means Pitt has about 17-18 scholarships available in total. Presumably he is already including the freed scholarships from the departures of Corey Davis and Tommie Campbell. Coach Wannstedt isn’t overly concerned at not having any verbals so far this month.

The Panthers reportedly have just two verbal commitments to date. Wilmington running back Chris Burns and Greater Johnstown cornerback Antwuan Reed committed early to Pitt.

“We’ll get another four to five guys and have seven to eight (committed) by June after the camps, and then we’ll have another seven to eight to get next year (before signing day),” Wannstedt said.

When Wannstedt is out there going after the blue-chippers, it seems he isn’t shy about telling them what he can do for them.

What Wannstedt discovered is that many high school prospects choose colleges based on their ability to get them to the “next level” – in this case, the NFL.

That’s just fine with Wannstedt, who won a Super Bowl ring as Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator and was head coach of the Chicago Bears and Miami Dolphins.

“I don’t talk about it,” Wannstedt said, “but I do know this: If you want to get to the next level, unless you’re going to maybe Notre Dame or maybe USC, there’s no place and nobody that can prepare you better than I can.”

Where Revis and linebackers Clint Session and H.B. Blades were drafted, Wannstedt noted that six of his seven senior starters are now in NFL camps.

Call it a hunch, but I figure that and this snippet from the same story will have the Hoopies getting pissed at Wannstedt all over again. The same way they did (and still do) about his “wall” quote back when hired.

“If a kid isn’t interested in the city or wants to go to school in the country, then don’t come to Pitt. That’s what I tell them.”

They’ll see it as a slap or shot at them in their own paranoid way.

Alexander Off the Board

Filed under: ACC,Conference,Football,Recruiting — Chas @ 8:19 am

I said, I didn’t think A.J. Alexander would be coming to Pitt. So I’m not too disappointed that he made his choice and it wasn’t Pitt.
Some mild surprise, though, that the Altoona kid has opted to go to Florida State.

Verbal commitments are not binding under NCAA rules. Alexander could conceivably change his mind any time between now and whenever he either enrolls or signs a letter-of-intent. Most recruits, though, stick by their choice, and, reached Sunday afternoon, Alexander seemed sure of his decision to go to Florida State over Penn State, Pitt and Georgia.

“I called [Florida State] last night and told them, but I’ve known for a little bit,’’ Alexander said. “The main reason [I chose Florida State] is the people there. These are people I want to be around for the next four or five years.’’

Offensive line coach and West Virginia native Rick Trickett handled Alexander’s recruiting for the Seminoles. A quarterback at Altoona High, Alexander said he was being recruited as a wide receiver, running back and return specialist.

Trickett was hired away from WVU during the offseason. I’m sure this won’t sit particularly well with some Penn State fans that Alexander opted to go play for that other aged coach.

Rice on Pitt

Filed under: Assistants,Basketball,Coaches,Dixon — Chas @ 8:10 am

Former Pitt Assistant, now the Robert Morris Head Coach Mike Rice, Jr. did a bit of a media blitz with the Beaver County Times. Some interesting little bits.

He indicates no problem really with Pitt not playing Robert Morris for a year or two, given the situation.

New Robert Morris coach Mike Rice said Wednesday that the continuation of the rivalry between the cross-town schools to take a layoff of a year or two. Rice spent last season as Pitt coach Jamie Dixon’s top assistant, and Rice doesn’t think it would be fair to play the Panthers this coming season.

“It’s tough for Jamie, and I don’t have anything to lose,” Rice said. “I know his system.”

Robert Morris has played at Pitt every season since 1999-00. The Panthers are 26-0 all-time against Robert Morris.

“Would I like to play Pitt? Yes,” Rice said. “Maybe after a year or two, we’ll resume this series.”

It makes too much sense for the teams not to play each other. It’s not like RMU demands (or would get) a home game. Pitt gets a home patsy that it doesn’t even have to pay as high for the going rate on guarantee games, because it’s local. That means RMU practically spends nothing from its travel budget — hence part of the reason for a bit of a discount on the price.

He also doesn’t think Coach Dixon will be going anywhere else.

“Jamie’s not going anywhere,” Rice said.

Dixon alarmed some Pitt fans when he used offers from Missouri and Arizona State a few seasons ago as leverage to get a new contract from the Panthers. Even rumors this off-season had Dixon entertaining offers from Kentucky and other schools.

But now that Dixon’s deal runs through the 2012-13 season, Rice thinks he will make Pitt a lifetime position.

“He’s had a ton more top schools that contacted him that he just automatically says he’s not interested,” Rice said “He has one of the top three jobs in the Big East right now.

“You don’t leave (Pitt). It’s a once-in-a-lifetime job.”

No one even took any rumors this past season seriously. Most of the time his name was out there because lists need to be compiled by sportswriters when there’s a job opening. The rule’s are to list some of the hotter names, throw in coaches who are at places that don’t have the reputation. Any sort of geographical/historical ties are a big plus.

May 27, 2007

I’ll get to the stories (all of them with the same quotes) on Wannstedt and the Assistants’ May travels in a later post. I do want to focus on one aspect right away.

“We had a good month and covered a lot of territory,” Wannstedt said. “We probably spent a little more time in Ohio, in Akron, Canton and there are some good kids this year in Youngstown. I spent four days myself in the Northern Virginia and Maryland area.

Some might view this with fear. That Wannstedt could be falling into the trap that got Walt Harris and Bryan Deal several years ago, by becoming too enamored with Ohio. The thing to note is that where Wannstedt said they were spending the extra time. Youngstown is no shock. That’s closer than some parts of Western PA from Pitsburgh.

As for Akron-Canton area, that’s because there is a huge void now in the high school coaching ranks. Buchtel High — which provided Pitt with Ramon Walker and Tim Murphy — has been a huge power there. Ohio State regularly has claimed plenty of top players from there. That school now has a new coach.

The longtime coach, Claude Brown, was charged with sexual battery — he had consensual sex with a 17-year old female student several times. In April he plead guilty, and was just sentenced to two years. Brown had a huge influence over the players and football in the area and while many former players speak glowingly of him, it also meant that he had a lot of control over where they went to play football.

To put it cynically and bluntly: that means that there is now a bit of a vacuum in the area with the coaches. While Ohio State is still the natural dominant force — and Jim Tressel has been chatting the coaches in the region for ages — it does open the door a bit for other coaches to come and try and make a new impression. That makes it very logical for Coach Wannstedt to spend some extra time in the Akron-Canton area to try and build relationships beyond this year.


Turf Times

Filed under: Alumni,Football,Good,Practice — Chas @ 9:45 am

Former Pitt Fullback Lousaka Polite was back in the ‘Burgh recently to visit his old alma mater. No, not Pitt. He was back at his old high school along with some other players like Jason Taylor. Woodland Hills High is renovating and getting help from a lot of its former players.

“I got a look at the new turf when I was here in February, but this is the first time I’ve seen the new renovations,” said Lousaka Polite, a Woodland Hills graduate who played at Pitt and now carries the football for the Dallas Cowboys.

“It’s great to come back home. Friendships and memories made in high school will last forever. I have a lot of pride for Woodland Hills football.”

Not to be outdone by a high school, Pitt is having a new practice surface being installed in its South Side facility.

One of the two grass fields at the South Side outdoor facility was replaced by a Sportexe surface, the installation of which is expected to be completed Monday.

“That was something I felt we needed and (Pitt) athletic director) Jeff Long did a great job of making it happen,” Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. “Because we don’t go away to training camp, I don’t know how you practice on two fields from August until January and then use them in the offseason – when the kids are out there running and working out on their own – and then spring practice. There’s got to be some time when you only have two fields to grow new grass. It really, really will help us.”

So there is that.

Recruiting Lists and Such

Filed under: Football,Recruiting — Chas @ 12:33 am

As finished listing the rest of its 5-star recruits for 2008, in the 13-7 group there was LB Shayne Hale out of Gateway High in Monroeville. There was also a New Jersey “Athlete,” Will Hill who includes Pitt in his list of teams. In the top 6, Terrelle Pryor out of Jeannette tops the list. He appears to be willing to focus on football, but intends to also plays basketball.

In other individual recruiting news, A.J. Alexander out of Altoona appears to be a lot closer to making a decision.

Alexander has been quoted in an article on that he will unveil his decision sometime next week. Alexander did not reveal a list of finalists, although some of the schools recruiting him include Penn State, Pitt, Notre Dame, Florida State, Tennessee, Florida, LSU, Miami, Michigan and West Virginia.

Alexander is a 4-star recruit who is viewed as a Reggie Bush type offensive threat. Given his hybrid nature, he doesn’t seem much of a fit for Pitt’s present offensive system (see, Dickerson, Dorin). So, I don’t expect him to be putting on a Pitt hat if he decides this week.

May 25, 2007

The numbers almost seem random at this point, but some more 2007 basketball recruiting class rankings.

Apparently in HoopScoop, Pitt’s recruiting class clocked in at #16. Syracuse, DePaul and Villanova were placed ahead from the Big East. put Pitt at #26.

The Panthers inked a class that fits perfectly for the style of play that Jamie Dixon wants to employ in the Big East. Local big man Dejuan Blair will be looked at early and often. The space-eater could be one of the best instant impact players in the league next year. Philadelphia-area guard Bradley Wannamaker gives the lineup some toughness. Darnell Dodson, from the D.C. area, is versatile and should help immediately. Gary McGhee and Cassan Diggs round out the class.

The numbers next to the class rank mean little. It’s how they develop and how quickly they contribute.

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