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April 30, 2008

Pitt assistant coach Tom Herrion was given a promotion in title.

University of Pittsburgh head men’s basketball coach Jamie Dixon announced the promotion of Tom Herrion to Associate Head Men’s Basketball Coach on Tuesday. Herrion joined the Pitt men’s basketball staff as an assistant coach on May 7, 2007. In his first year, he helped guide Pitt to a 27-10 overall record, 2008 Big East Championship title and seventh consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance in 2007-08.

“Over the past year, Tom has proved to be an outstanding and valuable addition to our staff,” Dixon said. “Tom is a well rounded coach and has helped us in recruiting, scouting and player development. We are extremely fortunate to have a coach with his background. He also has the experience of coaching in several different environments and is familiar with the Big East region.”

I’m not sure if this had anything to do with the interest Herrion received since the season ended for open jobs. To say nothing of fawning praise from the media (per ESPN.com’s Andy Katz, Insider sub.).

Tom Herrion deserved the associate head coach title at Pitt he received Tuesday. Herrion has meshed quite well with Jamie Dixon in his first year on the job. Herrion knows just about everyone along the East Coast. He was successful at the College of Charleston before he was run out. Herrion will be a head coach again. He is a trusted, loyal assistant. Just ask Dixon and former Virginia and Providence coach Pete Gillen.

It is widely suspected, though, that it does.

The promotion also could be considered a reward by Dixon and athletic director Steve Pederson for Herrion’s loyalty. He was mentioned for openings at James Madison, Marist and Massachussetts but elected to remain at Pitt.

“Obviously, I’m very appreciative of the faith that coach Dixon and Mr. Pederson have shown in me,” said Herrion, who was recruiting in New Jersey. “Hopefully, it’s an indicator of having done a pretty good job in my first year. I’m very appreciative of the title, but it’s not going to make a lot of difference in how we do things.”

The new title, apparently does have a financial reward as well.

“I met with a few of those schools, but at the end of the day coach Dixon and Mr. [Steve] Pederson and the people at Pitt made me and my family feel very appreciated,” Herrion said. “They’ve helped to make this a wonderful opportunity in a lot of ways. I’ve been a head coach and I’ve enjoyed a high level of success. Being a head coach is not the be-all, end-all for me anymore. I’ve come in here and I have a different appreciation for where this program is. I have a deeper appreciation for being on this staff.”

Dixon believes it is always a positive when his assistants become head coaches. It is a sign of success, but having someone of Herrion’s caliber on board is equally important.

“He’s really picked up what we try to do and emphasize in our program,” Dixon said. “He’s been able to take things in and understand how we do things.”

“Having been a head coach once, staff continuity is so valuable,” said Herrion, who was 80-38 in his four-year stay at the College of Charleston. “We have a chance with a lot of our pieces coming back next year. We have expectations, and we should. Having talented guys on the staff, we’re looking forward to next year. The ability to keep the staff intact is of great value.”

Herrion has done the coaching at the lower mid-major conference thing. It’s a reasonable gamble to wait for a better opportunity. Especially if Pitt can breakthrough with a bigger season.

Meanwhile, Luke Winn at SI.com revises his way too early 2008 power rankings based on the change in who has declared for the draft. Pitt moves in to #6.

Impact: With Young back in the fold, Pitt jumps ahead of Georgetown and Notre Dame as UConn’s most viable challenger in the Big East. After seeing his scoring average jump from 7.0 points as a sophomore to 18.1 as a junior, Young could make a bid for All-America status as a junior … and with Vanderbilt’s Shan Foster out of the way, might be college hoops’ best piano-playing swingman. The bigger development I expect to see out of the Pitt camp, though, is Blair’s emergence as a household name nationally. He was overshadowed by one-and-done freshmen such as Kevin Love, Derrick Rose and O.J. Mayo last season, but Blair was highly productive as a rookie, averaging 11.6 points and 9.1 boards in 26.2 minutes per game.

He has UConn installed at #1 with Thabeet coming back. Louisville is #7, ND #10 and Georgetown at #12. Georgetown, by the way had Vernon Macklin decide to transfer.

April 29, 2008

Recapping NFL Draft Stuff

Filed under: Draft,Football,NFL — Chas @ 10:54 pm

A couple days later and not much has changed.

I found it amusing that on the day before the draft, the Delaware paper wrote about how Otah’s family was hoping he might go with pick #19.

So, even though they know it probably won’t happen, the Otah family will dream about Jeff playing just a half-hour drive up Interstate 95.

“That would be such a thrill for all of us, to have Jeffrey play for the Eagles,” Patricia Otah said. “We’re not getting our hopes up, but if we could pick any place, it would be someplace close to home. And Philadelphia is as close to home as he can get.”

Well, they got it half right with Otah going #19.

The latest pride of Delaware is the 5th Delaware high schooler taken in the first round.

…joining Randy White of McKean High (by Dallas with the second pick in 1975), Joe Campbell of Salesianum (New Orleans, seventh in 1977), Luke Petitgout of Sussex Central (New York Giants, 19th in 1999) and Kwame Harris of Newark (San Francisco, 26th in 2003).

As the NFL is a well-oiled publicity machine, they had quick Q&As with all first round picks on the teams’ respective sites that night.

On playing for Dave Wannstedt at the University of Pittsburgh: He just told me to be a man, and it’s a job now. Everyone playing is a grown man and you have to take care of your family. That is how he treated me when I was there, like a man. He let you make your own decisions, and if you couldn’t abide by that then you wouldn’t be playing.

They also had Otah on a plane to Charlotte that evening to be introduced to the local media.

Otah was puzzled, not knowing Carolina had only minutes before traded up with the Eagles for that 19th pick — and had chosen him.

“I thought it was a prank call,” Otah said.

But it wasn’t, although Otah wasn’t fully convinced until another call came. This time it was Panthers coach John Fox, whose voice Otah recognized from a meeting they had at his workout day for NFL teams.

Otah, as it turned out, was heading where he hoped he would be.

“This is where I envisioned myself going,” Otah said Sunday at Bank of America Stadium, where he had just finished taking a tour of the facility with Panthers owner Jerry Richardson.

Given that Carolina traded a good deal to get back into the first round to get Otah, there is probably more pressure on Otah to perform right away than on #13 Jonathan Stewart (who at least has DeAngelo Williams to share carries).

Despite the increase in the level of competition at the Division I level, Otah held his own. By the time he graduated Wannstedt was calling him “the best offensive lineman I’ve ever coached.”

Coach John Fox hopes he can say the same at some point down the road.

He’d better hope so.

The Panthers gave up a king’s ransom – a second- and a fourth-round pick this year and a first-round pick in 2009 – to get Otah with the 19th pick in the first round, so there will be plenty of inherent added pressure on him to play at a high level.

On the second day, Mike McGlynn and Kennard Cox got drafted.

McGlynn was a fourth-round pick by the Philadelphia Eagles as the 109th overall pick, while Cox was selected in the seventh round [251st] by the Buffalo Bills as a compensatory selection.

Cox was the third CB taken by the Bills in this draft. It’s a safe bet as the second last pick in the NFL draft that Cox’s survival on the roster will be dictated by how well he performs on special teams.

As for McGlynn, Eagles Head Coach Andy Reid likes his versatility.

“In the fourth round, we took Mike McGlynn. He’s an offensive tackle from Pittsburgh, however he did play some guard and also some center. That’s where my interest came in, that he can play all three. He’s very much of the same mode as [RT] Jon Runyan. He’s got a nasty streak to him and he’ll fit in nice with our group of guys here.”

McGlynn, of course, is just ready to play.

On whether he spoke to the Eagles coaches about what position he would be playing: “I think (offensive line) coach (Juan) Castillo likes me inside, playing guard or possibly even center. I really don’t know. We really have not gotten into that to see where they want me to play. I will play anywhere, tackle, guard or center. It doesn’t matter. I am excited.”

On the free agent signings. Chris McKillop, Jameel Brady, Mike Phillips and Lowell Robinson are unsigned.

Joe Clermond signed with the Bears.  Darrell Strong with the Raiders. I’m mildly surprised neither got drafted. Strong’s physical characteristics and Clermond’s production just seemed like someone would take a 6th or 7th round flier on them.

April 26, 2008

Jeff Otah to Carolina

Filed under: Draft,Football,NFL — Chas @ 5:14 pm

The Carolina Panthers gambled by not taking Otah at the #13 spot. Instead reaching (in my opinion) for Jonathan Stewart of Oregon at Running Back. They then traded with Philly to move in to the #19 spot to grab Jeff Otah.

Otah was expected to go in the #12-20 range. He slid a touch further than expected. I really expected the Bears to grab him at #14 when he was there.

Congrats to Otah.

I’m stunned by the volume of comments regarding Cassin Diggs’ involuntary/voluntary transfer. It’s a healthy debate. As I stated the first go-round, I’m not entirely comfortable with what went down. My discomfort largely stems from the one-way situation college athletics once an athlete signs, and what strikes me as abusing that situation.

A few basic things.

A scholarship is renewable each year at the school’s discretion. The student has no say. If a student wishes to transfer and still play a sport, it is at the school’s discretion as to whether to release him, and can restrict where he goes. This is common when there is a new coaching change and a kid doesn’t feel comfortable in the new situation. Pitt benefited from such a situation when Mike Cook left East Carolina. The trade-off is that the player has to sit out a year if he transfers to another D-1 school.

Of course, if the kid isn’t released, he can still leave and enroll elsewhere. He won’t, however, be eligible for a scholarship for a year and can’t even walk-on to the team.

At the same time a new coach can decide a kid doesn’t fit what he wants and can simply not renew the scholarship of the kid even if he wants to stay, is in good academic standing and not in any trouble. Usually this only happens when there is a coaching change. At Colorado last year, Jeff Bzdelik did just that after taking over. Technically any coach could do that any time, but it would completely trash his reputation on the recruiting trail.

A National Letter of Intent is the first document a kid signs when he accepts a scholarship to a school. It is also yet another contract that is essentially a one-way street. It binds the kid to the school — as the schools are so fond of reminding everyone. A player doesn’t have to sign an NLI, but unless you are Tyreke Evans or of similar ability, most schools won’t give a scholarship unless you sign it.

The reality, though, is that a player is recruited by the coaches. They state how they want to play for the guy when they sign. They talk about the relationships built with the coaches. Then they are bound to the school.

Once you sign, you are stuck unless the agrees to release you. Indiana made oral promises (which it kept) to the basketball recruits who signed that they would be released from their NLI if Kelvin Sampson left or was fired before the 2008 season. They were boxed in since they wanted the kids to sign in the early period of November. The Sampson Cell Phone Saga broke in October.
It’s why Bob Hurley, Sr. was agitated and advocated so hard for Tyshawn Taylor’s release from Marquette. It was the only way to look out for what was still his kid.
With all of that looking at them, is it any wonder some of the top recruits milk the publicity and have the coaches pursuing them go through so many hoops? Might as well, after they sign all leverage is lost.

With all of this, I definitely tend towards coming down on the side of the players and hate to see kids used and discarded.

This brings things back to Diggs. Pitt sought and recruited him, but when they realized that his development was not going to approach what they already had he became optional. There are no indications he failed on his academic or off-the court requirements, or was at any risk of it happening. To speculate or theorize in that direction is to try and look for an excuse to justify things. If any of that was happening, it would have been released or leaked just to counter Diggs.

It really comes down to breaking down the limited statements from both sides. It’s hard to buy Coach Dixon’s statements that the decision was amicably reached since Diggs seems anything but that about transferring.

One thing that is apparent is that playing time was an issue. He wasn’t going to get it at Pitt, and did not appear to earn it by his play. From the limited action that was seen in the games he was no where close to being good enough. McGhee showed more ability and development than Diggs. Diggs, however, seemed to feel that he was going to get more playing time when he was recruited.

I doubt he was promised it, but I also think the coaches believed and allowed him to believe he would get minutes. That while he may not start, he would have been in the rotation at Center. Perhaps allowing Biggs to be moved to power forward. Really, that was the expectation many fans had going into the season.

I also think the analogy to an academic scholarship does not hold up real well for me. Perhaps its the contract aspect keeps me from buying it. In an academic scholarship there are clearer terms set out explaining what is expected of the student (which Maz noted). In an athletic scholarship, the terms are left open and vague. There is much more discretion in the agreement that gives the school and coach all the power. That makes the oral representations made to the recruited player more important. They may not be in the terms of the contract, but they are vital in explaining to the recruit what is expected and what he can expect.

The representations are made during the recruitment. While trying to get the recruit to sign with the school. I find it highly improbable that any coach would tell a recruit that if it turns out their evaluations were wrong and he isn’t good enough to compete at the level expected he will not have his scholarship renewed for the following year.

The other problem is that an academic scholarship is completely individual. An athletic scholarship, while having strong individual components also includes a team concept. Rick Pitino did not discourage Derrick Caracter from declaring that he was going to enter the NBA Draft, but when Caracter wanted to come back, Pitino said no. There was no hue and cry over that for a reason. Caracter had been a lousy teammate. He had been disciplined and suspended multiple times in his two years there. The only reason he kept getting chances was his individual ability. Ultimately his disruptions to the team and the chemistry was more detrimental than the ability he had on the court.

The team component should be a factor. Again, Diggs did nothing to indicate he was anything but a good and supportive teammate even if he saw no action. He didn’t stir things up in the season when the coaches kept suggesting he was having major hip issues — which he now disputes over how serious. He didn’t complain about his lack of playing time publicly.

Specific to Diggs, this is not as much about his limited production and not being good enough to see much more than mop-up minutes — and therefore not living up to his end of the agreement. This is about freeing up a scholarship for someone else that Coach Dixon thinks can help the team immediately.

Because college basketball is limited in the number of scholarships — as opposed to football — there is not a lot of room for error in recruiting kids. The value of each scholarship is huge. Austin Wallace is injured through next year and holding one scholarship and is not about to be cut loose (and I don’t know if the school could with his injury). Apparently Coach Dixon felt he couldn’t have another scholarship tied up by a player who wouldn’t be a contributor for next season and as a senior wouldn’t have any potential in the future.

April 25, 2008

I admit to being surprised by this.

University of Pittsburgh junior forward Sam Young announced on Friday that he will return to Pitt for his senior season. Young, who will not declare for the NBA Draft, announced his decision two days before the NBA Draft Early Entry declaration deadline on Sunday, April 27.

“In discussing my options the last couple of weeks with Coach Dixon and my family, I feel that it is in my best interest to return to Pitt for my senior year,” Young said. “With the players we have returning to the team, we have an opportunity to accomplish something special next year. I can’t wait to get the season started.”

Not the part about Young coming back for his senior year. I’m just stunned he didn’t go to the Orlando pre-draft camp and workouts.

It was a no risk exploration to find out about his draft status for 2009 and to learn more about what they want to see from him. It’s why so many juniors who stand no chance of being drafted and clearly will return do declare for the NBA Draft. They just want to know where they stand.

That said, this is excellent news. Lots of expectations, but plenty of optimism as well.

April 24, 2008

So, it’s been a good week for Ohio State in Western PA, and a lousy week for keeping the local talent. Dorian Bell and Jordan Hall both committed to the Buckeyes. You can guess no one is happy that Ohio State is suddenly a big threat in the region — not Pitt, not Penn State and certainly not Michigan. It was expected that Michigan would continue to recruit the area with Dick-Rod strengthening recruiting ties to the area.

(Brief aside on Dick-Rod. A big hat tip to Gene who forwarded me some of the pics on his old McMansion in Morgantown, by Cheat Lake — you really can’t make this stuff up. Only asking $2 million. I was able to find the actual listing and photo gallery for a post on FanHouse.)

Instead, Ohio State seems to have built off of getting Pryor to commit for this year.
Pitt has been quiet at this point. Part of what has probably added to the quiet is the new NCAA restriction on attending football camps.

Division II, III and NAIA coaches are still permitted to attend camps such as Metro Index, which is held at Pitt’s South Side football facility, and the Nike camp at Penn State. The bylaw on the NCAA Web site states that coaches are limited to visiting high school-sactioned events in the spring, meaning coaches can attend “regular scholastic activities involving prospective student-athletes enrolled only at the institution at which the regular scholastic activities occur.” Division I coaches are not permitted to attend a camp, even if it’s hosted by its own school.

Wannstedt and plenty of coaches backed the new rule, though.

Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt favors the new rule because it gives coaches a bit of a break in their hectic recruiting and coaching schedules.

“It’s overkill,” Wannstedt said. “It’s too much. We don’t need it.”

So many of the ridiculous NCAA rules occur because the coaches demand it as a way to control themselves. Everyone is looking for the edge. The extra facetime, chance to connect with a recruit. No coach can afford to look like he is not pursuing a recruit. So, the only way they stop is if the rules say they have to.

A recruit Pitt is pursuing in Florida seems to be getting noticed. Josh Elizondo is a 6-2, 280 pound DT recruit in Naples. He’s not ranked as much of a prospect, though, that seems to be because they just don’t know him yet. He holds offers from Pitt and NC State and now South Carolina.

“I think I like Pittsburgh a lot now,” Elizondo said. “My coach knows Dave Wannstedt real well.” Elizondo said he’s been hearing from USC recruiter David Reaves. He has not taken any unofficial visits and doesn’t have any planned. Elizondo expects to get a lots of looks from recruiters during spring practice because many will be coming down to see his highly touted teammate OL Nick Alajajian.

Elizondo is also getting interest (but no offers yet) from Alabama, Florida St. and Wisconsin.

2009 Recruiting Q&As

Filed under: Basketball,Recruiting — Chas @ 9:45 am

Over at NBE Basketball Report, Anthony Jaskulski (of Pittsburgh Sports Report) has a couple Q&A’s of interest. One with Pitt verbal commit Lamar Patterson.

Q. What area do you think you need to improve on with your game?

A. I want to improve everything. My dribbling, my shooting, rebounding, every category I want to get better at. There is always room for improvement in basketball.

There’s also one with Andrew Fitzgerald.

Q. You said Pittsburgh was very high on your list. What makes them so special?

A. I like how they feed the ball inside, and their guards are tough and know how to feed the big men the ball. It seems like they play competitive basketball and know how to win, and that’s what I like.

Fitzgerald, according to Scouts, Inc./ESPN.com (Insider subs.) is a top-150 recruit but he needs to work on his conditioning. Scout.com puts him as a 4-star and the #13 Center prospect nationally. Rivals.com doesn’t have a ranking for him at this time (they haven’t updated their 2009 ranking list since November). I’m not sure how tall Fitzgerald is at this point. Sites have listed the HS junior as anywhere from 6’7″ to 6’9″.

April 23, 2008

Mike McGlynn is somewhat the forgotten man with Jeff Otah being projected to go somewhere in the 12-20 range of the NFL Draft. McGlynn is a mid-round pick. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t deserve some puff pieces. Especially from the hometown papers in the Mahoning Valley. One focuses on his time in High School where he essentially lost two seasons — academics and injury.

Scouts weren’t scared off by the missed season, figuring (correctively) that an athletic lineman who stood 6-foot-5 and weighed 310 pounds could recover from a missed season. McGlynn verbally committed to Pitt the next July — Inglis was irritated he didn’t wait until after he had attended Ohio State’s summer camp in case Jim Tressel wanted to offer him a scholarship —and the big left tackle seemed poised for a terrific senior season.

For 3 1/2 weeks, he had one. Then, against GlenOak in the fourth week, McGlynn fractured his right fibula, ending his season. Making matters worse, his mom had just lost her health insurance, meaning he wouldn’t be able to rehab the injury.

Then an athletic trainer named Don Sherwood stepped in.

“Without him, I don’t know where I’d be,” said McGlynn. “He helped rehab me and got me back where I needed to be. I was 335 pounds and I didn’t have any way of rehabbing it myself.

“He got me ready for my career at Pitt. We’re best friends now. He’s like a brother.”

The other story focused on his versatility along an offensive line.

‘‘One of my strong points is my versatility,’’ McGlynn said. ‘‘We‘ll see what position I‘ll play. Some teams have me as a guard and some as a tackle, and I‘ve played center. I think where I‘m going to make it is at guard or center. Some teams think I‘m undersized (for tackle) and would prefer me at guard or center.’’

According to nfldraftscout.com, McGlynn is rated fourth among all guards. He‘s being projected as a third- or fourth-round pick.

In a more statewide look at  Ohio kids waiting for the NFL Draft, comes this tidbit about life in the McGlynn household.

Mike McGlynn, Pitt offensive lineman: An Austintown Fitch product, now 6-4 and 311 pounds, he had to weigh in every Saturday morning for youth football. ”It was cold, I’d be down to my underwear and my dad used to hang me upside-down so I’d lose a couple pounds to make the weight,” McGlynn said. ”When I was 9, I was playing with 12- and 13-year-olds.”

Coming soon in paperback: The upside-down diet.

Speculation has had McGlynn being selected by the Dolphins, Lions and Rams. Go figure. All teams with big issues on their O-lines.

April 22, 2008

No One Diggs It

Filed under: Basketball,Recruiting,Rumors — Chas @ 10:00 am

Let’s be clear about something. In 95% of the cases (yes, a made up number) any player who completed his junior year does not “voluntarily” transfer or leave a D-1 program unless there are criminal, academic or personal issues. That player is stuck dropping down to D-2 basketball if they want to get a scholarship and play. Their eligibility at the upper-level is shot because at D-1 a transfer has to sit out a year. They can play immediately if they drop a level.

So, I’m not even going to pretend that Pitt coaches weren’t doing everything they could to convince Cassin Diggs to leave the basketball team. It may not have been with the direct coldness of a Jim Calhoun forced exit, but it was done. I can’t say I’m comfortable with it, simply because it means falling back on the old chestnut of “well it goes on everywhere else.”

At the same time, the rationalizing part of my brain that knows how this helps Pitt by freeing up that scholarship to a player who may be more productive and may fill that immediate need at shooting guard. It continues with the point that this is only the first time it has happened, and only the second transfer under Dixon.

To say nothing of a reflexive defense when Diggs unloads a bit.

Diggs said the split from Pitt was not amicable. He had wanted to remain with the team, but the coaches repeatedly encouraged him to transfer. After a while, he relented and decided to leave because it became obvious he was not wanted.

“They basically wanted me to leave because they wanted to sign someone else,” Diggs said.

Diggs, a Williamsport, Pa., native, went on to say the Pitt coaches were “manipulators” because they made it seem like he would receive more playing time during the recruiting process.

“The walk-ons were playing more at the end of the season than I was,” Diggs said. “[The coaches] made it seem like it was because of my injuries, but it wasn’t.”

Again, the defensiveness of the program screams, “The walk-ons were playing more because even they were better than you!” I also feel the need to dispute the “manipulators” accusation. Diggs is the first player leaving Pitt under Dixon to complain bitterly. Dante Milligan left because of a lack of playing time, but hardly went crazy about it (of course he still had plenty of time to his eligibility).

The final thing about this, from a planning standpoint is that it only leaves Pitt with 3 scholarships to offer for next year — Fields, Young and Biggs — rather than 4 (barring any other transfers). That’s a little frustrating, especially if Travon Woodall Darnell Dodson (remember him?) is still in Pitt’s plan after his JUCO stint. He would be part of the 2009 signing class.

On the plus side, Jermaine Dixon’s signing will give the team a scholarship opening in 2010 where at present there are none.

April 21, 2008

JUCO Out, JUCO In

Filed under: Basketball,Recruiting — Chas @ 11:12 pm

While it wasn’t done with the cold, telegraphed cruelty of Jim Calhoun taking out deadwood scholarships, I don’t doubt that Coach Jamie Dixon made it very clear to Cassin Diggs that it might be best to move on from Pitt.

Pitt junior center Cassin Diggs quit the team last week, a move that opened up a scholarship for another junior-college transfer to take his place.

The choice of words “quit the team” is interesting. Nothing about transferring to a D-II program or anything like that. I’ll be interested if there are more details about this. This brief does call it a transfer, so we’ll see.
I’m just glad Pitt didn’t pursue Tyree Evans. When Huggins can’t touch you, there are problems.

With the scholarship freed, Jermaine Dixon officially signed his LOI. Pitt got out the press release on Dixon, but nothing on Diggs leaving.

“We are extremely excited about Jermaine joining our Pitt basketball family,” Dixon said. “He is a terrific person and a very talented basketball player. Jermaine played for an excellent coach in Eddie Barnes at Tallahassee Community College and gained valuable experience competing in the Panhandle Conference, one of the best junior college conferences in the nation. We anticipate Jermaine having the opportunity to make an immediate impact on our team.”

Dixon is ranked among the nation’s top junior college guards in the Class of 2008. He is ranked the nation’s No. 8 junior college player by JucoJunction.com and the nation’s No. 4 JUCO off guard by Hoopmasters.com.

[Links added.]

Still no word as to whether Sam Young will go to the draft camps.

Everyone is focused on the Blue-Gold football scrimmage. The Pete, meanwhile hosted the Pittsburgh Jam Fest. Courtesy of Big East Basketball Blog, there are reports on the games and players. The observations came from Anthony Jaskulksi, who covers high school basketball for Pittsburgh Sports Report.

From Day 1, Lamar Patterson continues to show that Pitt recognized him before many others did.

Patterson can have an off-game and still be a dominating presence, whether it comes from his ability to find the rebound on both ends of the floor, his shutdown defense, his mobile ability on offense used to nail even the toughest of shots. Patterson showed moments of fatigue in the first half tonight (i.e. slow up and down the court, front-of-the-iron jumpers and tough passes leading to turnovers). Entering the second half, Patterson was a different player, showing powerful moves to the hole, resulting in beautiful finishes and crisp passes that got his teammates easy layups. Patterson did not shy away from the defensive end, as the Pitt recruit harassed defenders, muscled up for strong rebounds, and looked up for smart half-court passes to wide-open guys.

There are some other targets for the 2009 class. Power forward Dante Taylor seems to have Pitt and Maryland at the top of his list.

Taylor showed the ability to handle the ball facing the hoop, as well as backing defenders down, working fundamental big man moves inside the paint. He has great court vision which leads to impressive passes and off-the-ball moves to get wide-open looks. Taylor impressed the crowd with a great back-to-the-basket, turnaround power step and jam late in the game, which shows the big man can be a versatile player, handling the ball and the strength to reach the basket. Taylor’s perimeter shot was as crisp as one could be for a power forward. His hustle and ability to finish the game is a superior asset for him on both ends of the floor, and proves he can be useful in clutch situations.

Taylor is a 4-star recruit and a consensus top-50 player for the class of 2009 from Maryland. From Scouts, Inc./ESPN.com:

Taylor is a strong, physical rebounder who enjoys tough competition. Dante can handle, run the floor, and plays within himself. He is a very intense player with a high learning curve. More comfortable facing the basket, Taylor needs to work on one or two solid low post scoring moves to go along with his mid-range jumper and power dribble moves on the baseline.

He seems to be a little raw from the evaluation, but the “upside” and “learning curve” are very attractive for the 6’8″ junior.

Another player with reported interest from Pitt is point guard Antoine Allen (grainy highlight reel video) who apparently has that gritty, aggressive thing in spades.

Local product Zeke Marshall, was apparently overmatched by the higher competition, as “the seven-foot junior finished with just six points and five rebounds, and fouled out halfway through the 2nd half.”

On Day 2, there were plenty of other players Pitt will be pursuing or looking closely for 2009 that performed. This included Andrew Fitzgerald, Dominic Cheek, Erique Gumbs, and Brian Oliver.

For Day 3, there were reports on two shooting guards that Pitt covets. Maurice Creek and Omari Lawrence. Creek showed that defense is not something he always cares about. He’s still a 4-star recruit and a top-20 shooting guard nationally. ESPN.com/Scouts, Inc. doesn’t seem quite so high on him.

Must continue to work on his ball-handling skills because he is much better right now off the ball. Must also consistently play with more energy. He seems to go as his offense does. If he is scoring, he appears to be more into the game and play harder at the defensive end of the floor.

The main target, though, is likely Omari Lawrence who is much more polished. There’s some discrepancy between Scout.com (4-star and #9 SG) and Rivals.com (3-star) at this time. ESPN.com/Scouts, Inc. comes down on the higher side listing him as the 46th best recruit in the 2009 class.

Lawrence has an incredible feel on the defensive end, and brings great intensity to every possession. His court vision works on both ends of the floor, giving him an exceptional ability to make impact plays. He is a finisher that with the help of a better passing game can become a full-package star. His shot selection was at its best, and he proved he can hit the long-range buckets as well as the short-range jumpers.

Locally, Schenley Guard Deandre Kane remains in limbo. He is awaiting his latest SAT and/or ACT scores and Pitt and other interested schools are unsure he will finish the school year with sufficient grades.

If anyone knows who Jamie Dixon owes a favor to in Bemidji, Minnesota please let me know just to satisfy my curiosity. In May he’s going to be a guest speaker at the 2008 North Central Basketball Coaching Clinic at the Bemidji Middle School. That’s just weird.

April 20, 2008

Recapping Blue-Gold ’08

Filed under: Coaches,Football,Practice,Wannstedt — Chas @ 11:42 pm

No complaints about a solid 2-hour infomercial for Pitt football. It was fun to watch and nice to just enjoy it rather than try to analyze every little thing and go into heavy angst. It was a spring football scrimmage. The last one of spring practice. The biggest goal should have been to make sure no one got hurt.

Plenty of key players saw little or no time — McKillop, McCoy, Kinder, Mustakas, Collins, Jacobson, Davis and Pinkston — and 7 others didn’t suit up for the game. Plus there are freshmen that will be expected to be in the mix come August. As Coach Wannstedt said in the broadcast and was amply apparent, the defense was bland and didn’t really come hard against the offense too often.

Still, this was the chance for the coaches to get an idea of a rough depth chart and arguably the offense getting to have a chance will help with the confidence.

“Our offense, I thought, needed that,” said Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt, who did color analysis for the NFL Network telecast. “At our practices this spring, for the most part, our defense probably had the upper hand more times than not. It was good to see our offense respond in that fashion.”

I have no doubt that if this hadn’t been the final scrimmage/practice of the spring that the defense would have been lit into for the way they played. Maybe it was just because they had to lay back up front, that it disrupted them and took their edge. It’s just that the defense I’ve been reading all spring about hardly looked it.

The thing about the spring game is that it does give players a chance to really get noticed. Buddy Jackson, Mo Williams, Shariff Harris and Dorin Dickerson definitely took advantage from what was seen in the Blue-Gold game.

I’m guessing Harris suddenly seems the most intriguing. The redshirt freshman running back made his case to be the #3 RB. Heck, there are plenty of fans probably ready to pencil him in at #2. Kevin Gorman at the Trib can feel good for having a piece on Harris the day before the scrimmage.

“I can see improvement from when he started Day One until where we are, Day 13,” running backs coach David Walker said. “His thing is, he’s a big, physical runner. He got his shoulders turned downhill at times and made it tough for people to hang onto him.”

Despite a strong training camp, when his running style raised eyebrows, Harris was the odd-man out last season and took a redshirt. Turns out, it was the best thing for him. Not only did Harris develop his 6-foot-1 frame from 190 pounds to 225, he matured as a student and an athlete.

“I wasn’t ready last year,” said Harris, who was asked to elaborate. “Reading the defenses and the offense and knowing my plays. I wasn’t ready to play college football.”

He looked ready yesterday.

Dickerson looks very comfortable at the TE spot. Maurice Williams was able to use his size and speed well against the corners.

As for the QB spot, it is still Stull’s. Greg Cross brings a lot of excitement but right now he is a situational, Tim Tebow-in-his-freshman-year change of pace, special package QB. That’s good and will help Pitt’s offense a lot. He’s not, however, going to be the starter on August 30.

Bostick and Smith both looked good. Of course, with the limited pressure they had time. Something neither had last year (in every sense of the word).

Gene Collier joined with those intrigued by Cross.

“I’ve never been in a stadium this big; I loved it, loved the crowd, loved the atmosphere, and I can’t wait to play here in the fall,” said Cross, whose 29-yard scramble up the middle and 37-yard strike to Maurice Williams in the second half were the longest plays of the night.

“All of the quarterbacks are pulling for each other, and we’re all trying to move the team down the field. We’re all about winning.”

There was little doubt what Cross was about when he got to Fort Scott Community College in Kansas two years ago, because suddenly a program that had lost 24 consecutive games started winning more often than not. When he was done, Cross had led Fort Scott to 16 victories in two seasons and into the Valley of the Sun Bowl, where he threw for two touchdowns and ran 85 yards for another.

“When I first got there and the coaches saw how athletic I was — I mean I’d played all kinds of sports my whole life — they told me I was trying to be so perfect as a quarterback that it wasn’t working,” Cross said. “They told me just to be myself. Just to have fun.”

Pitt’s offensive coaches should have plenty of fun when they sit down and talk about this because Cross is so fast that he could serve as an occasional fuel injector for Matt Cavanaugh’s standard offense. With steady development in August added to his qualifications, he could be something much more.

Then there are the awards to the players at the end of spring practice.

Wannstedt announced the winners of the Ed Conway Award, annually presented to the most improved players of the spring. This year’s recipients were junior tight end Dorin Dickerson, junior receiver Cedric McGee (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla./Plantation) and junior defensive tackle Mick Williams.

Pitt also presented its freshman Academic Award, which was shared this year by defensive lineman Myles Caragein (Pittsburgh, Pa./Keystone Oaks) and offensive lineman Chris Jacobson (Pittsburgh, Pa./Keystone Oaks), both graduates of Pittsburgh’s Keystone Oaks High.

For the truly obsessed, offense and defense stats (PDF).

April 19, 2008

The Blue-Gold game fanfest is underway. I would love to be there tonight. Of course the one flaw in all of this planning for the festivities.

Where the Blue-Gold Game drew an announced attendance of 2,103 last year, Pederson is hoping to lure more fans today with free admission and other enticements. Pitt players will sign autographs in the Gate A plaza from 4 to 4:30 p.m., followed by live music and entertainment before the 6 p.m. kickoff of the two-hour scrimmage.

Former Panthers greats now in the NFL — Ruben Brown, Claude Harriott, Tyler Palko, Darrelle Revis and Charles Spencer among them — will make appearances and drop by the broadcast booth for in-game interviews.

“We’re going to build events around the game so that the two hours before kickoff are family-fun time,” Pederson said. “Obviously, we think it’s important to raise our profile every chance we get. The opportunity to put it on the NFL Network gives us a chance to have a nationwide presence for the spring game, which we think is spectacular.”

What? No Rod Rutherford? He’s up in Erie now.

Fantastic. Excellent. Great to bring back former players and having them interact with the fans. Can’t say enough great things about that. That the former players are willing to do this, and the school reached out to them is a great change.
Of course, tonight is also the first night of Passover. Kind of an important night for some of us. Aren’t there any Jews in the Pitt Athletic Department? Hopefully there will still be a sizable crowd.
I am happy the game is on the NFL Network at least. I can still watch it. Plus there’s the admitted recruiting angle.

Because the game is televised, it will have to fit in the allotted two-hour window and that means the second-half clock likely will run unabated and the length of the third and fourth quarters will be determined by time constraints. Wannstedt said he’d like the game to end at the same time the broadcast is over.

Wannstedt said the television exposure is excellent for the program and might provide a recruiting boost.

“Anytime you have a chance to get some exposure, it is a good thing,” Wannstedt said. “I mean, I didn’t get a chance to watch any of the Texas or the Florida spring games, but we had them on in the locker rooms after practice and our guys were able to look up there and see them. And I think being on national television says something about the program.

“And also, the prospective recruits who can’t get to the game, the non-local kids, the kids in New Jersey, Florida and Maryland, they will be watching.”

Assuming they know somebody with the NFL Network. It’s not like they can go to the bars.

April 16, 2008

I know, everyone is waiting for more news on Murdock and Pinkston. At this point there is only speculation, rumor and a little angst. Without even an arrest report or a filed complaint on record, there’s nothing to go on. Stuck with the dreaded, “wait and see” response at this moment. Even the media is stuck.

On the subject of spring practice, I have to apologize for the poor job I’ve done at posting on practice — or more accurately posting on the stories about practice. I’ve read the stories, but trying to interpret them takes more time that I have been lacking the last couple weeks.

The O-line seems to be the biggest issue — and has affected so much of the team that it can be hard to judge. The defense has been great, but how much is it because the O-line is so bad? The running game can’t do anything. The QBs rarely have time to make reads and connect with receivers. It’s such a mess, I don’t see how Lucas Nix doesn’t come in and grab a starting job on the line as a true freshman at this point. Even if he is only half-as-good as advertised.

Really, there isn’t too much concern over the running game. Other than figuring out who will be the #3 back behind LeSean and LaRod. But the O-line concerns are making it that much harder to figure out the starting QB. It seems that Bill Stull is/was the favorite, but JUCO Greg Cross may see more than just packages for Pitt’s “wildcat” formations given his speed and ability to escape a rush. Over the past weekend, Cross really stood out in the scrimmages. He has to work on his passing accuracy. The last thing I want to see is a redux of the first two years of Rod Rutherford — where he would come in in certain packages ostensibly to either pass or run, but everyone knew he was running. But he is showing flashes of what could be.

Cross, who is an excellent athlete, was brought in specifically to be a dual-threat quarterback in the Panthers’ Wildcat package and some spread formations, but yesterday he was effective in the Panthers’ standard West Coast offense.

“He did some really nice things today, for three weeks he has just been learning,” offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh said. “We’ve tried to put him into situations where he is doing the things he knows how to do because he is obviously not where [the other quarterbacks] are as far as knowing things. But, his package is expanding every week. And every time he gets the ball in his hands he is a threat, because he can run and he is now starting to show he can pass it.

“It was good to see him have the kind of day he had, it will do a lot for confidence. He hasn’t had a lot of work throwing it, but today we let him show some things and he still has some mechanical flaws and some things he has to work on, but he is working on them and he’s improving.”

Cross’ first drive was impressive yesterday because it was the first time the Panthers scored a touchdown and he did it against virtually the entire Pitt starting defensive unit. Cross’ touchdown run was a quarterback draw but he had an impressive 10-yard run on a bootleg in which he made a number of defenders miss and picked up a first down.

Still, it is probably Stull’s job to lose. If the O-line doesn’t get him killed.

And, while much has been made about the fact that the defensive line is playing well and that there are two starters — left guard C.J. Davis and left tackle Jason Pinkston — sitting out, the bottom line is the unit that is left has a long way to go.

As things stand, the right tackle spot will be manned by either junior Joe Thomas or redshirt freshman Jordan Gibbs. While both have had some good moments, they also have struggled in trying to handle the Panthers’ speedy defensive ends. Center Robb Houser has been consistent, but the revolving door at left guard — Davis’ spot — has not spoken well of the Panthers’ depth.

The one positive development has been the smooth transition of junior John Malecki from defensive tackle to offensive guard. He clearly has been one of the most consistent performers on the line this spring.

The one thing I’d like to know is since the 1st team O-line is so patchwork and key players out, how is the 2nd team O-line doing against the 2nd team defense? That would probably tell a good deal about the depth at O-line and the drop-off on talent on both the offensive line and the D-line.

Gauging the drop-off on defense has been an issue for new Defensive Coordinator Phil Bennett.

Bennett said that coaching with enthusiasm is the only way he knows how to do his job, but that if players don’t know it is genuine, it is a waste of energy. And he also believes his job has been made much easier because he has inherited a lot of good football players to work with.

“I’ve quickly figured out that our first-line players are definitely good players,” Bennett said. “So that’s helped, and now we’re trying to develop a second group so that the drop-off is minimal. We have some quality depth, but we need to build on it. And I guess my coaching style is such that college football is a lot about emotion and passion, and I think you have to bring that with you when you coach, and I always have.”

No shock that he isn’t trying to change the defensive philosophy from last year.

Back to the depth issue, the one area on defense where there is a clear problem, only exacerbated by Murdock’s indefinite suspension, is at Safety. Eric Thatcher will be the starter at free safety, and while Dom DeCicco and Elijah Fields battle for the strong safety starting spot, it’s safe to say the back-up will see plenty of action spelling both starters. And that means any injuries or suspensions would make this a very, very thin position.

After that, it’s all walk-ons: Michael Toerper. Austin Ransom. And one guy who’s not even on the roster. Murdock switched from cornerback to safety this spring to replace Irvan Brown, who was excused for “personal reasons.”

Problem is, Pitt doesn’t have any safeties in its recruiting class. Manny Williams played safety but is projected as an outside linebacker and is coming off an ACL tear. Antwuan Reed could move from corner. Or Pitt could elect not to greyshirt Andrew Taglianetti.

Possibilities from the current roster to move to safety could include Aaron Smith, a cornerback last season who has been a pleasant surprise at receiver this spring; Tristan Roberts (a high school safety) or Greg Williams, but both have looked good at outside linebacker this spring; and Jovani Chappel, who played safety last season but is now starting at the boundary corner.

Safe to say, safety should be a priority for Pitt’s recruiting efforts for the Class of 2009.

He’s probably 25-30 pounds too light for the spot, but CB Buddy Jackson has reportedly been very physical and done well this spring. He might be a desperation option.

The last link was to Kevin Gorman’s blog post after the last practice. Some other key things from his typical must-reads on practice.

— The teams didn’t give a good effort yesterday, and Wannstedt let them know.

— O-line issues kill the running game (again)

— Cross is looking more comfortable in the offense every practice

— Even Wannstedt is unsure about how good the D-line is versus the O-line problems

— Dan Matha will miss the rest of spring practice, but won’t need surgery on a knee that was “sprained” last week. Cedric McGee is already back practicing with the receivers

April 15, 2008

Final Hurrahs Before HS Ends

Filed under: Basketball,Honors,Recruiting — Chas @ 11:25 am

While I try to shake the idea of Playboy planning a “Girls of Olive Garden” pictorial out of my head — strategically placed bread sticks — a couple recruiting kudos for the 2008 class.

Nasir Robinson was named to the Second Team EA Sports All-American squad. Granted, the 1st team had 20 members and there are 30 players listed for the second team. Still that puts the Pitt commit in a top-50 class. I mean, if you care about these things.
Meanwhile, one of the gems of Pitt’s football recruiting class continues to make noise about walking on to the basketball team while at the State Farm Roundball Classic.

One of those players who definitely showed he belonged to be considered among the best around was Aliquippa’s Jonathan Baldwin, who captured MVP honors for the winners, scoring 27 points, including five 3-pointers.

“This was my last high school game so I wanted it to be a good one,” said Baldwin, who earlier in the day had set a record at the Center Trojan Track Classic as part of the 400 relay team. “Everyone wants to win and we’re all hard-nosed about it.

“I wanted to show everyone I could shoot three-pointers. I’m thinking about walking on at Pitt to play basketball, too, so I wanted to work on my threes.”

Baldwin is already committed to playing wide receiver at Pitt, but based on what the fans saw at Geneva College’s Metheny Fieldhouse, it’s hard to say his basketball career should be over.

With him and Mike Shanahan, it looks like there will be some real competition for the walk-on spots this year.

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