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July 10, 2009

Well, the Aussies are feeling a bit cocky about their chances at winning the FIBA U-19 Championship.

And though everybody around the event is talking up the United States as a cast-iron prospect to end their 18-year drought at the tournament and finally take home the gold medals, the awesome Aussies are bristling over that.

Ellis, the team’s most polished all-round player with a nice mix of grunt and guile, reckons his team is thriving on its unheralded status and feels like they can give the confident Americans more than they can handle at the business end.

The two sides won’t meet until Sunday’s final, should they both get that far, but Ellis has sent a clear message to Jamie Dixon’s side should that eventuality play out.

“Mate, we can beat ’em – we can beat those guys” said the 2.04m forward who had 14 points and four boards in the Australians’ hard-fought 79-74 win over Croatia on Wednesday night to close out qualifying.

“We can beat anyone on our day, and we’re going for it,” added the impressive 19-year-old who hit three of his five three-pointers against the Croats.

The Australian U-19 team has been playing together year round so they do have the better teamwork, chemistry and such going for them. Like the US, they are 6-0 after the first couple of rounds.

Some interesting things from the Washington State blog, Coug Center on the U-19 team.

  • This team is playing at an insanely fast pace. That 78.6 figure would have been second in the nation in college basketball last season — they play 40-minute games in international competition, too. This isn’t real surprising, given all the athletic bodies (and depth) Jamie Dixon has to work with.
  • Their shooting has been excellent, as has their offensive rebounding and ability to take care of the basketball. The encouraging thing about this is that it shows this team isn’t getting by on mere athletic ability — they’re actually excelling at different facets of the game.

The latter point is not surprising. We know Coach Dixon does emphasize the rebounding and not turning the ball over. He has always coached the fundamentals well.

The point about the pace being so fast is interesting, since it seems to run contrary to what Coach Dixon likes at Pitt. As Nuss points out, though, this team is very athletic and should be running. That Coach Dixon is letting them play that way is the eyecatcher to me.

That indicates a lot more flexibility from Coach Dixon regarding how a team should play on the court.

We’ve heard recruits and occasionally even Coach Dixon indicate that he is willing to run at times. I’ve been a doubter of that, as it would seem to go outside his comfort zone. This suggests that there is some truth to it. Dixon will let a team play faster if they can still do the basic things that he demands.

Obviously, if you haven’t read Chris Dokish’s latest Q&A regarding the basketball team, you are missing a lot. Too much to excerpt.

I don’t disagree that Gibbs is intended to be the shooting guard and Woodall is hoped to be the starting point. I think the plan with Gibbs — especially with the way he seems to be being used in the U-19 is to make him much more comfortable as super-sub guard and another reliable ball handler

If you assume Jermaine Dixon starts at the shooting guard, Woodall at point and Gil Brown is the small forward  then Gibbs will see almost as many minutes as all three in the rotation but in both guard spots.

Gibbs will spell Woodall at point. He will spell Dixon at SG plus Dixon and Wanamaker at times could slide over to the SF/wing spot when Brown is out. Giving Pitt a 3-guard look.

Especially when Wanamaker is on the court, Pitt will need to make sure that there is another sure-handed guard. Wanamaker keeps improving and progressing, but the glaring weakness in his game is that he gets a little loose with the ball.

Back to the U-19, the US had no problem with Canada. Rolling to a 93-73 win (PDF). While the offense was excellent for the US team (especially draining 3s), their defense was probably better. Holding the Canucks to under 40% and getting 8 steals and 7 blocks.

Gibbs was only 1-5 in 23 minutes with 2 assists, 2 boards and 0 turnovers. Gibbs has not shot particularly well in the last 3 or 4 games.

As Croatia handled Puerto Rico, the US will have its toughest game next. I fear the Croats more than I do a meeting with the Aussies potentially in the gold medal game.

As it stands, the US team is now 7-0.

Slam Online has a nice recruiting recap for the entire Big East. It’s not a ranking, but it is a good way to look over the conference to get an idea about which teams loaded up and the expected impact players in the conference.

don’t expect Travon to start at the point. It would be the ideal scenario in a perfect world, but the kid has not played competitive basketball in almost a year. He will probably not be ready.

Pencil in Ashton at the point

Comment by Jamie H 07.10.09 @ 9:30 am

But with Jermaine hurt now, expect Ashton to get a lot of practice time at SG, and that means Travon will see a lot of time at PG.

Comment by Mark 07.10.09 @ 9:56 am

2.04 m = approx 6’7 1/2 (I think)

I think there may be much experimenting in early preseason; Gibbs, Dixon and Wannamker playing 2 or 3 positions, then come Jimmy V time, a more set lineup will be in place

Comment by w bill 07.10.09 @ 10:46 am

Mark, I think you have it wrong. Ashton will still be at PG, and Brad will be at SG if Jermaine misses any time. Brad is a much better option than having Travon on the floor.

People need to relax on the expectations on Travon. He’s been hurt for a year now, hasn’t played competitive basketball of any sort, and meanwhile Ashton played a whole Big East season and is over in New Zealand playing for the USA. Think about it

Comment by Jamie H 07.10.09 @ 11:16 am

I don’t think anybody is predicting that Travon will start. All anybody says is that it would be best for the program if he wins the spot. And all I said in my above post is that with Jermaine hurt, Travon will see a lot of PG time in practice. As for Gibbs, he isn’t exactly tearing it up as a PG over there. He’s averaging about 2 apg and his shooting has gone downhill now that he can’t set up on the wing. That’s why it’s so huge to have Travon beat him out.

Comment by Mark 07.10.09 @ 11:24 am

Mark, I agree with you there. It is in the best interest of the program if Travon takes the team by storm and wins the PG spot. He is the only natural PG on the roster. It would be great to see him develop, but it will take alot for him to be trusted come January. I just don’t see that as the likely scenario

Comment by Jamie H 07.10.09 @ 11:44 am

It appears that we’re into hoops more than football. Is it because we have much higher expectations for hoops than fb? Is it that BE football is mediocre at best? Is it that we’ve lost confidence in Wanny? Or am I simply wrong as my wife is wont to say?

Any questions for Brandin? (Besides why we didn’t recruit Brandon) He’ll be at a NJ Pitt Golf outing on Tuesday.

Comment by steve 07.10.09 @ 3:30 pm

i think were talking about hoops right now cause there is nothing else to talk about, not at least for another month. i can see pitt contending for the BE if we can find or get better play from a certain QB.

Comment by mike 07.10.09 @ 4:22 pm

We are talking about basketball because we have one of the best programs in the country with one of the best coaches in the country. Football, not so much.

Comment by Omar 07.10.09 @ 5:02 pm

Mike, we are talking basketball, because our coach, and one of our players, are running amuck in the U19.

Comment by dugdog 07.10.09 @ 5:26 pm

Edit: Mike and Steve 🙂

Comment by dugdog 07.10.09 @ 5:29 pm

Woodall will surprise many people this year. If there is one thing to trust its this coaching staff’s evaluation of talent and player development. Woodall will prove that even more.

Comment by Ontario Lett's Go Pitt 07.10.09 @ 8:52 pm

Well Australia might be able to beat the US but they couldn’t beat Greece. The US is to meet Greece in the gold medal game.

Comment by Joey T 07.11.09 @ 9:04 am

Or maybe we’re talking basketball because we know we have a terrible football head coach who, even with above-average talent always seems to find a way to make watching a Pitt football game extremely painful. You know, maybe…

Comment by Carmen 07.11.09 @ 9:06 am

Maybe it’s just me, but I’m not surprised by Coach Dixon having an up-tempo style. It seemed to me that Pitt pushed the ball up the floor a lot more last season than they ever did before. I think coach Dixon likes it that way, and I think that is why Travon Woodall will be our starting PG unless he gets hurt. Woodall is blazing fast, penetrates to the basket and finishes nicely. It does not hurt that at 5’11” he can also dunk the ball. He is a true point guard and the perfect complement to our shooting guards.

Comment by HbgFrank 07.11.09 @ 2:11 pm

Whoa whoa whoa on all this Woodall talk. He didn’t even start for his HS team as a senior!!!!!!!!!!! And I know that’s because the roster was loaded, but that still tells you something.

Gibbs is playing the point in the FIBA tournament because Dixon wanted to get him time there in case Woodall doesn’t work out. That ought to tell you plenty.

Comment by hugh green 07.11.09 @ 4:17 pm

What is more scary is that folks are even bringing up the fact that our prospective PG can dunk and calling that a positive. I certainly hope he can dunk if he plans to play in the Big East.

Comment by hugh green 07.11.09 @ 4:20 pm

It’s a known fact that Woodall volunteered to be a reserve in high school.

Comment by Mark 07.11.09 @ 5:19 pm

The metric system sucks balls. America rules

Comment by Dan35 07.11.09 @ 8:09 pm

Hugh, the dunk reference was to point out the kid is a very good athlete. Also, telling us that he “did not start for his HS team” without telling us who it was that started in front of him and what college that kid is attending, really tells us nothing. For the record, Shady did not start at the prep school he attended either. Part of that was coming back from his injury, but for the most part he was not the best RB on that team. What that tells you is that that prep school had two really, really good RB’s. Travon Woodall’s HS team had two great PG’s. As I recall, Woodall did not start but he played a lot for one of the best HS Programs in the country. If he is not our starting PG at some point this season, I will be shocked.

Comment by HbgFrank 07.11.09 @ 8:18 pm

I agree with HbgFrank. And yes Shady didn’t start, but my brothers team played that team and Shady was the best RB on the team, better than Greg Cooper who was the starter. So I disagree with that comment. Here’s the thing, who the hell cares if Woodall started in HS??? To get a scholarship and end up with Pitt you have to have talent. Period. And to question this coaching staff’s evaluation of talent is almost silly. They have brought in countless unerrated players and turned them in to excellent college hoopsters. The few exceptions have been JUCO guys who may have been brought in only to provide practice bodies anyways. How bout we let Woodall step on the floor this year and play before we judge his play. I’m sorry but the coaching staff are better evaluators of talent and have seen these guys play more than anyone on this board has so I’m going to trust them on Woodall. I can’t wait until he surprises all of the doubters.

Comment by Ontario Lett's Go Pitt 07.11.09 @ 9:38 pm

Hope you guys are right on Woodall, but if you’re planning on starting for one of the lead programs in the Big East, than chances are there shouldn’t be any debate about whether you start for your HS as a senior. (Whether you’re at St. Anthony’s or anywhere else…….)

And as to the record on evaluation of talent…….what about Milligan, Demetris, Benjamin, McCarroll, Hudson, Wallace? Or Biggs, who the coaching staff touted as a top recruit and who barely registered as a role player? Certainly the coaching staff has had success in winning with some players who exceeded expectations and that’s to their credit, but they’ve missed also and they’re going to miss again. It’s just more painful when you miss at PG.

But you’re all right, let’s hope I’m wrong and he wins the job and proves himself. Just don’t be surprised if it doesn’t happen.

Comment by hugh green 07.11.09 @ 11:09 pm

Forgot DeGroat, who wasn’t brought in as a practice body; he was brought in to score, which turned out to be completely beyond his ability.

Comment by hugh green 07.11.09 @ 11:12 pm

Woodall shared a backcourt with McDonald’s All-American Mike Rosario, who is now at Rutgers, and Tyshawn Taylor, who plays at Kansas. Woodall volunteered to come off the bench.

“At the end of the day, it didn’t matter who started,” Woodall said. “All that mattered was who won. I knew coach Hurley would have me in the game when it mattered.”

“He’s a team guy who would do whatever it took for the team,” Dixon said. “He came off the bench last year because he volunteered to do that. He led them in assists. He’s very unselfish. He’s a true point guard.”

link to

Comment by Mark 07.12.09 @ 6:49 am

And neither of those kids are PGs, so they chose to go with two shooting guard-types in the backcourt.

Comment by hugh green 07.12.09 @ 8:44 am

Who cares? They were one of the best HS teams ever. They didn’t need a true PG to dominate. The point is, Woodall played just as many minutes and was ALWAYS in the game at the end of a close game. Starter or not, he was considered one of the main players on a legendary team. If he was on any other HS team in the country that year he would have started and starred.

Comment by Mark 07.12.09 @ 8:56 am

Most of the kids you mentioned weren’t recruited when Dixon was head coach and the current staff was assembled so lets throw most of those names out. Sure Dixon was on staff and had some input but not the kind he has now. Herion and Knight weren’t members of the staff. Hudson was a JC player, and I mentioned JC players not panning out earlier, no need to bring him up. McCarrol had a decent career, not a stud but played a role on some very successful teams. Also he was on Howland teams so not completely relevant in this discussion, only his last season was under Dixon. Benjamin also had a large hand in successful teams, so I’m not going to throw him in as garbage. Dante Milligan also was a Howland recruit I believe, and he transferred early. He actually went on to some NBA tryouts and I believe he is playing professionally overseas. Wallace was injured and basically never had a shot to develop. Demetris was a Howland recruit, and had no business in D1 ball, agreed. And Biggs? He was on a team with 2 guys who just got drafted. You have to have role players on a team, and that’s what he was. He was a starter for an elite 8 team so I’m not going to say they misjudged his talent either. The point is they have brought in many lower ranked recruits and developed several into successful players. Every kid can’t be the leading scorer. Some end up inevitably being role players. This team has consistently brought in lower ranked recruits and had success in an extremely competitive basketball leagues. Think of the success they have had yet Taylor will be the first 5star recruit they have brought in in ages. Sure there are some misses, but the point was let’s just give the kid a shot first. It isn’t like he had zero scholarship offers coming out of hs. Hell most people were writing Richardson off before Pitt brought him in saying he did nothing in high school. Now that some fans have seen him, they love the kid and think he’ll be a very succesful player here (and say he may be the most ready of the freshman to play). The point is let’s see him play and develop before we judge him on his high school career.

Comment by Ontario Lett's Go Pitt 07.12.09 @ 12:19 pm

Ontario: Amen to your comments, brother Panther.It is always a joy to read somebody with “HOOP SENSE”. Padre from Buckeyland

Comment by rev. george mehaffey 07.12.09 @ 7:58 pm

I don’t know if you saw him play many HS games on TV, but I did and it wasn’t encouraging. But I don’t want to judge him on his HS career; I agree, let’s see him play and then judge.

But if you want to make it about which staff the players I mentioned came up under, then remember that the whole “winning with lesser recruits” reputation was created by Howland, not Dixon, so be careful with that whole argument. Dixon has had some very nicely ranked recruits over the past several years and it was Howland who put Pitt on the map with those lesser-known players like Greer, Zavackas and Brown.

We both want Pitt hoops to keep on the way it’s going, so let’s hope I’m wrong about Woodall. I want to be wrong!!! I just have a bad feeling.

Comment by hugh green 07.13.09 @ 9:43 am

Hey Mark (can’t resist), the other funny thing in that puff piece from the PG last year is the weight mentioned for Woodall — 195 lbs. It would take two Travon Woodalls to make 195 lbs!

Comment by hugh green 07.13.09 @ 7:03 pm

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