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July 7, 2010

It’s camp season for coaches and players.

Gary McGhee is in Akron for the LeBron James Skills Academy. That makes him one of the “counselors” to work with the high school prospects. For McGhee, the benefit isn’t just a chance to meet-and-greet with LeBron James while James is being stretched.

(Phil Long, AP Photo)

(Phil Long, AP Photo)

It also means playing against some of the best college players in games after the skills camp part.

It is McGhee’s second camp of the summer. He performed well in the Amare Stoudemire camp earlier.

Gary McGhee, 6-10 senior post, Pittsburgh: Coming out of high school–and even earlier in his Pitt career — McGhee didn’t look like much of a prospect, but thanks to continued development, he’s now a solid low-post scorer, a beast on the glass, a tough defender and a hustle guy that doesn’t require touches, all of which has the makings of a second-round pick in 2011 and eventually a solid pro, particularly due to his rugged frame.

Of course, while he is counseling, he might want to whisper in the ear of potential Pitt prospect Khem Birch about developing as a player.

Birch has seven big-time NCAA Division-1 programs who have already offered him a scholarship for the 2012-13 school year -Ohio State, West Virginia, Iowa, Pitt, Texas, Arizona and Providence -with more undoubtedly to come.

He spoke to The Gazette yesterday during a break at the exclusive LeBron James Skills Academy in Akron, Ohio; a dream week that came just after he helped lead Canada’s junior national team to a bronze medal at the FIBA Americas U-18 Championships in Texas.

But in spite of all the accolades and accomplishments, Birch can’t understand how he could be regarded so highly.

“I’m still shocked,” Birch said of his ESPN ranking. “I never thought I was that good.”

Birch was a shot blocking machine at the FIBA Americas tournament, averaging better than four a game while pulling down nearly eight rebounds a contest.

“I don’t know, I could have done better at the offensive end,” Birch said of his 5.8 points per game average. “To represent my country and come back with a medal, I’m really happy right now. But I learned that I need to get way better, I need to develop a more well-rounded game.”

I’m sure Coach Dixon will make an appearance at the LeBron camp at some point. Just like all the coaches do to be seen. Yesterday, though, he was in Indy to be seen with other coaches for an Adidas camp.

He also has to find a new video coordinator, as Rasheen Davis took an assistant coaching job at Xavier.

He has worked Louisville under Rick Pitino and for Jamie Dixon at Pitt, so I asked if he comes to XU with any particular lessons they imparted.

“With Pitino, it’s all about working extremely hard and improving every single day in whatever facet you’re doing. With Coach Dixon it’s about family about being there for one another. He stresses working hard but also having each other’s back,” Davis said.

Yet another Pitt assistant moving up the coaching ladder.

Want a puff piece to hype Talib Zanna? Here you go.

“The redshirt’s going to help me a lot,” Zanna said. “It’s going to make me learn a lot from offense and defense and get ready for next year.”

It seems to be paying off already, as he has been one of the top players in this summer’s Pro-Am league in Greentree. Through four games he’s averaging 12.8 points and 10.3 rebounds per game.

While that might be a surprise to some, the people who watched Zanna in practice last season saw this coming.

Former Pitt guard Jermaine Dixon compared Zanna’s natural abilities to a recent Panther great, saying, “If he works on his ball handling I think he can be as good as Sam Young. His rebounding is great, and he can shoot the ball.”

“I think that kid’s just going to be a pro,” Woodall said. “That kid’s unbelievable.”

Maybe in time. I’ll settle for serviceable with flashes of possibilities this year.

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