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December 16, 2011

Khem, We Hardly Knew You

Filed under: Basketball,Transfer — Chas @ 8:42 pm

I’m sorry to see him go. I don’t agree with it, not simply because he is leaving Pitt, but because a mid-season transfer is not a particularly smart decision for any kid. He can transfer, but he will still have to sit a full year. He won’t be eligible until the winter semester of 2012-13. Still he seems gone, this time for real.

“I’m leaving,” Birch told CBSSports.com on Friday night. “I’m headed to Toronto now. I enjoyed my time at Pittsburgh, I love Coach (Jamie) Dixon, had no problems with the staff and the players. It just wasn’t the right fit for me.”

Birch informed CBSSports.com that he does not have a new list and has not decided on his next destination.

Earlier today, P-G’s Pitt basketball beat writer Ray Fittipaldo posted that there are whispers (spin?) that Khem Birch is not particularly emotionally mature and that he might have “bad” influences in his ear. My natural impulse is that this is a bit of spin from the Pitt side. The one factor that mitigates is that Birch opted to start college a year earlier than he needed to — and most expected/thought he should.

Technically there still appears to be a crack.

“Khem has decided to leave the team for personal reasons,” Dixon said in a statement. “We thank Khem for his contribution to our program over the last semester and wish him great success in the future.”

Birch boarded a bus for Buffalo and was expecting to re-enter Canada before making a decision on his future.

Dixon has not returned a call to me, but I was told by two other sources that they would not be surprised if Birch was talkedĀ out of his decision once he returned home. Dixon’s statement didn’t seem like he left the door open, but I was told he could be back.

In talking to several people throughout the day the picture was painted for me that Birch simply was ill-equipped to handle theĀ pressure of playing Division I basketball at this time.

I don’t know what the truth is right now. Tweets and inferences from yesterday implied a lot of immaturity and frustration from Birch about playing time and position.

Under the rules of the Big East and NCAA he cannot transfer to another Big East school. Pitt has to grant his release so he is not exactly free to go where he wants. Claims that he hasn’t made up his mind about where he is going are probably a bit of bull. As a mid-season transfer he has to decide quickly to get released and enrolled.

Obviously there is going to be more on this matter. So, I’m not going to extend my speculation any further. Nor am I going to kill the kid at this point.





Who’s next?
What a week we’re having.

Comment by Tackle made by 12.16.11 @ 8:47 pm

Wow! And I thought he was just physically immature for this level.

He’s a flake and grossly over hyped. I suspect his draft stock will soar. The bottom feeders perennial lottery teams just LOVE a project with big potential upside

Comment by Ghost of Hornman 12.16.11 @ 8:49 pm

I should temper that statement by saying many elite recruits are overhyped. He’s hardly unique in that front, but as a college fan you just hope to see a little of that ability before they split

Comment by Ghost of Hornman 12.16.11 @ 8:51 pm

Just a messy thing. It seems to me like there just might be something other than basketball going on here. If there’s some personal problem with him, I hope he gets himself figured out and moves on to success. Can’t help being a little irritated, but I want to try to remember that these guys are, after all, kids. I made my share of uninformed/irrational choices during my college career.

Comment by pittbaster 12.16.11 @ 8:52 pm

wow..terrible news..i thought with birch,taylor, gilbert and adams coming next year..we could do some good things..stinks!

Comment by ptt-for-life 12.16.11 @ 8:58 pm

Another blow for Pitt athletics. I am truly sorry to see Birch leave. WILL gilbert now lose his redshirt to help fill the gap? Will Moore get additional floor time? One would say yes to both those queries. Personally, I liked the rule years ago that frosh would not be eligible for varsity play. Pitt used to field both a freshman grid and hoop squad. This enabled the athletes to have time to become adjusted to college life. That is not an easy adjustment for many. However, we live in a hedonistic socity and pleasures seem to be prioritized so they can be experienced NOW. We even have “graduation ceremonies” for kindergartners. Well, Jamie, another challenge, eh? Best wishes to Khem. Who knows, he may change his mins, someday. Rev. George in Columbus

Comment by Rev. George Mehaffey 12.16.11 @ 9:05 pm

I think Khem Birch is an excellent talent and that he would have progressed rapidly under Jamie Dixon. I’ve seen a lot of players come into Pitt and develop parts of their game that they never knew they possessed. He does a great job making his players grow and get better. Too Bad. I hope he reconsiders. A season against the competetion of Big East matures a player quickly.

Comment by Justinian 12.16.11 @ 9:06 pm

could be a bostick type situation. maybe he takes a week to think things over and decides being at pitt is really the best option for him.

Comment by scott 12.16.11 @ 9:10 pm

We may never know the full details but from things I’ve read, it sounds like he was kind of an outsider/loner on the team.

Don’t really want to bring anything racial/cultural into things as I don’t know anything, but I’m guessing growing up as an athlete and playing hoops in Montreal is quite different than growing up in the world of AAU, basketball camps and street ball in Brooklyn, Chester PA, Pittsburgh and basically anywhere in the US. Sure he played his senior season in Mass, but Birch showed up to Pittsburgh basically an outsider, awkward for the most part, with a blond streak in his hair. He seems to be a different kind of kid.

The rest our kids seem like they are great and seem VERY tight and I doubt there was anything outwardly wrong or bad but you have to feel like you belong. May just not have been a good fit, which as much as it sucks is understandable. Hopefully after a couple of days of sitting around doing absolutely nothing, he will miss Pittsburgh and playing and remind him of the potential opportunities that await him.

Has another MickyD’s player ever just packed up and gone home at the Christmas/Holiday break? It is very curious.

Comment by cnorwoodaz 12.16.11 @ 9:23 pm

I know this is a bb post but Zeise needs a new source.
the trib says there have been no coaching interviews and smiling stevie is out of town and when fickell was talked to bye the trib he does not have offical word that he will have one. what the f k what are they doeing at pitt and why is stevie not here working on our new coach .

Comment by FRANKCAN 12.16.11 @ 9:54 pm

Been one of the longest and most gruelling weeks ever for Pitt fans. Birch leaving puts it in the surreal catagory.This year’s Pitt BBall team is in a ton of trouble without him,based on what I have seen so far.

Comment by Dan 72 12.16.11 @ 10:12 pm

Lichtenfels went one step further than Zeise and said the job was offered to Fickle. And he’s never even interviewed yet!!!

Comment by Mike 12.16.11 @ 10:18 pm

Yes, he is just a kid. I give you that.

I also known tons of young kids, younger than him that stick with things, and keep their comittments.

I wish him th best, but, I’m not feeling all warm and fuzzy about this.

Made sure he got out before next semester started.

Sounds like some calculations going on.

Comment by Dan 12.16.11 @ 10:28 pm

Here is the reality. He is one of about 300 hundred D1 players new to his team this year. Next year, there will be another 300 and so on.
Adams conmes in this year and somehow, I get the sense that this will bring the Pitt team together. face it folks, if you can’t play for Jamie dixon because the presssure is too much, try playing in lexington, KY where if you don’t perform, you don’t get paid that week.

Comment by sfpitt 12.16.11 @ 10:42 pm

It is December 16. Khem made it halfway through December. Not even to conference play. If you know you’ll have to sit out anyway, why not just finish the season? Good luck my man….

Comment by Neon Tiger 12.16.11 @ 11:03 pm

Can’t be too hard on an 18 year old. College and distance are a lot more difficult to handle then most of us acknowledge. Add to it a different country and a perennial top 10 program with national spotlight and expectations. I hope the kid does well where ever he lands.

The tough thing is watching two 18 year olds leave PITT this year. Oops Fraud Graham is in his 40’s. Funny thing is that Khem may have handled the departure better than Fraud Graham. Who is the 18 year old?

Comment by PITT fan in Atlanta 12.16.11 @ 11:15 pm

It definitely sucks to see Khem leave–he was an athletic freak and could be a great player. That being said, this season is NOT over for Pitt. Let’s be honest–this team was most likely not going to win a national championship this season anyways, but this is by no means a poor team. Taylor is still a good talent at center, and with Zanna and Robinson up front the 4-5 positions are solid, if not as high-ceiling as they once were. The next few weeks could be a little rocky, but Gilbert will learn just like every other big man Jamie has had.

This opens a possibility for Steve Adams to really come in and play next year, and from what I’ve seen on tape he’s much more developed than Birch was on the offensive end, though he didn’t have quite the athleticism on the defensive side of the ball.

Birch is just an 18-year-old kid, and I won’t ever fault one for making a decision that they later came to regret. Going from Montreal to Pittsburgh at such a young age is a big change, and sometimes we just aren’t ready for things we think we are. I wish him the best, I hope he returns to Pitt but if not, then I hope he finds success elsewhere.

Comment by merlin 12.16.11 @ 11:53 pm

It’s hard for me to understand how the kid couldn’t tough it out for 3-4 months and just declare for the draft/make a decision then. Not even for the sake of Pitt, but advert rising questions about his character or not cause a fuss. This shows poor attitude. I hate to blast the kid, I’m not in his head, but it seems like he’s shutting down a year of organized basketball because he’s frustrated or not feeling it…

He can be off campus by April 1 preparing for the draft. Hell, there is way worse situations to be in – you know Pitt is going to the NCAA and no matter what that has to be fun for a player. Is it so bad he can’t handle three months?

This is helluva frustrating, between Taylor and this Steve Adams better be a knockout star.

Comment by tacocat 12.17.11 @ 2:22 am

Wowza, was hoping last nights tweets were by someone else with his phone or a lark.

Decembers at PITT are becoming a month we need to skip. After his performance at Penn, where he was dominant, with 15, 10 and I think 6 blocks I thought that was the start of something really big for him and PITT. What the heck happened after that. Oh Taylor came back from his migraines.

Now who is going to push Taylor, who definitely felt some pressure to produce with Birch in the picture. Not a very good situation.

Well I wish Khem well, freshmen year is always the toughest year and 1rst semester is even tougher. Does anyone know if he completed his
semester finals? Hopefully he did, so that the whole experience wasn’t a total waste for him.
I enjoyed watching him play, good luck Khem.

Comment by Emel 12.17.11 @ 2:47 am

Look the kid has great abilities but if his mind isn’t right he won’t be a factor anywhere he goes. By leaving he’s labeling himself as a quitter that doesn’t like being coached up hard. Maybe he really though he’d be a one and done. He needs to bulk up and grow up. Also, he may not have been doing well academically. The whole situation sucks for him and PITT.

Comment by Pittastic 12.17.11 @ 5:02 am

I meant “thought”

Comment by Pittastic 12.17.11 @ 5:07 am

Reading some posts over at the Smizik blog, people are really funny. Many suggest Birch wasn’t a hard worker, didn’t like hard practices. lol

None of these knuckleheads have been to Pitt practices. It’s just mainly ignoramuses.

I’ll try to explain. Birch WOULDN’T HAVE BEEN STARTING (IN THE STARTING LINEUP) IF HE WASN’T PRACTICING HARD. That’s the way it is with Dixon and rightfully so. You play like you practice.
And if you don’t practice hard, you don’t play.
Just ask JJ Moore.

I’ve been suggesting for weeks now, the kid should be getting lots of PT, BEFORE the BigEast season.
He did very well in the two games he got some bigger minutes. He played 28 minutes against Penn and had a Double/double, 15 & 10. That was better than any game Taylor in his over 2 years, now into his 3rd year at PITT, EVER had at PITT.

And he got 29 minutes against a good RMU team and stuffed the stat sheet. With 8 points, 11 rebounds and 6 blocked shots. Again that was better than ANY game Taylor had played at PITT.

Granted these teams were kind of undersized, but we played plenty of undersized teams in the last 2 and a quarter years, especially in non-con, and Taylor had done nowhere close to that kind of production.

Also Birch’s presence obviously made Taylor work harder and has made him a better player. So he better not become Sleepy again.

It’s just a damn shame.

Comment by Emel 12.17.11 @ 9:08 am

Pitt sports is getting real depressing.

Comment by Emel 12.17.11 @ 9:12 am

Emel, my only issue with playing Khem more is that it’s not Jamie’s MO. The fact that he was getting the starts tells me that he was practicing hard but his playing time diminished because he wasn’t physically ready for D1 basketball. I’ve seen him winded (more winded than he should have) early in games. He would have been starting at the 4 next year while getting acclimated to the 5 his first year. He was not in a Dante situation (i.e. skill set) to remain at the 5, especially with Adams coming in and Gilbert coming off of a red shirt. Hell, he probably would have gotten time at the 3 while Taylor rotated between the 4 and 5. We’ll still have a real good team next year – and maybe less drama regarding playing time (optimistic spin).

Comment by Tossing Thabeets 12.17.11 @ 10:16 am

Pitt is cursed. That is all I know.

Comment by Eric R 12.17.11 @ 11:13 am

Unless this kid gains 25 pounds, he will never play to the hype he generated. If he wants to make into the NBA one day; I don’t know of any PFs less than 240 lbs who are defensive specialists. The kid has a lot of work to do and the first thing I recommend he do is take that “Piss Stain” out of his hair.

Comment by Doug 12.17.11 @ 11:49 am

I have a feeling this isn’t over and he may come back… regardless, it shows once again that labels don’t mean as much as what’s on the inside of a person. Taylor and Birch, our two MAA guys, have been a disappointment. Yes, I know you need NBA first round guys to compete with the UNCs?Kansases/Kentuckys/Syracuses/Kemba Walkers of the world, but I’ll take guys like Gibbs and Wanamaker on my team any day. Pitt will get over the hump eventually. WE HAVE NOTHING TO COMPLAIN ABOUT — solid team, great coaching staff that isn’t going to leave, great facilities, Dixon’s recruiting classes continually get stronger and stronger. The only negative is leaving the Big East, which I think is a mistake. To hell w Duke and North Carolina — any other conference is a step down in basketball.

Comment by Mike C 12.17.11 @ 1:43 pm

To the guy who called birch a flake, you are an idiot, this is a 18 yr old young man who is shy, and not sure of himself, that’s all. Coach dixon should have and did see this problem and did little to make him feel comfortable. He should have assigned one of the leaders of the team to him to help him along, but he left him hanging in the wind…..aloof. Great job coach. and by the way dixon can you win a game in the tournament when it counts? You gave up on this kid to soon. Where is sean miller when you need him, khem birch would still be here. And why aren,t you begging that kid to come back, not just for his basketball future, bult for his life’s future, help in making him a strong,confident, man, as well as a dynamite basketball player.

Comment by greg 12.19.11 @ 11:01 am

Who are you talking about htc sync, you don’t specify who you are calling boring. Not all post can be super exciting, especially when your talking about a utterly frustrating and ridiculous situation as this Khem Birch Story. I think Jamie Dixon’s ought to be a bit more urgent when a potentially great player says bye-bye. Very strange reaction by the coach.

Comment by greg 12.19.11 @ 11:34 am

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