Happy Thanksgiving everyone. Hope your day is a relatively low stress affair.
Just some basketball links I need to clear through.
Finishing up the loose ends from the Legends Classic.
Coach Jamie Dixon is making no apologies for doing this tournament, even if the competition was a bit lacking.
Though the Panthers are no longer in the Big East, Dixon said they will always try to play games and in events in the New York City area because it is good for recruiting and an area Pitt fans enjoy going to.
“We have asked to be in New York whenever we can,” Dixon said. “We like this type of environment. I told the guys before the game, ‘Do you understand that we’re playing in an NBA arena, NBA locker rooms and practicing on the Brooklyn Nets practice court?’ We have a lot of alumni around here, we have had a lot of players from around here, so coming here fits us in every way.”
The Legends Classic is run by the Gazelle Group. All three of their early season tournaments — Legends, 2K Sports Classic and Black Rock Gotham Classic — are NYC based tournaments. Pitt and Coach Dixon have made an effort to work with Gazelle Group for that reason. They want to play in NYC when possible. Gazelle Group operates 3 of the 5 tournaments in the area.
While Pitt never played Houston while in Brooklyn, Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna got to hang out with their old friend J.J. Richardson.
Like Patterson and Zanna, Richardson was part of Pitt’s incoming freshman class in the summer of 2009. The trio quickly bonded, but their time as teammates ended when Richardson elected to transfer to Houston in the summer of 2011.
“I transferred so I could be closer to home, with my family and so I could have more playing time wherever I went,” said the native of Missouri City, Texas. “I have some regrets about leaving, but everything happens for a reason. I am happier with my situation at Houston.”
With the first trip back to the area, Derrick Randall had a couple focus stories. Getting to Pittsburgh has been very good for him. On and off the court.
Assistant coach Brandin Knight, who’d recruited Randall, showed him an open door at Pitt.
“He was going to take me under his wing and treat me like I am one of his,” Randall said. “All of this change and it’s going better than I thought it would.”
The 6-9 Randall averages 4.4 points and 6.8 rebounds in 17 minutes and his healing goes on. He goes to therapy with a psychiatrist. And he says his new teammates — the NCAA granted him immediate eligibility as a result of the Rutgers scandal — also help him talk things through when he is down.
“I feel like I am finally away from the (stress), I’m calmer,” he said “I have a team that comforts me and basketball is fun again.”
It wasn’t just the Mike Rice stuff. Randall lost his mother to cancer in May. His father sees the difference.
There has also been an attitude change, his father says. After two years at Rutgers, Brian Randall said it seemed like his son no longer liked basketball. His confidence nose-dived. More than anything, Brian Randall believes, his son’s psyche was fractured.
“I don’t know what happened in two years but it’s like they destroyed it in him,” Brian Randall said.
Tonight, Brian Randall will get a chance to watch his son for the first time this season and at least 10 family members will be in the arena. He is optimistic about Derrick’s start to the season but knows that ACC play is coming soon and that will bring a bigger opportunity.
And Brian knows that this is for the best — and that the past is behind his son.
“He needed a clean break,” Brian Randall said. “That’s what he wanted. So he could start over and show people what he’s made of.”
Glad he’s happier.
I’ve made the joke of trading J.J. Moore for Randall, and it being a good move for both sides. One person who really benefited was Durand Johnson. He struggled to get minutes with Moore as the first option off the bench, and blocking him in the position. Now he’s the sixth man and responding real well to the time.
Johnson is averaging 10.3 points and 4.5 rebounds in 21.3 minutes per game this season, but Pitt coach Jamie Dixon is quick to point out that Johnson has developed his entire game in the past two years.
“We have seen it evolve,” Dixon said. “Penetrating, making a couple of passes, and I think he has gotten better defensively. He has a better understanding of what we are trying to do, he is rebounding better. And that is a big thing we were trying to get from him last year, [to] rebound more for a guy his size.
“He is more athletic this year and more comfortable and I know that he will have some days where he is a guy who is making some shots and other days when he is not. But I do feel more comfortable with him in there if he is not making shots because I think he can help us in other ways.”
What’s kind of funny (and yes, potentially worrisome) are the subtle hints that Johnson and Dixon seem to have the slightest wariness of the other.
“Coach Dixon is going to do what he wants to do,” Johnson said when asked about his role. “When your name is called, just be ready. It doesn’t matter if I am the sixth man off the bench, seventh, eighth or ninth. I just want to come out and play hard.”
“I think it is an ideal role for him at this point,” Dixon said of the sixth-man duty. “I don’t think he feels pressure and I think he knows he is an important part of what we are doing and I think he knows we have confidence in him. We continue to stress all the other things that he does and not focus solely on a guy who can make shots.
“He is going to take his bad shots, I understand that, it just can’t be two in a row, that is what he has to recognize and get a feel for.”
I wouldn’t call it distrust. I think Johnson has overwhelming confidence in his game. Not simply no conscience when he shoots. He doesn’t lack for confidence in any part of his game. So, he sees himself as a starter.
Coach Dixon sees Johnson better suited to blend into the rest of what the team is doing by coming off the bench. Let things get established first.
The recent commitment of Shaq Doorson from the Netherlands has people trying to find out about his game. I mean, beyond being considered a project. A glimpse was provided last week at the National Prep Showcase.
[Louisville commit, Matz] Stockman, from Norway, had 14 points and shot 6-for-6 from the field, showing the ability to carve out position inside and finish at the rim. Doorson, a native of Holland, didn’t have the same success, playing only seven minutes. However, he grabbed four rebounds and showed off his college-ready body.
“They’re not kids that are going to be program-changers for a year or two,” Canarias head coach Rob Orellana said Friday. “These are four-year guys that are going to work their ass off every year to get better and better and better. There’s a reason one is going to coach [Rick] Pitino and one is going to coach [Jamie] Dixon. Their resumes speak for themselves in player development.”
Dixon has experience developing big men, from Aaron Gray to Steven Adams, and Doorson will certainly be a project for him over the next few seasons.
“Shaq didn’t perform as well as he should, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that he is 6-11, 265 lbs., and does want to play hard and he does want to win,” Orellana said. “It’s just a matter of time with him.”
Also at the National Prep Showcase, Detrick Mostella (playing at Notre Dame Prep) got hot in the second half of his team’s game.