They are nice stories. Positive stories. And nothing I really disagree with them.
At the same time, this is nothing new with Pitt under Coach Jamie Dixon.
We’ve seen the team handle the loss of Mike Cook and Levance Fields in one season. They weathered early issues when Gil Brown had to sit or Jermaine Dixon.
A good amount of that does indeed go to Coach Dixon not letting the team use it as an excuse. But as noted, it has to do with the guys who lead the team.
James Robinson is the floor leader without question. He gets the respect and attention of everyone on the team. Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna have grown into their roles as senior leaders, and showed in the GT game that they aren’t shrinking from it.
The only year it didn’t work out so well was when Travon Woodall got hurt and Khem Birch bailed. While that season had as much to do with the poor depth at the guard spots, there was a lack of players who had the presence needed to keep the team going.
I love Nasir Robinson and I think Ashton Gibbs takes entirely too much blame and grief for that season, but they were “lead by example” guys. They were expected to be leaders as the seniors, but really didn’t know what to do. They didn’t have to until then. Brad Wanamaker handled that the prior two years. Woodall was the leader that year, and they were happy with that. With him lost, no one else was there to do it.
I also think Coach Dixon learned something from that loss. That he can’t just wait to see who steps up to lead. While this team has clear leaders for this season, there is planning ahead to make sure guys are ready to lead in the future.
Dixon said he believes the challenge for Pitt will be to overcome his absence by replicating Johnson’s passion instead of his point production.
“There’s a void, but there can also be a way of inspiring or encouraging,” Dixon said. “Durand’s personality is a big part of our team, as well as his basketball attributes. I think we’ll fill that vacuum, that hole. I told our guys, ‘I want you talking. I want you playing with passion. That’s the only thing you need to do differently.’ ”
And Coach Dixon is doing his part to keep things positive with the guys who are supposed to see increased roles but clearly struggled the first time in them.
[Chris] Jones was given the first shot at replacing Johnson, but he struggled while playing only four minutes and quickly got into foul trouble.
Jones also got lost a few times on defense and did not return after his brief appearance.
“He’ll be back, don’t write him off,” Dixon said, with a smile. “He got the two fouls, and we got Josh [Newkirk] in there, but [Jones] will be back, he will be in there on Saturday and he will play good for us.”
No, no, no. The narrative is that Jones is not good enough. That Dixon will now bury him on the bench. What’s this crap about playing a freshman in a big game after a bad outing. That’s not how this works.