As a whole, this 2011 senior class of Gilbert Brown, Gary McGhee and Brad Wanamaker has the potential to accomplish the most of any senior class in school history. Record-wise, they're almost there. Currently, they have the second-most wins (109) by a class in school history. Only the senior class of 2009 (Tyrell Biggs, Levance Fields and Sam Young) had more (112). With one regular season game to play, a Big East Tournament and an NCAA Tournament not too far in the distance, this class has the opportunity to set the new school-record for most wins by a class.
This class could also set a new record for winning percentage. The 2005 senior class of Chevon Troutman and Mark McCarroll had a career record of 108-25 for a winning percentage of .812. Currently, this class has a career mark of 109-27, for a winning percentage of .801. A win Saturday could give them a winning percentage of .803.
Head coach Jamie Dixon doesn't get choked up for Senior Day, even though he has a lot to be proud of in this class.
"I just see it as a continuation of what they're going to become, whether it be players," Dixon said. "Now, we're seeing guys go into other things; playing careers are coming to an end. That means I'm really getting old. I've been here a long time.
"Going back to these seniors, these guys improved as the year's gone on. That's inspiration, and that's motivation for our younger guys, I think in a big way."
Showcasing improvement during the course of a season is the one thing Dixon feels separates this particular senior class from others, regardless of win total. While this class has accomplished a lot, this is also a class that was faced with a tough obstacle, probably having to replace more than any other Pitt team had lost during the last ten years. DeJuan Blair was also a member of this class at one time. Blair declared for the NBA following his sophomore year, and is the starting center for the San Antonio Spurs. Aside from showing improvement, this class as a whole stepped up in a big way—not only replacing Blair, but replacing that highly-regarded class of Fields, Young and Biggs after the 2008-09 season.
From an individual standpoint, Brown was a four-star prospect, and the No. 22 shooting guard in the country in 2006. Wanamaker was a four-star prospect in 2007, the nation's No. 15 shooting guard. McGhee a three-star prospect in 2007, was not ranked among the nation's top centers.
"I guess I hadn't really thought about (losing Blair) in those terms," Dixon said. "I think I said how good that class was going to be when we recruited them. They weren't ranked high, so nobody believed me. I think they've proven themselves in so many different ways. DeJuan had a great career. Gary, to get two centers like that in one class is pretty hard to believe."
Speaking in terms of rankings, Pitt's 2007 recruiting class was ranked 21st in the country. Of that five-member class, McGhee and Wanamaker are the only ones to finish out their four years. Cassin Diggs was also a member of that class, but faced some injuries that limited his Pitt career. In addition to Blair leaving after just two years, this class also had Darnell Dodson initially. Dodson did not qualify, and ended up at a junior college. When Dodson tried to re-enroll, a Big East rule kept him from enrolling at Pitt. He ended up at Memphis, then went along with John Calipari to Kentucky. Dodson was dismissed from the Kentucky team this past fall.
McGhee and Wanamaker had every right in the world to complain or make excuses about losing fellow members of their initial recruiting class along the way, in the manner they lost Blair and Dodson. Brown had to wait his turn, redshirting in 2006, even though he played in three games of the 2006-07 season. Instead, despite losing Dodson and Blair along the way, having to wait a turn like Brown did, these three compose one of the winningest Pitt senior classes in history—if not the winningest, by the time it's all said and done. No complaining, no making excuses. The career-record they have posted is exemplified by the attitude they have carried, which has traveled through to the players in each class below them.
"That's inspiration, and that's motivation for our younger guys, I think in a big way," Dixon added.
Some of these characteristics Dixon saw in these guys along the recruiting trail. Though Wanamaker had some good options coming out of high school, he flew under the radar. Wanamaker committed to the Panthers prior to his senior year. It was during his senior year of high school when his stock rose, yet he remained committed to the Panthers. Dixon recalls what was so attractive about Wanamaker, are some of the tendencies he's displayed in games this year. Now, Wanamaker is a candidate for Big East Player of the Year, and is certain to be an All-Big East selection next week.
"Brad had that toughness," Dixon said, referring to his initial impression of Wanamaker. "I just saw his competitiveness, his unselfishness. Those two things were really evident from the summer, watching him a lot. Brad, he's a little bit under the radar because he didn't play in some of the camps that most guys play in. Those are the guys we like. We like to find guys like that. We understand how the system works. If you go to certain camps, you get ranked higher. If you don't go to one of those camps, you don't get ranked as high. You have to trust your evaluations."
McGhee had the uphill battle of replacing a Big East Player of the Year in Blair, aside from having to wait his turn alongside Blair in his first two years—a fellow member of his recruiting class. Wanamaker also had to wait his turn, waiting behind players such as Levance Fields. Then, there's Brown, who started off the 2009-10 on an academic suspension. He missed the first 11 games. Since his return, Pitt has gone 42-11. On top of that, Brown has established career-highs in points, free throw percentage, three-pointers, three-point percentage and assists.
There's no question this senior class will go down as one of the most successful senior classes in school history. There's also a good argument for this class having to overcome the most obstacles of any Pitt class over the last ten years. While each of these three players has overcome something on an individual basis, they've also been through more things on the court, and suffered a series of character-building things on the court. They were hit with a three-headed monster following the 2008-09 season. Already, the emphasis was placed on their shoulders to replace that great class of 2009. In addition to that, they had to replace Blair. They also had to endure a last-second loss to Villanova in the 2009 Elite Eight—something that still resonates with them, something that is still firmly entrenched in their minds.
They answered by earning a double-bye in the Big East Tournament last year, after being a preseason No. 9 selection in the preseason Big East poll. All three had to make the transition from role players, to starters and leaders immediately.
They've carried that over to this year, improving each game. It's a no-brainer as to why Dixon feels this class has improved more than any other during his career. When you stop and take a look at how these players were unheralded coming out of high school, how they had big shoes to fill during their Pitt careers, and now how they've had one of the most successful regular seasons in school history—it's really no surprise these three have improved as much as they have.
"I think what I've said in the past this year, is what I've really liked about these guys is how all three of them have improved as the year has gone on," Dixon said. "That's what separates them (from other senior classes) for me. They're improving now, and I hope they improve this weekend. I wouldn't be surprised."