Pitt's heralded freshman class was off and running in the opening night of the Pittsburgh Basketball Club Pro-Am league. Though there may be some development involved, all four freshmen showed they could compete at a high level in their first basketball game in Pittsburgh.
Malcolm Gilbert was all over the glass on both sides of the ball, and was very aggressive on offense with some strong takes. He's not afraid to throw his weight around either, battling inside the paint. He also added a few blocked shots. Gilbert and fellow freshman Durand Johnson played in Monday's opening game against each other.
Gilbert was on the losing side as UPMC defeated his PGT team 73-69. Johnson was on the winning side. Johnson didn't have as many minutes as Gilbert, but still finished with four points, two rebounds and an assist. Gilbert contributed 13 points and 11 rebounds, with four blocked shots.
"It's a great experience, I'm excited," Gilbert said after the game. "It's wonderful being here, just running up and down with these guys. The pace is different. I can make up for it. It's fun. It's just learning the ropes and everything."
Gilbert added that it's just great to be in Pittsburgh.
"I like the city, the people are real nice," Gilbert added. "I like the (Litchfield) Towers. I'm going to be staying in those dorms. I like the basketball team and everything. We're like a family. The older guys are helping me break in; just showing me the ropes and everything."
Johnson feels the same, and is already putting the pressure on himself to take advantage of this summer league as a means to improvement.
"It's just a blessing just to be here," Johnson added. "(Monday) was my first game of the Pro-Am. I just have to get used to it, and then get rolling. That's it."
Johnson also said the returning veterans helped break him in on how much they value playing in the Pro-Am.
"I knew a little bit about it coming in, on my way up here," Johnson added. "The guys said there's a lot of good competition. I'm just looking forward to the rest of the summer league. I have to push myself. That's the best motivation, just to push myself."
John Johnson and Khem Birch were on display in the second game, both on the same team. Johnson and Birch were on the losing side for Center Court, in a 69-63 loss to The Lair. Johnson was off to the races, driving to the hole. He was good from three-point range, and also buried a couple long-range jumpers. He takes it to the hole, showed a quick first step and can score. He was poised for his Pro-Am debut.
"It feels real good," Johnson said. "There's a lot of good competition out there. Everybody played hard. I just wanted to go out there and show everybody that I can play hard too."
Johnson also felt like his confidence has also showed up early, in just his first game.
"I feel comfortable on the court," Johnson said. "I always feel comfortable on the court. My teammates, they gave me the confidence. When they tell me to keep shooting, that means my teammates have confidence in me. When my teammates have confidence in me, I have even more confidence in myself."
Jamie Dixon's philosophy on freshmen is that he wants them to play defense first. The players know that coming up through the ranks. The sooner you understand the defense, the sooner you're going to see the floor.
With Birch, this guy is fits all the protocol of every talent that Dixon likes in a defensive player. He displays a defense-first mentality, and is very instinctual (stepping to the ball, blocking shots, even locking off his man when he's off ball). Birch has a great feel for the game. He finished with four points, two rebounds and an assist. He was most impressive with six blocked shots. A future frontcourt of him with Gilbert already looks promising.
"I'm real excited to be here," Birch said after the game. "We're starting early in the summer, and I'm just trying to get better. This has been a long-time coming. I'm fortunate to be here."