Addition Of Uchebo Helps Front Court

Panthers lose key personnel heading into first season of ACC play. Addition of Joseph Uchebo at least gives them options in the front court.

Who could have ever predicted that by starting James Robinson as a freshman in 2012-13, it would be the one strength the Panthers would have, heading into the next season.

That would be because of the lack of depth the Panthers would have inside, heading into the 2013-14 season.

In late December, 6-11 Malcolm Gilbert decided to transfer out of the program. GIlbert played in 19 games as a true freshman, but was heading for a redshirt this past season. That was because of the addition of Steven Adams, and the return of senior Dante Taylor.

Shortly after the 2012-13 season ended, Adams declared himself eligible for the NBA Draft. He was Pitt's leading rebounder, with 6.3 boards a game, despite being inconsistent throughout the year. Taylor added 3.9 boards a game, but provided some veteran leadership, in addition to 15.7 minutes a game.

Pitt's inside game was far from dominant this past season, but the loss of Taylor and Adams left the Panthers lacking in size. Talib Zanna, also inconsistent throughout the season, averaged 6.1 rebounds a game. At 6-9, Zanna was likely heading for the center position with no other help inside.

A lot of weight would have been placed on incoming freshman Mike Young, who at 6-8, would have been counted on immediately to start. Young, based on his successful prep career, certainly has the ability to. However, Pitt would have needed at least 30 minutes a game from Zanna and Young.

Despite battling a knee injury this past season, Joseph Uchebo averaged 12.3 points and 12.3 rebounds a game at Chipola College (FL). It's still a big question as to how his JUCO experience will transfer over to the ACC, but at least the Panthers get some size. Uchebo is 6-11. More importantly, it gives the Panthers another big body inside. Uchebo could also possibly start at center, allowing Zanna to stay at the four. Zanna could slide over to play center, filling in for Uchebo. That would then allow Pitt to go with Young at the four, or possibly even Jamel Artis who signed with Pitt in the spring period.

All these are question marks for Pitt heading into next season. Zanna needs to be more consistent, more than ever. At the very least, Pitt has some other bodies to use inside.

This is, of course, all contingent on what J.J. Moore's intentions are. Rumors swirled late last month that Moore was set to transfer out of the program. However, no official word has come on that. With the recent additions, Moore is in a prime spot to start at his more natural three position. Jamie Dixon experimented with Moore at the power forward slot at times last year. Though Pitt has had success with smaller, more athletic players at the four (Sam Young), Moore is a natural three. Not to mention, playing the three takes more advantage of his abilities.

Though he too struggled with consistency in his junior year, Moore still played in all 33 games, averaging 8.0 points a game, good enough for fourth on the team in scoring. Allowing Moore to settle on his natural position would be good for him, and even better for Pitt as a whole.

In addition to the return of Robinson, Pitt also returns senior Lamar Patterson. Patterson finished second on the team in scoring last year, second only to Tray Woodall with 10.0 points a game. With Robinson and Patterson back in the fold, Pitt has at least something to build around.

Cameron Wright, also linked to some transfer rumors--but not to the extent of Moore--also returns, and can contribute at the two or the three.

Lets not forget Josh Newkirk, who signed with Pitt in the fall. Newkirk can play the point, or the two. Pitt had the luxury of rotating Robinson and Woodall at the point last season. They can do the same this year with Robinson and Newkirk, depending on how quickly Newkirk adapts.

Pitt may not be done adding transfers, either. Former local product DeAndre Kane was released from his scholarship at Marshall, where he was coached by former Pitt assistant Tom Herrion. Kane has already graduated from Marshall, meaning wherever he transfers, he'll be able to play right away. There is no word on if he'll come home to Pittsburgh, even if it's just for a visit. He is expected to visit USC in the near future. The Panthers will be getting a visit from Villanova transfer Acraf Yacoubou. He decided to transfer last month, and will be visiting Pitt next week.

There's no question Pitt has missed on a couple of key targets recently, with Jon Severe deciding on Fordham and Lennard Freeman deciding on N.C. State. Pitt also lost out on transfer Chad Frazier, who decided to transfer to UAB over Pitt. The addition of Uchebo doesn't guarantee success right away, but at least stops some of the bleeding of what has been a rough start to the offseason.

Not that Pitt is going to fill other needs with transfers, nor do they always want to count on transfers like Yacoubou, it at least gives them some bodies. For the moment, Pitt returns six players from its ten-man rotation in 2012-13. That number dwindles to five if Moore officially decides to transfer. At the very least, these incoming players will be able to play right away and will have to play right away. Not just that, the Panthers are finally able to add bodies after missing out on a few guys they wanted.

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