A New Year In Many Ways For Pitt Basketball

Pitt returns starters in Lamar Patterson, James Robinson and Talib Zanna. A number of new faces--not just the three true freshmen signed--will be counted on right away.

There are many questions surrounding this year's Pitt basketball team, but once again the same optimism.

"We won a lot of games last year," head coach Jamie Dixon said. "It will be a new group. It's somewhat older. We're experienced on the perimeter. We're experienced with Talib (Zanna), and we're experienced with two new guys (Derrick Randall, Joseph Uchebo)."

Back from last year's group are James Robinson and Lamar Patterson--a perimeter area where Dixon feels confident. Robinson started 32 games, and played in all 33 games a year ago. He played with the maturity of an upperclassman last year, and should develop even more with one year under his belt. Patterson is Pitt's most tested player. He could play at either the two or three. Dixon didn't say for sure where Patterson's spot will be, but he is confident overall in his perimeter play.

"I think our perimeter is going to be good," Dixon said. "I'm not going to say unsettled, but a lot of good possibilities."

That might leave the door open for true freshman Josh Newkirk or redshirt freshman Chris Jones to start at the two. Regardless, there's enough versatility for Patterson to fill in for either of those guys, to create a little rotation.

Newkirk is the first player to sign with Pitt from the ACC region (Raleigh, NC). If he were to start, he could be a player to factor in Pitt's transition to the ACC.

"You just have to bring it every play, every possession," Newkirk said.

Junior Cameron Wright can fill in at the two, possibly the three. Durand Johnson looked good in spurts in his redshirt freshman year, and could also be used at the three.

"As with any freshman to sophomore, you hope (Johnson) is going to be more consistent," Dixon said. "I like his ability to put it on the floor. He plays with a lot of energy.

From the bigs, Pitt has a combination of experience and versatility from the younger players, and other new additions.

Jamel Artis may be the sleeper of the class. Dixon compared him, in terms of ability, to play the three or four like Sam Young did. At 6-7, 230, he's powerful enough to play the four, yet quick enough to score like a three.

"I think he wants to things best for the team," Dixon said of Artis. "He's really skilled. He gives us that undersized four. We've had great success with guys like that."

Mike Young is big enough to play the five if needed, but that will be fifth-year senior Zanna's responsibility. However, like the perimeter play, Dixon will most likely rotate Young and Artis at the four, and Young and Zanna at the five.

Derrick Randall adds another big body at the four, while Joseph Uchebo will fill in for Zanna, as he continues to get healthy from a knee injury. Uchebo has three years of eligibility, while Randall has two.

"We knew what we were getting ourselves into (with Uchebo's injury), we were aware of that," Dixon said. "He's worked hard. The improvement has been there. The progress has been there.

"I think Mike Young and Jamel both have really good skills, really to shoot the ball. I think that's something that will help our offense. I think they bring some things to the table. Talib is really going to be a factor. I anticipate him putting up some good numbers at that position."

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