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Pitt ready to incorporate new talent

Pitt's season officially begins with practice Saturday and the Panthers are finally healthy.

Just about every Pitt basketball player was hurt over the summer, or so it seemed. But on the eve of the program's first official practice of the 2015-16 season, the Panthers are healthy. 

“I look forward from where we’re at right now," head coach Jamie Dixon said. "I’m excited about the 13 guys who are healthy and ready to go."

The one potential exception at the moment is Brown transfer Rafael Maia, who now contends with turf toe after suffering a hamstring issue and broken thumb over the summer. Dixon said he expects Maia to practice.

Now that Dixon's players are ready to play, they begin the process of learning to play together. Pitt returns with eight of 16 players from last season with six newcomers on this season's roster. 

"I think we have 13 guys that can play," Dixon said. "We’ve got a lot of new guys, but at the same time, we’ve got a lot of returning minutes."

The Panthers return Michael Young, Jamel Artis and James Robinson as mainstays from last year's lineup. Young and Artis were All-ACC Honorable Mentions last year and are the leading returning scorers in the league. 

Artis puts the onus on that trio to acclimate the newcomers. 

"We have to lead them and be better," Artis said. "We have to set the tone. It starts with us, and our big men have to play hard."

Young is confident in the group's ability to play together. 

“This team is really open-minded," Young said. "I guess you could say that’s because a lot of guys are new. Not really coming in with an ego, but, guys have to fight for minutes this year. Not a lot of guys feel that they’re going to play regardless of what happens.” 

Alongside Maia, the Panthers added 4-star recruit Damon Wilson, JUCO transfers Rozelle Nix and Jonathan Milligan and transfers Alonzo Nelson-Ododa and Sterling Smith. 

"It’s going to be interesting how our seniors adapt and how they fit in," Dixon said. "They’re going to bring some experience, some size and skill. Alonzo, Rafael and Sterling are all going to give us some nice options.”

Artis, for one, welcomes the addition of bigger bodies to take up space near the basket. 

"That will put me in more of a position to create for others," Artis said. "The ACC is tough. There are a lot of big men and we didn’t have that last year."

Dixon hopes the sizable additions will help his team improve on the glass. Rebounding, usually a foundation for Pitt teams, was  an uncharacteristic weakness for the Panthers last year. 

Pitt averaged 33.4 rebounds and posted a margin of only plus-1.9 rebounds per game in 2014-15. The Panthers ranked 12th in the ACC in rebounds per game and owned just the ninth-best margin in the league. 

For a program which touts rebounding as its hallmark, those numbers weren't nearly good enough. 

“It’s what we’ve been known for and it’s something we’ve done well year after year," Dixon said. "We need to get back to that and it’s what we’re going to do." 

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