As our publisher recently announced, the Dawg has been fortunate to join the staff of pantherdigest.com as a part time writer covering recruiting. It is a tremendous opportunity, and I'm very thankful to Harry for extending it to me. To say working with Harry Psaros is an honor would be a severe understatement. He is everything his on-line legend proclaims him to be… and even so much more. He works non stop and is committed to make this website the very best outlet for information for all Pitt sports fans. I can honestly say, having been a member here before Harry began resuscitating this website, that he is already well on his way to making patherdigest.com the only choice for die hard information regarding Pitt sports
Writing "In the Dawg House" the last few months has been such a fun and satisfying experience to say the least, and I thank all of you for all of your wonderful and supportive comments you've sent me since I started penning the column back in the winter. Although I have taken on new responsibilities covering recruiting for pantherdigest.com, I still plan to write this column for the immediate future. The column may not be as regular or lengthy as it has been (unless maybe the whole Pitt/PSU annual game debate is stirred up again! I know I can't help myself!) But I promise to continue to try and write on relevant and interesting topics regarding Pitt sports.
Alright, back to the world of Pitt sports. Anyone else a little depressed that in less than a fortnight Pitt has lost its two top assistants, two top remaining recruiting targets, as well as potentially losing its All Big East starting center to the NBA?
Wow! What the hell is going on here?!
After calm reflection, I have decided that despite the contrarian news, Pitt basketball has never been better. Believe it or not, losing two of your top coaches for other head coaching positions reflects the strength of the program. Imitation is indeed one of the best forms of flattery. Other programs recognize Pitt has established a pattern of success and want to recreate that success themselves. And what better way to do it than bringing in coaches that were instrumental in bringing that success to Panther basketball. Barry Rohrssen and Joe Lombardi are examples of the strength of the program, and I think all Pitt fans are thankful for their time here and wish them the best of luck in their new jobs at Manhattan and Indiana University (PA.)
The Dawg knows that Pat Sandle is also rumored to be leaving Pitt's coaching staff for an assistant coaching position at N.C. State. Maybe it's me, but I think if Sandle is offered the associate head coach position here at Pitt, he should take it. N.C. State is going to have a rough period as they transition to a new head coach, whoever that new coach ends up being. Regardless of whether Aaron Gray leaves for the NBA or not, Pitt has a chance to be special next year. And if Pitt makes a serious run to the Final Four, you can bet there will be many more teams looking at Pitt's coaching staff for a head coach come next year as well.
As tough as it was to lose two top assistant coaches, it was even more disappointing losing two top recruiting targets. But coaches aren't the only personnel successful programs are bound to lose; top recruiting targets sometimes look elsewhere as well. As much as Pitt really could have used a top recruited true center, they were just too late into the process to really expect landing Hamady N'diaye over teams like Rutgers and Miami, who started to recruit him much earlier than the Panthers did. And as much as Tyler Smith becoming a Panther seemed to make sense, there was just so much more of an opportunity for early playing time at Iowa. Losing two top assistants probably didn't help Pitt's cause either. Especially considering Smith already backed out of his original commitment to Tennessee because Buzz Peterson, who originally recruited Smith to be a Volunteer, was replaced by Bruce Pearl at the beginning of this past year.
But if Pitt is losing recruits because either their assistant coaches are moving on to head coaching jobs or because the talent level on the team is scaring them away, then things can't be all that bad in the first place.
And that brings us to Aaron Gray, who is declaring himself for the NBA draft. I'm sure potentially losing the top center in the Big East isn't the best news to end a tough week for Pitt fans. But in reality, it's not a sign of the apocalypse either. A lot of talk among fans (including the Dawg) is that Pitt needs to take the next step and become more than just a back Top 25 team. Well guess what? Perennial top teams lose underclassmen to the draft, and they lose them a lot. If anything, having a fairly average recruit turn into a NBA first round draft pick in just three years speaks volumes for the opportunities available to top recruits coming out of high school. Pitt may have lost N'diaye and Smith, but they did sign Gilbert Brown and Austen Wallace. Brown was a highly sought after shooting guard and Wallace's stock has risen dramatically as he's starting to fill out and be more comfortable with his game. If Aaron Gray can blossom into a legitimate NBA center what's to say Austin Wallace (and even senior Doyle Hudson) can't in a short time either? Success isn't always about signing the best players as much as it is signing the right players.
So even though it might seem like the floor is falling out underneath the Pitt basketball program, it really isn't. Although it might seem that the glass is half empty, there is a lot of reason to believe its half full. Pitt has a dynamic and bright young head coach and a very young but talented team coming back. The foundation is strong enough for the next few years that Pitt should be able to concentrate on getting over the hump and making a serious run to the final four. If the Panthers can do that, everything else will take care of itself.
In the Dawg House: April 28, 2006 This page © Copyright 2006, Steve Gephart.