Ramon And Benjamin Want To Keep Winning

When the Pitt men's basketball team faces DePaul Sunday at noon at the Petersen Events Center, it will be the final home game for Panthers seniors Keith Benjamin, Ronald Ramon, Mike Cook and Maurice Polen.

All four players, as well as team managers Jeremy Grubbs and Jordan Marks, are expected to graduate with a degree from the University of Pittsburgh, and they will be honored during a pre-game ceremony beginning at 11:30 a.m. Sunday, prior to the DePaul game. So, fans are advised to get seated early.

While walk-on Polen has not played much during his three "active'' seasons, Ronald Ramon, Keith Benjamin and Mike Cook have accomplished a great deal during their time at Pitt. And the Panthers are expected to reach a fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament with Ramon and Benjamin leading the way.

"They're very outgoing with a lot of friends, and they did a lot of things together,'' Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "They're good kids, and there's a lot of good memories. Ronald and Keith, they've played more minutes than we've played anybody.

"They were playing 35-36 minutes a game for a stretch there, and we just haven't done that in the past. But they had to, and both were playing through significant injuries that might have kept other guys out. (But) they've been winners, and they'll graduate. So, that's important.''

During Dixon's senior year at TCU (1987), the Horned Frogs built a 28-game home winning streak, but lost on Senior Night to "a team that was at the bottom of the (Southwest) Conference,'' he said. The Panthers don't want that to happen.

"I remember Chevy's (Troutman) senior year,'' Ramon said. "We lost to Connecticut, and then we lost on Senior Night. So, we passed the message along (to the other players) that we want to go out with a win against DePaul.''

Winning has occurred quite often during the Ramon and Benjamin years at Pitt. The Panthers are 95-34 overall (.736), 41-24 during the regular season in the Big East (.630) with four straight 20-win seasons and two straight trips to the Conference title game at Madison Square Garden (2006-07).

If Pitt (21-9, 9-8) beats DePaul (11-18, 6-11) Sunday, this group will be the first senior class in the Big East to win more than 20 games in a season and record at least 10 victories in the Conference four straight years.

"Four years ago, it seems like a long time ago, but it's still pretty vivid,'' Benjamin said. "We had a solid team here, so we didn't really expect to contribute. But we knew we were building for the future. ... Me and Ronald, everybody knows that we're best of friends and did everything together.

"From just working out together all summer long. Getting up and shoveling together. Being in the same (freshman) suite and going to the (Student) Union together. We went everywhere on campus together and took courses together, and it's been a real long ride and real fun since Day One.''

Benjamin and Ramon knew each other while playing for New York City scholastic basketball powers Mount Vernon and All Hallows in the Bronx. But they were more acquaintances back then. That status quickly changed at Pitt.

"Having him as a friend and teammate has been a great experience,'' Ramon said. "He's meant a lot to me and this team, as a leader, this season. He's stepped up, and that means a lot. Being from the City and knowing each other ... we really felt a connection when we got here. We became friends right away, and we've had four great years together.''

Both agreed that the perfect regular-season ending would be a win against DePaul, but they quickly added that long runs in the Big East and NCAA tournaments were even more important.

"I'm not counting this team out for nothing,'' Benjamin said. "We have a good shot to win the Big East Tournament still and a great shot to make a run in the NCAA Tournament to get past the Sweet Sixteen. It all depends on how much we want it, and I think this team really wants it.''

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