Pitt Opens With Fairleigh Dickinson

Pitt men's basketball coach Jamie Dixon loves to use a solid player rotation, sometimes with up to 10 players getting time in early season games, but that group usually dwindles once the Big East schedule begins.

The Panthers get a real chance to test their depth in some early games this year, as senior point guard Levance Fields and redshirt sophomore swing player Gilbert Brown are still rehabilitating their injuries.

So, when Pittsburgh faces Fairleigh Dickinson tonight at 7 at the Petersen Events Center freshman Ashton Gibbs is the likely starter for Fields, while junior Jermaine Dixon opens at shooting guard.

"I'm definitely excited,'' Dixon said. "I've been waiting for this my whole career, since I started playing basketball, so I'm definitely excited and ready for it. Playing at the D-I level for a big-time program, I'm definitely ready.

"I'm not really sure if I'm starting, but we'll see when the lineups come out. But I'll be ready whenever they want me to go in. If I do start, it would be an honor, and I definitely want to get the start. But I'm not really sure what's going on.

"I think me and Ashton can handle it, because we've been playing basketball all our lives,'' Dixon added. "I played against a lot of good players growing up to get to this point, and I'm sure Ashton has, too, or else he wouldn't be here. So, it's going to be nothing different for us. We're ready to play.''

Dixon has played exclusively at two guard since his arrival, but Gibbs primarily had been at that spot as well until he arrived at Pitt. It isn't a stretch to say that he's the Panthers' best shooter, but it looks like he'll be a point guard at least until Fields returns.

"I was recruited as like a combo guard,'' Gibbs said. "I can play both positions, the point guard and shooting guard, and have pretty much played both my whole career. But I still had to get comfortable with it when I started playing it more often here. I think I quickly got adjusted and took it from there.

"I think I'm more of a pass first-type guard now with the point guard position, but at the same time I'm going to take it if I've got an open shot and try to knock it down. I had a couple more assists than I usually have, seven the other day, so I'm more of a pass-first guard now.

"But I'll still take the shot if it's there,'' Gibbs added. "In high school, my coach was unselfish, telling us to make the extra pass, and Coach Dixon is that way, too. So, I try to keep that in mind and make that extra pass to get an open shot for somebody else. And if it comes back to me, I'll take it.''

Gibbs likely will split time at the point with another freshman, Travon Woodall, until Fields returns on a full-time basis. He believed he was prepared to handle the starting position thanks to the hard work he put in during the offseason, the job that Pitt's coaching staff has done to prepare him and Fields.

"Levance, he's talked to me a lot about this. He's a great leader, and he shows it on the court during practice. It's great to play with a tremendous leader like that. You can learn a lot from him on and off the court. The other guys, they help me out a lot in practice.

"They always boost my confidence, even after I make a mistake. They always encourage me to do better and better. That makes me even more comfortable at the point, and I feel pretty good out there. I know we don't have a lot of experience, Jermaine and me, but I think we can handle it. ... If we do start, it's a tremendous honor.

"We did well in the exhibition games, and hopefully that will carry over into this first game. It's different than the exhibition game, and the Big East will be different as well. You know, it's real different, playing against Seton Hill than it is against Seton Hall.''

Jermaine Dixon believed that Gibbs quick development into a point guard was a testament to the teams' versatility.

"We're definitely versatile with Sam, going to the four or three, where he is strong and more athletic than most threes and can post up if pretty well against the fours,'' Dixon said. "So, he's a tough matchup against pretty much anybody in the country that he would face at either spot.

"Also, Blair can play multiple positions. I can play the two and three, and Ashton can play the one and two, pretty much, so that all should be to our favor. We can cause a lot of matchup problems, and defensively be real quick.''

Pitt coach Jamie Dixon noted that the Panthers are relatively unfamiliar with this Fairleigh Dickinson team, because it's much different than the one that played last year and was 8-20 overall. However, with players Pitt knows from high school and several transfers, including one it saw when it saw Buffalo in the NCAA Tournament -- junior guard Eric Moore -- there's some knowledge.

"Fairleigh Dickinson has a good history in recent years to get to the tournament and being at the top of that (Northeast) Conference,'' Dixon said. "But they have a lot of new guys this year, so we're just to figure out how these transfers that they have are going to fit in. We familiar with some of them, and we're trying to figure out what they're going to do. We know what we'll do.

"Moore made shots and had the game of his career, is what they said (about that NCAA game). We know him from St. Benedict's, so we've known about him for a long time. He's a very good player. ... We're very familiar with him, and we know he can make shots. So, he's a guy who we know a lot about.''

Dixon added that 6-foot-8 forward Alvin Mofunanya is a player he's familiar with as well from before.

"We know some guys from the past and some from last year,'' Dixon said, "but we're going on mixed reports about them. ... They mix up defenses. That's always how Coach Tom Green plays. He's been there a long time.

"He has a lot of wins. He's one of the most-tenured coaches in the country. He's won at a place that isn't the easiest place to win. They run a lot of ball screens and like to shoot threes. That's what they've been known for.''

So, Pitt's versatility should help in that regard against Fairleigh Dickinson.

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