Herrion Seals The Deals

He's been described as tenacious, aggressive and a tireless worker, and all these qualities helped Pitt associate head coach Tom Herrion -- in his second season on Coach Jamie Dixon's staff -- secure all four recently-signed players to the Panthers' 2009 basketball recruiting class.

The four new Pittsburgh players, who will enroll in August, 2009, as freshmen, are wing Lamar Patterson from St. Benedict's Prep in New Jersey, forward J.J. Richardson from Fort Bend Hightower High School in Texas, forward Dante Taylor from National Christian Academy in Maryland and forward Talib Zanna from Bishop McNamara High School in Maryland.

And the Panthers might not be done just yet with Herrion leading the charge.

"You're never done recruiting,'' Herrion said. "You're just never done. We keep our eyes on a lot of things, and a lot of things can pop up. So, you have to be prepared. Now, we're thrilled with the four that we have, and we have a good nucleus coming back from this year. But we always want to keep our options open in case something breaks at some point.''

Herrion has been involved in collegiate basketball coaching for nearly two decades. He's been the top assistant, and he's been a head coach. His main responsibilities at Pitt include recruiting, game preparation, on-floor coaching and player development.

"Over the past year, Tom has proved to be an outstanding and valuable addition to our staff,'' Dixon said. "Tom is a well-rounded coach and has helped us in recruiting, scouting and player development.

"We are extremely fortunate to have a coach with his background. He also has the experience of coaching in several different environments and is familiar with the Big East region.''

What Herrion has done in just a short time since arriving at Pitt after stints at the College of Charleston (2002-06 as the head coach), Virginia (1999-2002), Providence College (1994-98) and Division II Merrimack College (1989-94) is quickly identify what Dixon looks for in a player. He also spent eight seasons under coaching legend Pete Gillen at both Virginia and Providence.

"The rankings are nice, and they mean a lot,'' Herrion said. "But to us it's much more about how the players fit into our program. These kids fit our needs, but it matters what type of family background they have, the type of kid they are and the kind of kid they can become throughout their career here. We also want a student who can graduate.

"And all that's on top of the type of basketball player that he is. So, there's a lot involved with our recruiting process, and we identified these kids early and went after them. ... I also think it speaks volumes about the level of the Pitt men's basketball program. What we've done speaks for itself now, but it's different than what it was 5-10 years ago.''

Clearly, the Panthers had a need to solidify the depth in their front court with forwards Sam Young and Tyrell Biggs ending their eligibility after this season. Taylor, Richardson and Zanna are all forwards and probably could play either the four or five positions. For now, the trio likely won't be small forwards, but Herrion said that current freshman Dwight Miller could develop into a good three player in the future.

Herrion noted that Patterson also is versatile, either a two-guard or at the three (small forward) spot.

"But he's so young for his age (compared to) his class,'' Herrion said. "His body allows him to be a little bit of a small forward, while his skill package allows him to be a big guard. He has a very high basketball IQ, and that's something that Coach Dixon values. He also likes his feel for the game and his skill level.''

Patterson was into Pitt for a long time, but when the Panthers secured Taylor's commitment that helped Patterson solidify his.

"It helps a lot when you get a young man who is rated as high as Dante,'' Herrion said, "and we're all aware -- players and coaches -- about what's out there. And when someone like Dante commits, it gets everybody's attention. The circle these kids play in during the summer, in particular, it's very close. They get to know each other and want to play with them.''

And with the way Pitt's program is progressing, there's quite a few reasons to want to be part of it. Even though Herrion likely will be a head coaching candidate somewhere soon, he appears to be happy with the Panthers.

"Having already been a head coach and a successful head coach, it's not an end-all and be-all for me,'' Herrion said. "I don't need the jump just to be a head coach. I know how to do it and to do it the right way. I feel like the the best job for you is the job that you have, and I have a really good job.''

"I've had a lot of good people to work for and work with and work for me,'' Herrion said. "And I guess the best way to say it is that I've probably taken a little bit from all of them. At least I hope I've been smart enough to do that, but you also have to be yourself.''

For Herrion, that's a tenacious recruiter with an excellent success rate.

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