A redshirt sophomore forward for No. 3 Pittsburgh, Gilbert Brown had not played all season, missing most of the summer conditioning with two sprained ankles. Then, once school began, Brown developed a stress fracture. However, despite his conditioning issues, Brown jumped right into action against Belmont.
"I was just rehabbing, doing the bike, swimming and doing as little conditioning as possible on the foot,'' Brown said. "So, I mostly was staying off the foot. But during the shoot-around for the Belmont game, Coach came to me and asked me if I could go because DeJuan couldn't.
"I thought I was ready, so I came out and played and started practicing full-time. (The injury) stemmed from a practice, I would say, 4-5 weeks ago. It was before the Blue-Gold game. I rolled my ankle. Gradually, over time, I really didn't feel it was that bad. So, I didn't sit out.
"The season was coming up, so I wanted to keep working out,'' Brown added. "But that's when the stress fracture actually occurred as time went on. It didn't really stem from the ankle problems I had during the summer. After the first game against Belmont, it was a little sore, and I felt a little rusty. But after the tournament this past weekend, I was feeling a little better.''
That's where the plans to ease Brown into things went awry. After playing 15 minutes against Belmont, Brown played 48 total during the Legends Classic Friday and Saturday against Texas Tech (25) and Washington State (23), respectively. It looks like Brown is a solid sixth man now.
"We have six top guys who are going to play more minutes than the other guys, and that's pretty evident,'' Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "Gilbert was out three weeks, but we were cautious and conservative with him. Just like we were with Levance and DeJuan. ... We want them to be at their best once they play.
"I like the rotation how it's going, especially with Sam Young and the different matchups. And it gives you guys something to talk about. ... But we feel pretty comfortable with it, and it's not about who starts. It's how many minutes you play, and those six guys have deserved to play the most minutes.''
Coach Dixon is referring to starting guards Levance Fields and Jermaine Dixon, forwards Young and Tyrell Biggs and Blair with Brown as the first player off the bench. Since, as Dixon pointed out, there are only 200 total minutes in a game, somebody will have his minutes cut. That likely will be Nasir Robinson.
Brown, for the most part, is just happy to be back on the court. So, it doesn't matter right now that he's not in the starting lineup. He apparently will enter the game at the three spot for Young, and the senior forward will move to the four in place of Biggs.
"I'm really not focusing on starting right now, because I'm still playing 20-25 minutes a game,'' Brown said. "So, as long as I get in there and play my minutes and contribute to the team, I'm all right with that.''
And so are the Panthers.
"Coach says he's our pick-up guy, someone to pick us up when he comes in a game,'' Blair said. "He gives us a boost, brings us something off the bench and gives us something we don't have. So, that's a good thing.''
And Pitt wants to take advantage of Brown's playing time when it can get it, because he's had some injury problems the past couple years.
"It definitely was difficult,'' Brown said. "Having injuries my redshirt year, to last year, and then coming in this year and not being able to practice. Then, once I started practice, getting injured again and not practicing, but I kept the faith and knew I'd get back on the court eventually. So, I kept working at it.
"As far as conditioning and stuff, the injury definitely held me back a bit. But otherwise, I think I learned a few things from watching. I learned some of the new plays that we put in and what to do against certain defenses. Things like that. So, it was a big help to me from that standpoint.
"After the games, the ankle's usually a little bit sore,'' Brown added. "When I wake up, that's when I usually feel the most pain. But as the day progresses, it goes away. At first, I thought I was going to start slowly, but I played a lot in the tournament. And I think that I'm pretty much back in full swing now.''
For a guy with a 38-inch vertical leap like Brown, jumping back into action should be no problem.
Brown Jumps Back Into Action
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