Going To A Garden Party

Pitt men's basketball coach Jamie Dixon is a creature of habit, and that consistency has helped the Panthers secure the best record in the Big East Conference the past eight years.

It also has bode well for Pittsburgh during the annual Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden in New York City, as the team has played in the title game seven times in the past eight seasons and won two titles there.

"We always stay at the Hilton,'' Dixon said. "We stay there every year, and we practice at the same places. We get the same bus driver. We eat at the same places, so I'm a creature of habit. And our team, the players are creatures of habit. We eat at the hotel, the Market Place there. So, we do everything the same. Our players know what to expect.''

Pitt practice at Baruch College Campus High School (BCCHS), a small, liberal arts high school founded in 1997 that had college prep as its focus on a college campus. All students at BCCHS have been admitted to a four-year college or university. It's a New York City public high school located on Lexington Avenue and 23rd Street in Manhattan and has a total enrollment of about 415 students.

People involved with that school have ties to Pitt, and the same is true about the hotel and restaurant. That's what makes New York City a home away from home for the Panthers basketball team.

"We just want to go in and play hard, and everybody knows that New York is our second home,'' Pitt sophomore center DeJuan Blair said. "So, we're going to go out and have fun. So, everybody's going to be ready for this, and it's going to be a fun ride the rest of the way out.

"(The Garden) is electrifying, but I don't know if it's going to be better than the Pete was for the last game. It's going to be fun, though. All our fans are going to be coming in, and it's going to be great. I can't wait. (And) I'm going to enjoy the city this time, because I didn't get a chance last year.

"My family couldn't come up due to some difficulties,'' Blair noted, "but this year everybody's going to come up. And we're going to have some fun in New York. It's going to be a lot of fun. I can't wait to get some gyros.''

Pitt has had several key players from the New York area on its roster more often than not in recent years, and that's a reason why the Panthers have been so successful when it plays at Madison Square Garden. But Dixon said it's much more than that.

"We've been good,'' Dixon said. "We've been the most consistent team in the Conference, and I think that's had something to do with it. So, it's a combination of those two things, being good year after year and guys just playing well there.

"We take pride in what we do and play well at the Garden, but in all our games. We beat Duke there. We beat Memphis there and Alabama there. ... So, our record has been pretty good during that time frame, and that certainly has a lot to do with it.''

During the past eight season, Pitt has the best overall record among Big East teams at 217-54 (.801) as well as in the Conference at 96-367 (.727). No other Big East team has eight straight NCAA appearances, 20-plus win seasons and 10-plus wins in the Conference for the past eight years as well.

Blair expected Pitt's success in New York to continue this year with another trip to the championship game. The Panthers are 23-8 at the Garden since 2000-01.

"Of course, we expect to make it,'' Blair said. "I think every team does. From now on it's one loss and you're done, so I can't wait to play on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. So, we've just got to get there and have a showdown. I know all the guys, Levance and our seniors, they want to go out on top.

"It's their last year, and I think we can do it again. I was pretty tired (last year), but anything I can do for my team I'll try to do. Last year, I feel like it affected us a little bit, but now I think we're ready. We have that mind-set that we're not going to let anything get in front of us.

"The only people who can beat us is ourselves,'' Blair added. "So, we need to keep playing good, and Coach needs to keep coaching well and keep doing what he's doing. And if we keep doing what we do, everything thing's going to come together. It's going to be good.''

And that would mean consistency has paid off again for the Panthers.

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