Six Freshmen Could Play For Pitt

The Pitt men's basketball lost four starters from last year's team, and two more -- senior Jermaine Dixon (foot) and redshirt junior Gilbert Brown (academic suspension) -- won't be available until late December.

But that didn't stop Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon from projecting another successful campaign for the Panthers this season. Pitt has qualified for eight straight NCAA tournaments, including every one during Dixon's six seasons as the head coach, as the Panthers advanced to the Elite Eight last spring.

"This team can be as good as any team we've had,'' Jamie Dixon said. "No one thinks that outside here. I know what everyone is writing because if you look at it on paper, but we don't play the games on paper. We play them on the court. Where we are now is not where we're going to be. That has to be our belief and our driving motivation.''

It's easy to be pessimistic about the Panthers with starters DeJuan Blair, Tyrell Biggs, Sam Young and Levance Fields moving on, Blair to the NBA and the others to graduation, while the fifth starter -- Jermaine Dixon -- likely is out until December due to a recurring foot injury and eventual surgery.

Another player, Gilbert Brown, was expected to move into a starting role. However, he was placed on academic suspension for fall semester and will miss 11 games. He has to re-apply to Pitt and then be re-instated to the team, which should happen without problem. But he's another experienced player who's MIA.

"That's true,'' Jermaine Dixon said. "Gilbert and me were counted on to be leaders on this team after all the guys that we lost, but I'd like to think that I can be a leader from the sideline as well. I'm with the guys every day, lifting and working out, and I'll be at every practice and game until I can play.

"So, that shouldn't be a problem. And we have a lot of talented young guys who will need to contribute immediately. That's always the case with good programs, players have to step in and step up when other ones leave. This is a good program here, so nobody should be surprised if we're successful again.''

It just appears that Pitt has more young players than usual this year. Six with freshmen eligibility, including redshirts Travon Woodall and Dwight Miller and recruits Talib Zanna, J.J. Richardson, Dante Taylor and Lamar Patterson could all have an impact this season. Woodall, Miller and Taylor could be pressed into starting duty, while the others will be key backups at least.

"This will be the best four guys we ever brought in,'' Jamie Dixon said. "I said that before with Sam, Levance and Tyrell. They lived up to that. This foursome is probably as good as we've had. They're going to be good. We explained to them that we didn't think DeJuan would be back. We believed it.

"That's why we were able to get those three guys as good as they were. In a lot of ways, we could have flexibility and depth with our forwards and guards. We could play small and also big. We're going to have guys play different spots. We've done that in the past. We've practiced it. We may do it more in games.

"I know we lost a lot of guys, (but) we always seem to adjust, find guys who surprise and play roles we didn't anticipate happening,'' Dixon added. "(But) the freshmen are going to play. Just look at the numbers. Some freshmen will play a lot of minutes on the front line. It's a great opportunity. It's why we were able to get three big guys in one class because they knew the opportunity.''

One area where Pitt is loaded is point guard where sophomore Ashton Gibbs, redshirt freshman Travon Woodall and senior Chase Adams, a transfer from the Centenary College in Shreveport, La. should all get playing time at the position. The Panthers generally have a veteran point guard play 30 minutes or more, while an underclassman is prepped.

Gibbs is the only one who has played at Pitt. Woodall redshirted, while Adams is in his first year with the program.

"You never go in thinking a guy will play 30 or 35 minutes,'' Coach Dixon said. "With Jermaine out, there will be some changes early, but no minutes have been decided. That's what's exciting about every year. We lost a very good point guard ... like in the past. That's why we recruited Ashton and Travon.''

Gibbs played for Dixon and Team USA on the under-19 national team this past summer, and he believed the experience has advanced his skill level.

"I learned so much in the tournament, playing against competition that got tougher every game,'' Gibbs said. "I know it prepared me for getting more playing time in the Big East this season. I learned a lot, and I believe I can be one of our leaders this season. I know we lost a lot of guys, but we have a lot of talent here and great coaches. And we're all ready to step up this year.''

With what the Panthers lost in scoring and leadership, several new players will need to get into the flow quickly for Pitt.

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