The Pitt Panthers men’s basketball team ended the year with a win, which was the desired final outcome, but a 22-17 record meant that the victory came in the College Basketball Invitational.
This year the Panthers once again come in with high hopes but need to avoid the injuries and crash and burns that plagued them last season.
Jamie Dixon met with reporters to kick off the team’s portion of media-day coverage. In his half-hour news conference, here were some of the highlights:
On the team’s health:
“Health wise were good, Tray and JJ. We’ve held JJ out longer than anybody would. We were conservative with those because of our history with broken feet.”
On if Pitt seems like those guys that group you just mentioned first have a pass-first mentality. Is that about the most you think you’ve had?
“There’s no question that last year we went in with the goal for Tray to lead the country with assists. We’ve always been one of the best teams in the country with assists and that is what we intend to do here as well.”
You’ve had Lamar and James at the same position, basically. Are there ways to get them on the floor together?
“They’ve played a lot together and we’ve played small. We’ll practice it more than the past and it is something you’ll see a lot more for obvious reasons because we’ve had some guys move on. I know it’s something that you’ll see.”
Considering that J.J. Moore will see action at the four, what about his upper body strength?
“He couldn’t do any shooting or running so he was in the weight room working hard. He did about as much he could in the situation. He didn’t start playing live until September. That gives you an idea about how long he was out.”
On how Steven Adams will fit in:
“He’s got good size and strength. He’s physically more ready than probably any kid we’ve brought in. Conditioning and strength wise he is farther ahead than most guys.”
On how far away from the basketball you will allow Steven Adams to roam:
“He’ll be inside and out but prominently on the inside. He can shoot some jump shots. His passing and ball handling are pretty good.”
Expectations of Dante Taylor:
“I expect. He’s been healthy and he’s been out there every day and hasn’t missed a day of lifting or individual workouts. We really want to get the ball inside and he’s a big part of that.”
On the development of Malcolm Gilbert:
“He’s a guy that can really run and he’s a good defender. He’s getting better and developing and showing signs of improvement. I think he’s going to develop into a great player for us and when that occurs he will be a very good player for us.”
Since Trey Zeigler has been around for about six months now, do you have a good feel about how he will fit in?
“No, I don’t. We’ve had a couple hours worth of practice this week. He’s improved his stamina. He’s had some health issues last year and his conditioning has gotten better. But he’s a good passer and playmaker. He gets in the lane and gets fouled and that’s probably his strengths.”
On last Big East season:
“The Big East has been so good to us and at the same time the ACC opens a lot of doors for the entire athletic program. What we really want to do is finish this thing off right. We’ve had the best record in the conference for a decade or so and we want to finish with that. We want to maintain that and continue it into ACC play.”
On Steven Adams’ physical maturity and skill set: Is he as good as a freshman you’ve had?
“We’re going to see in practice. He’s got good hands, a soft touch and has played against some older kids at a Notre Dame prep school. He’s got some good tools and the main thing he’s got is that he works. I mean he really wants to be a player. He works out during every opportunity he can to improve himself.”
On slow starts from defense over the years:
“I think one thing we’ve always seen early in the year is that sometimes we’ll play smaller skilled teams and then they spread you out a little bit more and that’s something we may not practice against or see a lot of in our conference so we may not be built to handle that right away, especially early in the year. We need to be physically tougher and we need to be mentally tougher, the toughest team we’ve ever had and that’s what we’re trying to do. I think we have the depth, that’s my hope.”
Trey Ziegler is being labeled as the opposite of Ashton Gibbs, but Ziegler who has been in Pittsburgh for six months is ready to make the transition.
“It’s been as smooth as possible,” Ziegler said. “Just getting to know the guys and being here since May has really helped for the school year. I think I’m adjusting well.”
Ziegler is a solid player and while an injury in the summer meant fans in Greentree did not see him for the duration of play, but he was a polished shooter and passer from what I saw of him. He seems to have a good shot selection and that will help this Panthers team.
“He’s really a good passer, a good decision-maker,” Dixon said. “He’s a good passer and a playmaker, similar to Brad [Wanamaker] in a lot of ways with his ability to get in the lane. You never quite know, but I did pick that up from the summer. He gets in the lane, he gets fouled, and he finishes well; that’s probably his strengths.
John Johnson wants to be a leader
One of those players that is anxious to improve himself is John Johnson. Last year, Johnson had his opportunities due to injuries, and they never panned out. His three point shot faded and he would get into foul trouble. This year he says that things have changed.
“It just knowing when to pressure and when to back up and not just being antsy,” Johnson said. “I was a freshman out there and I was antsy but now I am much more comfortable.”
With the team starting the season with plenty of depth, Dixon said that Johnson may get to play the one, or point guard position, something which excites the latter.
“I’m definitely familiar with the position, I played it all of high school so I’m ready to play the 1,” Johnson said. “Last year I stepped out to play the 2 a little bit. Now I am just focusing on being more vocal, taking more control of the team and being more of a leader.”
Johnson is excited for the season to start. It will allow for last season’s disappointments to be erased mentally, although it still serves a lot of motivation.
“I just look at last year as a learning experience. We never want to have a season like that again.” Johnson said. “Obviously it wasn’t a great season for us but we’ve been working really hard and putting extra time in the gym so we’re really excited.”
Dante Taylor ready to accept role on team
I completely forgot that Dante Taylor is a senior this season. This signing has been so highly reguarded and has resulted in a total disappointment in the eyes of many Panther fans.
Because of this, Steven Adams will be the starting center barring injury. Taylor and Talib Zanna among others likely will compete for the four spot.
“I’m just going to do whatever my coach wants me to do,” Taylor said. “If he wants me to start, I’m going to startif he wants me to come off the bench, I’m going to come off the bench.”
This selflessness continued with his next answer, when he was asked if he expected to play power forward or center.
“I definitely could be both, I don’t have a set position right now,” Taylor said. “Since I’ve been here I’ve been the 5, so that was my main focus. I definitely think this year I’ll play both.”
J.J. Moore back to 100 percent
While injured during the off-season, J.J. Moore did what he could do. Lifting. According to Dixon, he came back in great shape.
At Midnight Madness, Moore will defend his slam dunk title. The following video will share his thoughts on the event and the upcoming season.
Steven Adams looks forward to first season as a Panther
Expectations are high on Steven Adams. He should be the starting center. From what was seen during the summer, his game was still raw but the offense was there, but not as consistently as expected. Adams is a force defensively and is a great shot blocker.
Here are his thoughts on the upcoming season:
Tony Salesi discusses injuries
In sports, injuries happen, but for the Panthers, the 2011-12 season was about as injury plagued as they come and a huge price was paid.
Tony Salesi is the team’s athletic trainer and often he was called into action as a player got hurt.
Here is a video of the interview:
The Panthers have a Blue-Gold scrimmage Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Pedersen Events Center. Their first exhibition match is Friday, Oct. 26 against Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Their season opener is Friday, Nov. 9 against Mount St. Mary’s.