Pitt Panthers men’s basketball team hopes for successful ACC debut

Oct 16, 2013; Charlotte, NC, USA; Pittsburgh Panthers head basketball coach Jamie Dixon speaks to the media during the ACC basketball media day at The Ritz-Carlton. Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

Picked sixth to finish in the ACC, the Pittsburgh Panthers men’s basketball team comes into a new conference with a different looking team.

Head Coach Jamie Dixon had to address depth, especially the power forward and center position after the losses of Steven Adams, Dante Taylor and the transfers of Malcolm Gilbert and J.J. Moore. Find out how he did below with my take on the full roster.

2013-14 Roster:

Jamel Artis- Artis comes in as a freshman that will play the power forward position most likely and finds himself in a battle with fellow newcomer Mike Young for a starting spot. Dixon said that Artis is a ‘great teammate’ and ‘ready to please’. Artis dropped 18 pounds over the summer while conditioning for the upcoming season. Artis is the undersized four the Panthers have had success with going back to Nasir Robinson although Dixon said he is more skilled than the former Panther. He also is already drawing some comparisons to Sam Young for his ability to play the small or power forward positions.

He said it: “It’s a lot better and I’m faster. When you’re in shape, you can do a lot more things. Obviously I’m not getting tired and can shoot and dribble better.” – Artis on how the weight loss helped him.

Durand Johnson- Johnson was a three point specialist last season. I expect him to do more this season coming off the bench. This will depend on his health as he suffered a concussion earlier this month. Consistency also will be important for Johnson. He could be similar to a J.J. Moore and Gilbert Brown as he can change a game but just as easily disappear. Dixon says Johnson is ‘going to be a big factor’, however consistency will be the biggest thing.

Chris Jones- His redshirt off, Jones looks to provide an impact coming off the bench. Jones will face some challenges, but of the redshirts, he is in the best position to make the biggest impact. Jones worked hard physically and

Joshua Ko- Ko is a walk-on from Kailua, Hawaii, the first from the Aloha state. Ko will be buried on the depth chart to start but he can take and make the three.

Mike Lecak- Much like Jones, Lecak’s redshirt season is over and he looks to make an impact. He likely will start the season in a similar scenario to Ko however the opportunity for playing time could be there.

He said it: “I want to get in the game, whether it’s the first or last game I don’t care I want in. Most of my family is going to be at every game, especially since my redshirt is off. I can’t wait to play for the Oakland Zoo that I wanted to be a part of when I was a child.” – Lecak on desire to play.

Josh Newkirk- Newkirk made history by becoming the first players to declare that Pitt was his college of choice via Twitter. Now Newkirk enters his freshman season as the backup point guard for the Panthers.

Aron Nwankwo- Nwankwo is also coming off of a red-shirt season and is in a situation similar to Ko and Lecak. He will provide some depth at power forward and possibly center.

Lamar Patterson- It is so hard to predict what to expect out of Patterson. High hopes were placed on Patterson and he never truly rose to the occasion. This year him and Zanna will be expected to lead the team. There will still be some pressure on him but it seems as though he is more focused. The free throw shooting appears to be better and he seems to be doing the small things better. His work ethic has always been there and Dixon even noted it after the team’s first public scrimmage. Patterson will need to step it up from last season for sure but last season’s expectations seemed to be too much.

Derrick Randall- Randall will provide depth and rebounds with the Panthers. He injured himself Thursday, just before the Blue-Gold game and is expected to recover in 10 days. Randall’s knee could determine Pitt’s depth among the power forward and center positions.

He said it: I’ve become so much stronger here at Pitt with [trainer] Tim [Beltz] and he’s just making me a better player. I have to get back in the gym to start working again.” – Randall on strength improvements at Pitt

James Robinson- Robinson was a steady shooting guard last year in terms of assist-turnover ratio and took some big shots during the season, however Dixon was disappointed with the lack of production for the position. Robinson often times seemed intimidated

He said it: “He’s a better shooter this year than last year. He’s slightly changed his shot and that’s helped him. We have confidence in him and we have good perimeter shooters.” – Dixon on Robinson

Joseph Uchebo- Uchebo is currently injured and not doing contact drills at this point. His size could be a tremendous asset on the bench if he is able to comeback this season. He very well could since Dixon said that he has no plans to red shirt anyone.

Cameron Wright- Wright’s game has definitely improved but not as much as you think. Wright never had to be an offensive player before as his role had him coming off the bench providing a defensive spark. Now with Tray Woodall gone and Robinson not much of a shooting threat, Wright will be expected to bring some offense. If the two scrimmages showed anything, that will not be an issue as Wright scored 27 and 25 points respectively. There is an opening at shooting guard and according to Dixon Wright is currently in the lead. Wright could be the difference maker of this team.

He said it: “I definitely worked on my stamina to make sure I’m in the best shape I can possibly be in. My jump shot is improving. I’ve always been able to score the ball but that wasn’t my role last year. I feel better than ever. I feel like I will have a bigger role and am confident for this upcoming season.” – Wright on adjustments this season.

Michael Young- Again this is a two horse race for the starting power forward between Young and Artis. Before last season it was rare for Dixon to start a freshman. Both players have range and are more physically fit. Young is reliable from the free throw line as well. Dixon can’t lose with this decision, although the winner needs to learn how to play defense. Young is from the McKeesport area, so he will have plenty support at his games.

Talib Zanna- Zanna shifts to the center position after seeing the vast majority of his time at the power forward position. Zanna did play the position in last season’s regular season finale against Villanova scoring 14 points and grabbing 19 rebounds. Zanna looks stronger and more poised knowing he will be a leader of this team. Zanna hopes to avoid the Summer League curse that plagued Patterson last year [win the MVP and underwhelm during the season]. Nothing points to a let down however.

He said it: “To be honest I don’t know what happened last year. I was in a little bit of a slump but I don’t think it’s going to happen this year. I guarantee you that.” – Zanna on his shooting slump last season.

Projected starters:

James Robinson

Cameron Wright

Lamar Patterson

Jamel Artis/Michael Young

Talib Zanna

Topics: Jamie Dixon, Pitt Panthers Basketball

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