New-Look Pitt Eager To Embark On Successful 2015-16 Basketball Season


Jamie Dixon’s Pitt basketball squad opened up Midnight Madness with former Duke guard Jay Williams as host and a performance by local rap star Wiz Khalifa.

Last season, Pitt collapsed down the stretch, finishing with a 19-15, 8-10 ACC record and missed the NCAA Tournament. Pitt fell to NC State in the second round of the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament, and then the Panthers were knocked out in the first round of the NIT Tourney by George Washington.

A new season is on the horizon, and with that, new hopes for a successful year and a deep NCAA Tournament run.

This Pitt team will have a much different look compared to last year’s squad, as senior guard Cameron Wright, senior center Derrick Randall, and senior walk-on Aron Nwankwo have graduated. Senior guard/ forward Durand Johnson, who was suspended for the entirety of last season, has transferred to St. Johns. Junior point guard Josh Newkirk has transferred to Indiana. Junior centers Tyrone Haughton and Joseph Uchebo have also both left the program.

Wright was the most productive of all the players who have left, though I thought Durand Johnson could have been the leader of the 2015-16 Pitt hoops team.

Out with the old and in with the new.

Before discussing the additions, who is returning from Pitt?

The primary core of last year’s team is back, and I think (key word, think) that these guys will show improvement upon a mediocre season from 2014-15.

Senior James Robinson, a 6-foot-3 point guard, will be the floor general and has heavy experience. Most Pitt guards have improved over their time at Pitt, so I expect Robinson to have a successful final season, and he needs to become more of a scoring threat at times.

Junior forward Michael Young played last season at center, and I felt as though he was out of position. Dixon has moved the 6-foot-9 athlete back to the power forward position, in which he should thrive and put up some big numbers.

Junior forward Jamel Artis, who played at the power forward position, can now play the small forward/ guard position, and he is a dangerous three-point shooting threat. At 6-foot-7, he could be a matchup problem for some teams.

Sheldon Jeter, a 6-foot-8 junior forward, is coming off a strong season after transferring from Vanderbilt. The Beaver Falls native showed scoring explosiveness against several top schools, and he should see much playing time.

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Redshirt junior guard Chris Jones returns and may likely see more playing time with the departure of Josh Newkirk. Jones, at 6-foot-6, provides athleticism and experience and could be the wild card for this Pitt team.

The biggest question on this Pitt team is the center position. Traditional Pitt powerhouses have had a dominant center, and this was a glaring weakness last year.  Teams had a field day against Pitt in the paint.  We need a presence.

A dominating, immovable presence.

In comes 6-foot-11, 300 pound center transfer Rozelle Nix from Pensacola State Junior College. Nix is a junior and will look to bring back some fear in the paint.  With his size, I think Nix has the potential to be a dominating force, making guards think twice about driving into the trees.

Dixon also uncharacteristically went the graduate-transfer route, picking up Rafael Maia, a 6-foot-9 graduate of Brown. The Brazilian will look to provide depth and physicality at the center position. Richmond shot-blocker Alonzo Nelson-Ododa also stands at 6-foot-9 and he will also be a factor in the paint.  I love both of these additions.

At times, Pitt didn’t have a consistent scorer on the court, and Dixon looked to address this by signing Coppin State guard Sterling Smith, a 6-foot-4 three-point shooting specialist. Smith will likely take the spot of Josh Newkirk and compete with Chris Jones for playing time at the 2-guard.

Pitt also added another guard in 6-foot-2 Jonathan Milligan from Kilgore College. The transfer will have two years of eligibility and is known as a good defender. He was supposed to go to Florida Gulf Coast but did not qualify, and he’ll also compete for playing time at the guard positions.

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  • Incoming freshman guard Damon Wilson Jr. will also compete for playing time. The 6-foot-5 guard will likely take over for James Robinson following the season. With nice size and the potential to be a scoring threat, Wilson could make a huge difference for Pitt this season and for years to come.  I deem Wilson as the “player to watch.”

    It is also important not to forget 6-foot-7 redshirt freshman guard Cameron Johnson from Moon Township. Before injuring his shoulder, he showed us that he could bury three-pointers. With nice size, he could present a matchup problem. Sophomore forward Ryan Luther, a local 6-foot-9 forward from Gibsonia, also provides significant depth off the bench.

    This Pitt team is heavily experienced, though many have not played with each other. This is the most transfers I can remember a Pitt basketball team having in one season. Dixon hoped to address the glaring weaknesses from last season, and we’ll see who earns more playing time over the next few months.

    Pitt will be put to the test quickly in the Armed Forces Classic against Gonzaga on the carrier ship in Okinawa, Japan on November 13th.

    On December 1st, Pitt will host Purdue in the ACC/ Big Ten Challenge. On December 20th, Pitt will play Davidson in the Gotham Classic at Madison Square Garden.

    Pitt opens ACC play at the Pete against Syracuse on December 30th.

    Pitt travels to Louisville on January 14th, hosts Virginia on February 6th, and travels to North Carolina on February 14th.

    On Feb 20th, Pitt travels to Syracuse, then hosts Louisville on the 24th, and then will host the defending National Champions as Duke comes into town on the 28th.

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