Men’s Basketball: Panthers increase intensity at practice

By Lauren Kirschman

When forward Nasir Robinson arrived at Pitt, his welcome to college basketball consisted of… When forward Nasir Robinson arrived at Pitt, his welcome to college basketball consisted of getting toughened up in practice by his more experienced teammates.

On Tuesday, in an attempt to simulate a game-like intensity in practice and end a three-game losing streak, Robinson and his teammates carried onthe tradition.

“Sam [Young], [DeJuan Blair], Levance [Fields, Tyrell [Biggs] — those guys threw me around, but I held my ground and tried to throw them back,” Robinson said. “It just carried over. What they did to us, we basically do to our young guys, too, and they throw it back.”

Robinson said the coaches put their whistles away on Tuesday and let the team play.

“Today we had a drill and they just let us get at it,” Robinson said. “Guys [were] throwing each other around. A couple of guys’ mouth got bloody today … I think we need that. I think it’s going to help us.”

Pitt sophomore J.J. Moore said the practices are helping the team prepare for the level of play it sees in games.

“Teams have been getting into us,” he said. “And we haven’t been taking the opportunity to get into each other at practice.”

Moore said that the difference between practices and games contributed to Pitt turning the ball over at a high rate — the Panthers committed 17 turnovers against Cincinnati.

“These past few practices we’ve been getting into each other [with] slapping, hacking and playing hard,” Moore said. “It’s showing that we’re going to trim down our turnovers and we’re going to play even harder and play better.”

Robinson said that head coach Jamie Dixon wants the turnover count at less than 10. He added that upping the level of intensity makes practices more competitive.

“We don’t take it personally,” Robinson said. “We just want to get each other better. One guy might not like it, but that’s what we’ll sacrifice to get better.”

Instead of adjusting during a game to how hard an opponent plays, Robinson said that Pitt’s practices will help the Panthers get used to that level of play before a game begins.

The Panthers also want to carry over their outside shooting in practices to games. During its current three-game losing streak, Pitt is shooting 16.7 percent from beyond the arc.

“We’ve shot it well in practice,” Dixon said. “We stat all our practices, we stat our threes … we shot 50 percent in practice the day before from the three and didn’t shoot well again in the last [game].”

Dixon added that the Panthers are focusing on shot selection in practice.

“I think Ashton [Gibbs] is shooting the ball better,” Dixon said. “John [Johnson] has had some good looks, and he was obviously shooting a very high percentage. We need some other guys to knock down open shots. They’re working hard at it, but at the same time you don’t want them to overthink it.”

Pitt is also working to limit the amount of penetration by its opponents, Dixon said.

“I think it’s some of our younger guys not used to stronger guys, more physical guys, bigger guys getting in the lane,” Dixon said. “We’ve played against teams lately that have played smaller and they’ve attacked it a little bit off the dribble.”

The Panthers also want to penetrate more on the offensive end, Dixon said, as freshman guard Johnson is the only player consistently getting in the lane.

Moore and Robinson, as well as Dixon, said the Panthers’ practices have been energetic. But Robinson emphasized the importance of carrying that intensity over into games.

“Practice has been good,” Robinson said. “We have good energy from everybody. We’ve just been practicing hard, we just need to carry it over to the game and put those losses behind us.”