Men’s Basketball: Gibbs leads Panthers into season opener

By Lauren Kirschman

Ashton Gibbs will transition into an important role for the Pitt men’s basketball team this… Ashton Gibbs will transition into an important role for the Pitt men’s basketball team this season.

The senior guard — who led Pitt with 16.8 points per game last season — is already one of the nation’s top 3-point shooters as well as the Panthers’ top scoring threat.

But when the Panthers face Albany in today’s season opener, Pitt also needs him to be a leader.

Last season, the Panthers had three experienced seniors on the team in Brad Wanamaker, Gary McGhee and Gilbert Brown. With those players gone, it’s up to Gibbs to guide a team that features four true freshmen and two redshirt freshmen.

“I’m not very vocal,” he said. “I’m still working on the vocal aspect … I think I lead by example, and that’s what I’ve been doing for a long time.”

He’s often the first one in the gym and the last one to leave, Gibbs added, and he knows the plays well enough that his teammates can come to him with questions.

But he added that taking on responsibility as a vocal leader is becoming increasingly more important.

“Sometimes you’ve got to be loud, just because it’s a lot of young guys this year,” Gibbs said. “They don’t really know what they are doing. Sometimes they forget plays … but they work hard and they listen.”

Head coach Jamie Dixon said Gibbs has done a good job increasing his vocal presence, but he added that the senior has always been more likely to lead by example.

“I always say there’s two different types of leaders: There’s the vocal guy, and there’s a guy that leads by example,” Dixon said. “His worth ethic is an inspiration, it’s an example, it’s a coaching tool for me. It’s there everyday. That was from day one.”

Last year, Dixon said that Gibbs realized that the three seniors were the leaders of the team.

“You can only have so many leaders,” Dixon said. “When you had three solid leaders, you have to recognize [that].”

This year, it’s Gibbs’ turn.

Redshirt sophomore Lamar Patterson said that every member of the team respects Gibbs.

“He works hard and does everything you need to do,” Patterson said. “You can always depend on him … he always showed that he was a silent leader. This year he’s more vocal, just telling everyone where they need to be at.”

That ability will be important on Friday, when the Panthers take the floor with three new starters. Gibbs and senior Nasir Robinson both started last season. Patterson, redshirt junior Travon Woodall and junior Dante Taylor are also expected to start tomorrow.

Sophomore J.J. Moore, who started both exhibition games at small forward, was suspended for the first game by the NCAA for a secondary violation.

Patterson came off the bench at small forward in both exhibitions, scoring a team-high 22 points in Pitt’s 76-67 win over Division II Kentucky Wesleyan on Monday.

Dixon said that no matter which players are on the floor, freshmen and inexperienced players will get playing time.

“It’s going to be interesting to see how they progress — and important to see how they progress,” he said.

He said he expects the team to have balanced scoring, but added that it might not show in four or more players reaching double figures. Instead, he said the Panthers would split those numbers.

In Pitt’s win over Kentucky Wesleyan, Patterson and Gibbs both scored more than 20 points. No other player reached double figures, but seven Panthers scored at least four points.

“I feel like everyone knows their role,” Patterson said. “We usually establish that early on.”

Pitt will face an experienced team in Albany. The Great Danes return four starters from a team that finished 16-16 last season. Starting guards Logan Aronhalt and Mike Black both earned All-America East third-team recognition last season. Aronhalt averaged 14.6 points per game last season, and point guard Black added 12.3 points and dished out 2.9 assists a game. Black also shot 43 percent from beyond the arc.

The duo should provide a challenging early-season matchup for Pitt’s experienced backcourt of Gibbs and Woodall.

The Great Danes also return starting forward Luke Devlin and starting center John Puk.

Tip-off for the season opener is set for 7 p.m. tonight at the Petersen Events Center.

Assistant sports editor Isaac Saul contributed to this story.