Basketball: J.J. Moore stepping into scoring role

By Kelly Flanigan

Attendance at this year’s men’s basketball Blue-Gold Scrimmage spiked from last year’s… Attendance at this year’s men’s basketball Blue-Gold Scrimmage spiked from last year’s count of about 4,500 people to a final tally of 6,513.

The increase in interest for the preseason event might be attributable to the four new highly touted freshmen recruited by head coach Jamie Dixon and his staff to join the 2011-2012 Panthers.

Though fans were excited to see the athleticism of Khem Birch and John Johnson, Durand Johnson and Malcolm Gilbert’s emergence donning Pitt jerseys, perhaps the most excitement was generated by one of last year’s recruits: J.J. Moore.

With senior losses from last season, questions have arisen as to who will step up to fill in the scoring gap for the Panthers this year. J.J. Moore set out to prove he could be that guy. He was the second leading scorer behind the Blue team’s Ashton Gibbs, who had 26 points.

“I think I can definitely fill that role,” Moore said. “It’s a big step, and I’m trying to take that leap to be the next best player here, or to be the next after Ashton. It’s all a matter of playing as a team.”

The 6-foot-6 sophomore small forward led the Gold team with eighteen points as he shot 6-of-15 from the floor and 3-for-9 from beyond the arc. Last October, Moore scored nine points in 28 minutes before averaging 3.7 points per game in the 2010-2011 season. This year, perfect from the charity stripe and crashing the boards, Moore displayed traits particularly valued by Dixon.

“[J.J. is] doing some good things,” Dixon said. “He hasn’t shot it as well in practice as he did today. The main thing is he’s got to rebound both offensively and defensively and run the floor. He’s a guy that will get baskets on offensive rebounds, and he finishes. He does a pretty good job of moving without the ball, so I think we can build off of that.”

In his second year under Dixon’s offense, Moore is used to its pace and style of play.

“I think I’m doing pretty good running through the plays,” Moore said. “Coach always tells us to study the plays and make sure you know them very well or else you won’t get in the game.”

Moore grabbed seven rebounds in total, two of them on the offensive side of the ball.

More importantly, he played 29 minutes of disciplined basketball, with only one personal foul and one turnover. Having mistake-free players is valuable for a team with only two returning seniors.

Players like Birch need to work on their defensive rebounding in order to see minutes from Dixon, who stresses basketball fundamentals.

“I find I need to work on my defensive rebounding,” Birch said. “I didn’t get a defensive rebound in this game. [The physicality] is hard. I box them out, but I need to grab more rebounds. It’s mostly technique that I need to work on.”

Though Moore’s efforts were ultimately not enough to lift his team to victory over the Blue squad, he was encouraged by the tough play of his teammates and their contributions. Moore emphasizes that individual points are great, but at the end of the day, basketball is a team sport.

“Everybody’s playing real well,” Moore said. “I think we’re going to have a good time going out there and competing trying to get a National Championship and a Big East Championship.”

Dixon has been relatively mum on a definite starting lineup, but based on his showing in the scrimmage, Moore certainly made a strong case to lock up solid playing time for the upcoming season.

Moore will continue to match up against Lamar Patterson to determine which player is to fill graduated senior Gilbert Brown’s spot.

“Me and [Lamar] have been going at it every day in practice,” Moore said. “Whether it’s open gym, practice, or a game, we always battle hard.”

Defending dunk-contest champion from last year’s scrimmage, J.J. Moore once again was the highlight of the dunk-off this year. Competing against teammates Aron Nwankwo and Birch, Moore took the title after two rounds with a total of 51 points.

Moore’s first dunk attempt was a helicopter dunk — he ran from half court with the ball cradled under his arm and finally slammed it home.

In his second attempt, he was assisted by teammate Cam Wright, who bounced the ball off the backboard. Moore grabbed it and once again slammed it home in a helicopter dunk.

“My first dunk came up very short, but I got the second one down pat. Last year’s dunk contest was much better,” Moore said.

In the aftermath of the first scrimmage, Dixon issued a reminder that it is early on in the season and, despite early player promise, much can change between now and mid-November.

In last year’s Blue-Gold Game, Gibbs scored 22 points before averaging 16.8 per game, and Brad Wanamaker scored 19 points before averaging 11.7.

“It’s practice number seven. It’s a team that’s finding their way. It’s a team that doesn’t have their senior second-leading returning starter on the floor right now. There’s some work to be done,” Dixon said.