Basketball Preview: Player profiles

By Staff

Gilbert Brown: Senior forward 6’ 6’’ 215 pounds

Gilbert Brown is… Gilbert Brown: Senior forward 6’ 6’’ 215 pounds

Gilbert Brown is widely considered Pitt’s best athlete and perhaps one of the best athletes in the country. He is a dominating force around the rim and has a jump shot that people are starting to notice. A small forward who also played power forward last year, Brown has a chance to have a coming-out year this season.

“I feel great,” Brown said. “I’m confident in my abilities and the players that we have. We have a great coaching staff; I’m ready to just get going and get ready for these games.”

Last year, Brown missed the team’s first 11 games because of academic issues. With a history of injuries, Brown was not always on the floor for Pitt. Yet he still finished the season third on the team in scoring. This season, he is ready to step up for the Panthers.

“He’s gotten better each year, and I think this year will be his best year,” Dixon said.

Isaiah Epps: Freshman guard 6’ 2’’ 175 pounds

Epps is one of three incoming freshmen for the Panthers. A left-handed combination guard, Epps helped lead Hargrave Military Academy to a 23-1 overall record and the nation’s No. 1 prep school ranking as a senior. ranked Epps the No. 16 point guard and No. 69 overall recruit in the nation.

Epps was the only Pitt freshman who was unable to partake in the team’s trip to Ireland this summer. Despite the missed time, he said he’s adjusting to the program well.

“When I first got here, I was struggling a little bit and out of shape since I wasn’t here for the summer,” he said. “But now that I’m here, I’ve been getting workouts, lifting weights a little bit and conditioning. Now I’m fine.”

He sees himself as a spot-up shooter and said he wants to provide energy in his first year as a Panther, hyping the team up and getting them ready for the season.

But with the program’s focus on defense, Epps added that he has room to improve on that side of the ball.

Ashton Gibbs: Junior guard 6’ 2’’ 190 pounds

Pitt’s leading scorer from a year ago averaging 15.7 points per game, Gibbs returns this season as the team’s starting point guard. He was named the Big East’s Most Improved Player last season and was selected to the All-Big East second team. One of the best shooters in the country, Gibbs made a school record 46 consecutive free throws last season.

Gary McGhee: Senior center 6’ 11’’ 250 pounds

McGhee looks to continue his emergence from last year as the Panthers’ starting center. The senior from Anderson, Ind., has improved gradually every year he’s been in Jamie Dixon’s system and had a breakthrough season in replacing DeJuan Blair last year. Possibly one of the best defensive centers Pitt has had in recent memory, McGhee spent this summer working on another part of his game. During Pitt’s media day McGhee said, “I feel [my offensive game] blossomed. I worked this offseason in camps and getting in [the] gym by myself, you know, getting shots up, getting my post positioning down.” McGhee attended the LeBron James Skills Academy and Amar’e Stoudemire’s camp this past summer with some of the best collegiate players in the country.

J.J. Moore: Freshman forward 6’ 6’’ 200 pounds

Wearing No. 44 for the Pitt Panthers this year is the high-flying J.J. Moore, the reigning Throwdown Showdown Dunk Contest champion. He hails from Brentwood, N.Y., but played his senior season at South Kent Prep in Connecticut. Major programs began to recruit him during the summer and offers piled up from eight of the 16 Big East programs. Moore said that he “felt at home” at Pitt. He got solid playing time in the Blue-Gold Scrimmage and in the team’s first exhibition game against Northwood, when he scored 17 points.

Aron Nwankwo: Freshman forward 6’ 7” 200 pounds

Nwankwo walked onto the team this year after receiving a full academic scholarship and planning to pursue pre-medicine. He helped lead Baltimore City College High School to consecutive 2A Maryland State Championships. Nwankwo looks to be a strong presence on the defensive end of the floor.

Lamar Patterson: Freshman guard/forward 6’ 5” 220 pounds

After redshirting last season, when he earned a medical hardship waiver after sustaining a severely sprained right ankle, Patterson returns this season and should receive plenty of playing time.

Before his injury he looked impressive on the court, scoring 10 points against Eastern Kentucky and six against Texas.

Patterson thinks the redshirt year was beneficial for his development as a player.

“The redshirt year was a great experience, I got to watch and learn from the older guys,” he said. “Watching from the bench and then listening to the coaches — it just slows the game down a lot.”

J.J. Richardson: Sophomore forward 6’ 7’’ 235 pounds

Richardson played just 82 minutes during the 2009-10 season, but he grabbed 21 rebounds during that span. Richardson tends to make the most of his time on the floor, no matter how much time he spends out there.

“I would like a bigger role,” Richardson said. “But where I’m at right now, whether I play 10 minutes or 30 minutes, either way when I go in, I’ll just go hard and play to the best of my ability.”

Despite his success in the paint, Richardson focused a lot on his rebounding during the summer. Now, his goal is to become a more integral part of Pitt’s game plan.

“Biggest thing I want to work on would be playing more into the team,” he said. “Running the offense, having a better mindset and concept of the game, being a better player and having a higher IQ of the game.”

Richardson’s willingness to learn is evidenced by his 2009-10 Big East Academic All-Star selection.

Nick Rivers: Senior guard 6’ 0’’ 180 pounds

Rivers joined the Panthers last year as a walk-on after serving as team manager for two seasons. The senior guard played sparingly in 2009-10, appearing in five games and knocking down a 3-pointer against the Ohio Bobcats. The fan favorite is best known for his pregame dance, which will be back this year. “I’ve got some new moves,” Rivers said. “I have some new tricks in the bag to get them hyped.”

Nasir Robinson: Junior forward 6’ 5” 220 pounds

Voted the Most Inspirational Player by the team last year, Robinson — a Chester, Pa., native — is as versatile as they come. He has the skill set to play both power forward and small forward. He attacks the basket, slashes well to the hoop and specializes in rebounding.

“I do focus on rebounding and attacking the glass, but I can do a lot of other things that I’m going to show people this season. I’ve especially worked on improving my outside shot,” he said.

Last season, Robinson averaged 6.6 points per game and 5.6 rebounds per game. A solid defender, Robinson had 11 blocks and 13 steals and was one of four players who started all 34 games. He reached double-figure scoring in nine games last year and double-figure rebounding in three games. “We’ve got a few young guys here, and being a junior, I know what Coach is expecting. I’m going to teach the young guys as much as I can,” Robinson said.

Robinson will miss the first three to six weeks of the season because of a knee surgery.

Dante Taylor: Sophomore forward 6’ 9’’ 240 pounds

As a freshman, Taylor earned playing time in all 34 games for the Panthers as a center coming off the bench last year. His 20 blocked shots were second on the team and he averaged 4.1 points and 3.7 rebounds per game. A McDonald’s All-American in high school, Taylor earned accolades in his first season with the Panthers with the distinction of Big East Academic All-Star. After an offseason focused on strength and conditioning, Taylor is ready to contribute at a high level. “I feel like I’m in good shape,” Taylor said. “And the sky is the limit.”

Brad Wanamaker: Senior guard 6’4’’ 210 pounds

Technically he is listed as a 6-foot-4, 210-pound guard, but really he should be listed as just Brad Wanamaker: Playmaker. Last year Wanamaker was first on the team with 4.7 assists per game, second in minutes, second in scoring with 12.3 points and tied for first in steals. Now a senior, Wanamaker is one of the leading men on this year’s Panthers and looks to be a key part of the team both on offense and defense. The all-around guard can drive, shoot, pass and play defense and is one of the most underrated players in the country.

Travon Woodall: Sophomore guard 5’ 11’’ 190 pounds

Woodall is ready to take on a leadership role for the Panthers.

A redshirt sophomore, Woodall came off the bench as the backup point guard last year, playing in every game as he averaged five points and 3.2 assists per game. Entering this season, Woodall said it’s essential to the team’s progress for a player to step up and be an emotional as well as floor leader.

“What better player to be a leader than a point guard?” Woodall said. “You have to be a coach on the floor.”

The redshirt year he spent as a freshman made him more anxious to play, Woodall said, and he spent the season shooting, working out and trying to improve. He said that he didn’t take the year off, and it showed when he stepped on the floor last season, much more physically prepared for the college game.

A quick guard with great court vision, Woodall’s best game last season probably came in Pitt’s triple-overtime victory over West Virginia on Feb. 12 when he proved key in the Panthers’ comeback, scoring 12 points and dishing out six assists.

Cameron Wright: Freshman guard 6’ 4” 200 pounds

Last year, Cleveland native Cameron Wright was named the Ohio Division II State Player of the Year. This year, he moved one state east, where he fits in with coach Jamie Dixon’s Panthers.

He is a physical guard who defends well and fights hard to create turnovers. He was invited to play at a LeBron James camp, where he played on a team with fellow Pitt freshman Isaiah Epps. He was also an honors student at his high school.

Talib Zanna: Redshirt freshman forward 6’ 9” 225 pounds

Zanna is one of Pitt’s best rebounders. He led all Panthers in rebounds in the Greentree Summer League and was a major factor on the boards in Ireland this summer. With Nasir Robinson out for three to six weeks recovering from knee surgery, Zanna will receive significant playing opportunities in the early part of the season.

He hails from Kaduna, Nigeria, and went to high school in Maryland, where he averaged a double-double in his senior season — 14.6 points and 11.8 rebounds. His father passed away shortly after he committed to Pitt, and he has not been back to Nigeria since coming to the United States. But he received a special surprise in Ireland when he met the ambassador to Nigeria at U.S. Ambassador Dan Rooney’s house.

Zanna took a medical redshirt last season and should see playing time this year.

Alex Oltmanns, Tony Jovenitti, Greg Trietley, Lauren Kirschman Brody Engelhard, Ben Livingston, Dustin Gabler, Isaac Saul, Torie Wytiaz and Kelly Flanigan contributed to this report.