Pitt isn’t OK without Fields in lineup

By Mike Gladysz

One injury can demolish a basketball team. Heading into Friday night’s season opener against… One injury can demolish a basketball team. Heading into Friday night’s season opener against Fairleigh Dickinson, Pitt is a team struggling with injuries. Senior guard Levance Fields, the team leader on the offensive side of the ball, is down with a left foot injury, while sophomore forward Gilbert Brown is also out with a stress fracture. Neither is expected to miss much more time, but neither will likely dress for Friday night’s game. If these injuries ‘mdash; particularly Fields’ ‘mdash; don’t improve quickly, Pitt might have some trouble living up to its No. 5 ranking. Unfortunately for Pitt, Fields’ injury seems to be a bit worse than the team anticipated. Fields has practiced this year, but it’s been off and on. Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said that from now on it’s Fields’ decision as to when he can or can’t play. But he needs to get back on the court constantly to return to playing shape and help lead Pitt to success. The problem is that neither he nor the coaches want to rush it. ‘It’s obviously his decision,’ said Dixon. ‘We had hoped he’d be back by now, [but] it’s not where we thought it would be.’ Fields originally hurt his foot last Dec. 29 in a loss against Dayton ‘mdash; Pitt’s first loss of the season. He missed seven weeks, then returned for the end of the season and the postseason. This past summer, Fields played in a Pittsburgh summer league before having additional surgery. Since then, he’s been trying to heal it and prepare for the season. Still, Fields hasn’t been doing a lot of playing. Because Fields leads the Pitt offense, it misses him. No player ‘mdash; no matter how talented that player might be ‘mdash; can just come in and fill his shoes. No one can replace the rapport Fields built with his teammates after 64 starts. No one had the same success ‘mdash; 52-12 in those starts ‘mdash; that he’s had. It’s the kind of experience no one can dispute. ‘He’s been injured for 11 months,’ said Dixon. ‘We haven’t really been able to do anything that we would normally like to do for [that] period. You can’t sugarcoat it.’ Entering this season after graduating guards Ronald Ramon and Keith Benjamin, the second guard slot is wide open. With Fields out, Dixon will have a chance to take a good look at what he has at the position. The competition is already heated, but this might bring it up even more. Freshmen Ashton Gibbs and Travon Woodall, sophomore Brad Wanamaker and junior-college transfer Jermaine Dixon will each get shots to show what they can do in big-time, real-game situations. Each will play a lot in the first few weeks. As they showed in the preseason, each guy has talent. The regular season is different, however. Once Pitt gets into Big East play, experience will be necessary at the guard spot. Even when Fields gets back into a normal practice routine, nothing is immediate. It’ll take some time to get back into condition and find the same comfort he had before ‘mdash; maybe more time than expected. ‘We’re just trying to see how it goes,’ said Dixon. ‘It’s not exactly the best way to get ready for a season.’ It’s not just the guards who are missing Fields. It’s everyone else. He creates space for forward Sam Young, who opted to skip the NBA Draft for another shot at a title with Pitt. Fields also feeds DeJuan Blair on the inside and can create his own shot. Not only that, but Fields’ motor doesn’t stop. He’s as physically and mentally tough as anyone on the court. He needs to be out there for Pitt to play up to its expectations with a No. 5 ranking in the AP poll. With Fields on the court, he can guide Pitt’s younger guards just like Carl Krauser guided him when he was a freshman. He can help from the bench, but nothing is like playing beside a guy who has proven himself time after time. There’s not much time before Pitt’s schedule gets tough, and it better hope it gets Fields back healthy because the Big East will swallow teams alive this year. Without Fields, it’ll be tough to escape. -Contact Mike at [email protected]