In the last few years, Jamie Dixon has had to bring in larger recruitment classes than he anticipated, and likely wanted to. This has been mostly due to transfers.
For his 2014 recruitment class, Dixon has voluntarily brought in a large class, signing five players to letters of intent.
The first of those commitments is Sheldon Jeter, a 6-foot-8-inch forward originally from Beaver Falls, Pa. In his first time through the recruitment process, Jeter chose Vanderbilt. His freshman year (2012-13), Jeter averaged 5.5 points and 3.4 rebounds in 33 games, starting in seven and playing 17.5 minutes on average.
With hopes of playing closer to home, Jeter decided to transfer from Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings blocked him from transferring to Pitt, so Jeter decided to attend Polk State College in Winter Haven, Fla., for a year — the school where his cousin and former Nebraska Cornhusker Lance Jeter played. This way, Jeter could commit to Pitt.
In order to preserve his remaining three years of eligibility, he sat out the season. Jeter exhibited very good athleticism and quality shooting ability at Vanderbilt, and used the year at Polk State to refine his skill set and become stronger to best prepare himself for the rigors of the ACC.
Polk State’s head coach, Matt Furjanic, applauded Jeter’s work ethic.
“He’s the hardest worker that I’ve had since I had his cousin Lance Jeter,” Furjanic said.
Furjanic also had lofty compliments for Jeter’s basketball skills.
“If he’d played with us this year, he’d be maybe the top player in Florida,” he said.
In addition to Jeter, Pitt brings two other local players to campus — forward Ryan Luther and guard Cameron Johnson.
Luther, a 6-foot-8-inch Gibsonia, Pa., native, showed a broad skill set and positional versatility at Hampton High School, where he holds the all-time scoring record. Luther believes this versatility was a predominant factor in securing an offer from his hometown school.
“One of my strengths is I’m versatile,” Luther said. “If I have a smaller defender, I can take him in and a bigger [defender] vice versa.”
Once Luther received the offer in September, choosing Pitt was a relatively easy decision — mostly because it’s close to home.
“Playing local in front of all your family where everybody can see you is definitely pretty cool,” he said.
Before Luther plays his first college game, he’s concerned with becoming a better defender, being a more consistent shooter and becoming stronger. But when Luther steps on the court, he’ll be playing for a team he’s been a longtime fan of.
“Just watching them growing up, I think it will be kind of weird knowing that I’ll be on the team. I’m excited for that,” he said.
Johnson, too, is excited about playing for the local school, where his father Gil Johnson played from 1988-90.
“I’ve always loved Pitt since I was little,” Johnson said.
Although Johnson adores Pitt, it appeared uncertain whether Johnson was worthy of a scholarship.
For the majority of Johnson’s high school career at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart (Coraopolis, Pa.), he was lightly recruited, only receiving interest from mid-major schools. Then something changed — his height. During the summer before his senior season, Johnson grew from 6-foot-2 to 6-foot-7.
It was a foreseeable spurt, as doctors had thought he had plenty of room to grow. What wasn’t foreseeable, though, was that Johnson would retain his coordination and guard skills after growing rapidly in a short period of time, averaging 27.8 points per game his senior season.
“In terms of basketball skills and ball handling, it didn’t affect me too much,” he said.
At his current height, which he expects will increase one or two more inches, Johnson is an abnormally tall guard. His abilities at this size are what led Dixon to finally offer him a scholarship in April after seeing him work out at his high school.
“I have a very high basketball IQ, I can score well, and I can see the floor well,” Johnson said. “For my position I’m tall, so I can rebound well and get steals and get in the passing lanes.”
Johnson, along with Jeter, has already moved into Pitt and has clear goals for his freshman season.
“My goals are to get stronger, get in the program and find my spot where I can be the biggest contributor,” he said.
Besides bringing in local players, an abnormality for Pitt, Dixon also received commitments from two other players from atypical recruitment areas.
Tyrone Haughton, a 6-foot-9-inch center originally from Florida, chose Pitt due to the city feel, his relationship with former Pitt assistant Barry Rohrssen and the closeness he observed between the players during his visit. What attracted Pitt to Haughton was his extraordinary shot-blocking ability, which he exhibited while at Iowa Western Community College.
During his two-year stint at Iowa Western, Haughton broke the school’s career shot-block record with 185. His second season stands out in particular — He blocked 112 shots, 12 coming in a single game.
Haughton, who has two years of eligibility left, is a defense-first player — priorities that match Dixon’s.
“People think I can’t score, but I let my defense do the work first and then scoring comes right after,” Haughton said.
Although some might doubt Haughton’s offensive abilities, he’s confident on that side of the ball, where he uses his above-average athleticism to his advantage.
“If they give me the ball, I’m gonna score,” Haughton said.
When Haughton arrives on campus, he’s most excited to play in front of Pitt’s student section, the Oakland Zoo.
But before he does that, Haughton believes he needs to work on his shooting and add a bit more weight to his 220-pound frame.
In addition to Haughton, Pitt is bringing in one more center, Shaquille Doorson.
A native of Holland, Doorson played at Canarias Basketball Academy in Tafira Alta, Spain — a school famous for producing Division I players. At 6-foot-11 and 265 pounds, Doorson’s rare size and surprising athleticism attracted Dixon.
What attracted Doorson to Pitt, mainly, was the opportunity to play in a major conference.
“My dream has come true, to know I’ll be playing in the ACC under a great coach and at a great program in a powerhouse conference,” Doorson said in a November press release after his commitment.