Basketball Preview: Freshman Josh Newkirk brings speed to Pitt men’s backcourt

Basketball Preview: Freshman Josh Newkirk brings speed to Pitt mens backcourt

In the past, Big East teams with swift-moving point guards gave Pitt’s defense fits: Dominic James of Marquette, Scottie Reynolds of Villanova and Edgar Sosa of Louisville, just to name a few, frustrated the Panthers annually.

For the first time in the Jamie Dixon era, Pitt could possibly be nourishing that type of player in freshman Josh Newkirk. 

Head Coach Jamie Dixon certainly sees things that way.  

“Josh brings a real extra-higher gear to us offensively that we’ve never had. I think he’s the quickest guy we’ve ever had,” Dixon said. “It doesn’t mean he’s going to be the best guy we’ve ever had, but it’s a good thing to start with.”

Starting point guard James Robinson will likely be relieved by Newkirk at times this season. Newkirk said the two have been going head-to-head at the point guard position during practices. 

Last year, Pitt’s two point guards — Robinson and Tray Woodall — worked in and out of roles. Robinson handled the ball primarily, while different plays were run for Woodall, who remained off the ball. 

The tandem of Robinson and Newkirk could, in time, work out much like that of Robinson and Woodall — Newkirk said he and Robinson “switch it up” during practices, meaning one typically feeds the other the ball.

Since arriving on campus in June, Pitt’s coaching staff has guided Newkirk through a plan to gain 15 pounds. Standing at 6-foot-1, Newkirk chiseled his way to 185 pounds at the start of fall.

“[I’m] just eating the right things, staying in the weight room, lifting, and just getting my body right,” Newkirk said.

Newkirk, who grew up near Raleigh, N.C., chose Pitt over programs including Missouri, Oklahoma State, North Carolina State and Indiana. While in high school, Newkirk played for the same Amateur Athletic Union program as current NBA star John Wall.

Much like Wall, Newkirk prides his offensive game around beating his defender vertically to the rim.

“My strength is speed and quickness. I enjoy doing that,” Newkirk said. “That’s how I play the best.”

Robinson agreed.

“Josh, from day one he’s done some pretty special things in transition. And after a workout he might just pick up a ball and windmill-dunk it,” Robinson said.

Newkirk still has aspects that could use improvement. Above all, he said, is his jump shot and help-side defense.

“[I need to] just be more consistent on my outside jump shot, because in high school I could go by anybody. Now everybody is just as quick and just as fast, so to develop an outside jumper, I need that,” Newkirk said.

Dixon said last month that Robinson started at point guard at the start of last season because of his exceptional perimeter defense. Dixon could award Newkirk with more minutes this season if he is able to deny opponents open lanes.

“I’m just learning Coach Dixon’s new principles. I got to stay and help, just different little things on the defensive end,” he added.

Since Newkirk verbally committed to Pitt in September of 2012, seven of Pitt’s players have either graduated or transferred. He said this didn’t change his outlook for Pitt, nor was he jumping for joy when he heard the news that one of his position competitors had left the program.

“I’m just happy to be with the people who want to be here,” Newkirk said. “We’re all here for one goal and that’s to win. I can’t wait to step on the floor and win.”