Basketball: Following media day, Panthers set for preparation for upcoming season

By Nate Barnes / Sports Editor

Pitt basketball’s 2013-2014 season passed another milestone en route to its commencement after Media Day on Thursday. Pitt begins practice today, as a result of the new rule allowing men’s teams to begin practice specifically on this date. 

“Obviously, we’re excited about starting the season,” head coach Jamie Dixon said. “We’re going to start obviously earlier.”

Pitt has 30 practices to use in the preseason, before the season officially begins on Nov. 8 against Savannah State at the Petersen Events Center. Amid the preseason practices, Pitt will also hold its annual Blue-Gold Scrimmage and two exhibition games against University of California-San Diego and Slippery Rock. 

“I talked to a lot of different teams on what they’re going to do, how they’re going to handle it. You kind of want to spread it out,” Dixon said. “Coaches got what they wanted, but it’s the old saying, ‘you might get what you wish for’ — more access, but at the same time you do not want to wear down your guys.” 

After the preseason, the Panthers participate in the Legends Classic, Jimmy V Classic and Big Ten-ACC Challenge as they tune up for Atlantic Coast Conference play. In their first season as a member of the ACC’s basketball contingent, Pitt looks forward to a new challenge. 

“It’s going to be exciting for the season in the ACC,” center Talib Zanna said. “We are looking up to the season, and we’re ready to go.” 

For sophomore point guard James Robinson, the second-year starter adopts an it-is-what-it-is mentality when looking forward to the season. 

“The — the schedule’s the schedule. We’re going to have to play — every team is going to be a challenge for us,” Robinson said. “It’s up to us to make sure we’re ready, take practices as serious as you can and get better as a team every day.”

Robinson and Zanna will be heavily counted on this season to help replace the production of graduated point guard Travon Woodall and Steven Adams, who declared for the NBA draft after his freshman year. Robinson leads a deep backcourt, while Dixon identifies the frontcourt as an area where players will need to step up.

“We have experience on the perimeter, which is a good thing,” Dixon said. “At the same token, we don’t have experience with the big guys. So we’re going to need some big guys to play that haven’t played before.”

Some of those guys may be true freshmen Jamel Artis and Mike Young. Artis lost 18 pounds entering Pitt, while Young added muscle to his frame. 

Both players can play power forward and small forward with their varied skill sets. Young will likely find his way into the starting lineup, while Artis expects to be the sixth man. 

“Jamel and Mike, yes, they’re freshmen. I think they have great instincts. They bring some skills that we haven’t had in a couple years at that position,” Dixon said. “The ability to pass, ability to shoot, stretch the defense a little bit more — I think it’s going to be a nice addition to our team, especially on the offensive end.”

The extra athleticism and versatility should help the Panthers as they enter their first season in the ACC, which features teams that play at a quicker pace than what Pitt was accustomed to seeing in the Big East. In Dixon’s mind, youth isn’t necessarily a bad thing. 

“We started two freshmen last year, and we won a lot of games, finished in the top four in our conference, best conference in the country,” Dixon said. “We did some things with two freshmen. We’re going to be playing freshmen again this year.”

But alongside that youth, leadership is needed, and senior forward Lamar Patterson will be relied upon, as will Zanna. Patterson has high expectations for the Panthers in their inaugural ACC season.

“I think we should do better this year, going into the ACC. We’ll be playing against great talent,” Patterson said. 

Pitt’s success in the 2013-2014 season will likely be contingent upon the performance of Patterson, himself, who described his play as inconsistent at times last season. With a frontcourt that has a great deal of uncertainty behind Patterson and Zanna, the forward’s production will also need to set a tone for younger players to follow.

“I think this is a tournament team. I expect to be at the top of the ACC. I have high expectations for this team,” Patterson said. “I think we should fulfill them.”