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Pitt men's team eager to move past last season

| Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012, 7:00 p.m.
Pitt freshman Steven Adams and Talib Zanna (right) have some fun during Media Day at Petersen Events Center on Thursday, Oct., 11, 2012. Malcolm Gilbert is on the left. (Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review)
Pitt G Trey Ziegler talks to the press during the basketball media day at the Petersen Events Center on Thursday October 11, 2012. Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Pitt freshman big man Steven Adams, flanked by teammates Malcolm Gilbert (33) and Aron Nwankwo (15), mugs for the cameras as the team photograph is being taken during the basketball media day at the Petersen Events Center on Thursday October 11, 2012. Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Members of the Pitt men's basketball team joke with each other during the basketball media day at the Petersen Events Center on Thursday October 11, 2012. Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon talks to the press during the basketball media day at the Petersen Events Center on Thursday October 11, 2012. Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Pitt freshman big man Steven Adams talks to the press during the basketball media day at the Petersen Events Center on Thursday October 11, 2012. Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review

Fireworks will be part of homecoming festivities during Pitt's outside “Midnight Madness” on Friday, but the Panthers want the season to end with a bang.

Coming off a disappointing 22-17 record, the Panthers don't have look far for motivation as they begin men's basketball practice Friday in preparation for their Big East farewell tour.

“We want to finish it out the right way,” coach Jamie Dixon said. “That's what we're trying to do.”

Pitt, which joins the ACC next year, spent the past decade compiling the best winning percentage in the Big East, despite last season's 13th-place finish and no NCAA Tournament invite for the first time in Dixon's nine seasons.

Now they welcome 7-foot prized freshman Steven Adams as part of a consensus top-15 recruiting class, along with returning five of their top seven scorers. Ashton Gibbs and Nasir Robinson are gone, but last season's most improved player — junior small forward Lamar Patterson — is ready to take on a greater role, and fifth-year senior point guard Tray Woodall (hernia) and junior small forward J.J. Moore (foot) are healthy after offseason surgery.

“I've had no setbacks,” Woodall said Thursday at Petersen Events Center as part of Pitt's annual preseason Media Day. “I'm doing everything that everyone else is doing. I'm fine.”

Pitt likely will be picked in the top six in the Big East when the coaches' preseason poll is released Wednesday at Big East Media Day in New York.

The Panthers had only a CBI Tournament title to show for last season. A photo of the nearly empty Petersen Events Center at the first-round game against Wofford was hung in the locker room last March with a message to the players, reading, in effect: “This is what happens when you miss the NCAA Tournament.”

“They just want to win,” Adams said.

The Panthers took off only “three or four days” after the CBI-clinching win over Washington State and started to train for the 2012-13 season. The distaste of last season was cleansed in the weight room and during pickup games at the Pete.

“After last season, it's definitely going to push us,” senior center Dante Taylor said.

“You can see a fire in everybody's eyes — not just one or two (players) but everybody,” said Moore, who also will see time at power forward in place of departed three-year starter Robinson.

Many eyes will be on Adams, the five-star New Zealander whom Dixon said is “physically more ready than any big kid we've brought in,” including DeJuan Blair and Chris Taft, who started as freshmen.

Adams, a projected lottery pick in many 2013 NBA mock drafts, is just one of the players who have impressed the Pitt coaching staff with their offseason desire.

“He's been out there every single opportunity to improve,” Dixon said. “We're seeing that in a lot of guys.”

John Grupp is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at jgrupp@tribweb.com.

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