Pitt freshman forward Artis making most of increased opportunity
By Kevin Gorman
Published: Monday, Feb. 3, 2014, 10:36 p.m.
After a week in which Pitt lost a pair of ACC games at Petersen Events Center, the Panthers are hoping to recover by playing two of the teams with the worst records in conference play.
Pitt (18-4, 6-3), which dropped from No. 18 to 25 in the AP poll following losses to Duke and Virginia, visits Miami (11-10, 2-6) on Wednesday and hosts Virginia Tech (8-13, 1-8) on Saturday.
“We've got to get ready for our trip and get better offensively and defensively,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “I've been saying that, and we have done it but not to the level where we need to beat a good team that makes a tough shot.”
Dixon is encouraged by the improved play of his four freshmen, most notably Jamel Artis. The 6-foot-7 power forward played a career-high 24 minutes in the 48-45 loss to Virginia on Sunday, and he responded with career bests of 11 points and seven rebounds.
Since the season-ending knee injury to Durand Johnson on Jan. 11 against Wake Forest, Artis has had increased playing time and improved production. Through the first three ACC games, he was averaging 3.3 points and 2.3 rebounds in 13 minutes. In the past five, he is averaging 5.8 points and 3.8 rebounds in 16.5 minutes.
“We really felt there would be somebody that emerged from the new guys that continued to improve for us,” Dixon said. “With Durand Johnson going out, Jamel is a guy who can put the ball in the basket, score a little bit and also get other guys shots in some ways.
“He's a guy who's probably going to be playing more as he improves defensively. He's always given us a good look offensively. He can shoot the ball. He can pass it. He's also rebounding better, too, on the offensive end.”
Defense is where Dixon has demanded that Artis improve the most to earn more minutes, which explains why his playing time didn't increase after eight-point first halves against both Maryland and Duke. Artis said most of it is mental breakdowns, knowing where and when to come to help in the man-to-man scheme.
“I've just got to pick it up more on ‘D' so I can help my team out more,” Artis said. “If I can't play ‘D,' there's no reason for me to be on the floor.”
Artis is showing that he is a quick learner, especially as a rebounder. He had three offensive boards against Virginia, including one in the final minute where he took full blame for failing to finish on the put-back.
What makes Artis' development even more important is the lack of production Pitt is getting from its backups at center. With junior Derrick Randall and sophomore Joseph Uchebo being mostly ineffective, Dixon has opted to slide Mike Young into the post and put Artis at power forward.
When Talib Zanna twisted his ankle against Virginia, Artis and Young combined for eight points during a 2:17 stretch to keep the Panthers ahead. Zanna is expected to be available to play at Miami, Dixon said.
Either way, Artis promises to see more playing time as he progresses.
“It's great to see him emerge as a freshman and improve,” Dixon said. “He works really hard at it, so it's not a surprise that he should improve.”
Kevin Gorman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.
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