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Pitt notebook: Panthers have friend in Wilson basketball

| Wednesday, March 19, 2014, 9:24 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pitt guard James Robinson holds the Wilson NCAA ball during the Panthers' practice Wednesday, March 19, 2014, at Amway Center in Orlando, Fla.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pitt's Lamar Patterson holds the Wilson NCAA ball during the Panthers' practice Wednesday, March 19, 2014, at Amway Center in Orlando, Fla.

ORLANDO, Fla. — When the NCAA Tournament tips off Thursday, not every team will be playing the same brand of basketball.

But they will be using the same brand of basketball.

The Wilson Supreme is the official ball of the NCAA tourney, so Pitt players spent the week practicing with a new ball in preparation for their second-round South Region game against Colorado at Amway Center.

Although Pitt uses the Spalding Legacy for home games — coach Jamie Dixon has a contract with Spalding — the Panthers are accustomed to the Wilsons, which also are made of cow rawhide.

“I like the Wilson balls,” Pitt senior swingman Lamar Patterson said. “They're a little heavier than the Spalding balls we use. That's a good effect for me because sometimes I overshoot. My shots are sometimes long and hard. If the ball is a little bit heavier, it takes that off and will be all net. I've been using a Wilson ball since high school.”

Chris Dountas, Pitt's director of equipment, said the difference in density and tact with every brand of basketball “is pretty extreme.” There were eight different brands in the ACC alone, so Dountas ordered a dozen or more of each for the Panthers to practice with before road games. First, Dountas uses a wire brush to rub the fresh-from-factory feel off the new basketballs.

Pitt has played with the Wilsons multiple times this season. It was the game ball for the Legends Classic in Brooklyn, where Pitt beat both Texas Tech and Stanford, and was used in home games by N.C. State, Notre Dame and Clemson.

“The games you named, we won them all,” Patterson said. “We just go and play. We grow up playing with a different basketball every day, so it doesn't really matter. You just have to figure out a way to put it in the hoop.”

Colorado uses the Nike Elite ball, which is made of lamb-skin leather, but used the Wilson ball at Utah and again at the Pac-12 Tournament.

“The Wilsons probably have a little bit more grip, but it's not much of an adjustment at all,” Colorado guard Xavier Talton said. “A ball is a ball; all you've got to do is put it in the basket.”

Wishful thinking

Sheldon Jeter couldn't wipe the smile off his face while watching Pitt during the shootaround Wednesday afternoon at Amway Center, as playing in the NCAA Tournament was a draw in the former Beaver Falls star's decision to transfer to Pitt after his freshman year at Vanderbilt.

“It's something to look forward to,” said Jeter, who is spending the school year at Polk State College in Winter Haven, Fla. “Not everybody gets a chance to play on this big stage. To know I'm only one year away from it is exciting.”

The 6-foot-8 Jeter, who said he has gained 10 pounds and now weighs 225, has concentrated on working on his shooting and ball handling while sitting out this season. He signed with Pitt in November, and hopes to make an immediate impact with the Panthers.

“I can kind of already see it, with Lamar leaving, there's an obvious open spot at the 3,” Jeter said. “I have to make sure I'm ready.”

Zanna doesn't practice

Pitt senior center Talib Zanna (stomach flu) missed the morning practice and watched from the sidelines during the shootaround. Zanna, who averages 12.9 points and 8.8 rebounds a game, is expected to play against Colorado.

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