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Dixon, Pitt men's basketball team aren't planning island vacation

| Thursday, July 31, 2014, 10:24 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pitt's Cameron Wright shoots over Florida's Casy Prather during the second half of an NCAA Tournament third-round game Saturday, March 22, 2014, at Amway Center in Orlando, Fla.

Confronted with the departure of his two best players, Pitt coach Jamie Dixon graciously accepted 10 extra days of practice this summer.

The rare block of practice time is an incentive from the NCAA, awarded to basketball teams participating in offseason international tournaments.

Pitt departs Friday for a four-game tour in Nassau, Bahamas, the first of 13 Division I programs scheduled to play a series of games against local teams. Other college programs making the Bahamas trip include Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio State and Cincinnati.

Dixon appreciates the teaching opportunity for his younger players. Normally, Dixon wouldn't be granted this much official practice time with his players until the fall.

“Those (local) teams in the Bahamas have a lot of guys that played college, a lot of good athletes, but they don't play a lot together,” Dixon said. “The main thing is we see our guys in situations a little bit earlier and you can make adjustments when practice begins in the fall.”

Dixon said sophomores Jamel Artis, Sheldon Jeter, Chris Jones, Josh Newkirk and Mike Young, along with freshmen Cameron Johnson and Ryan Luther, will benefit from the extra work.

The expectation is those players will collectively replace Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna, who combined to lead Pitt in scoring, rebounding and assists last season.

Dixon isn't overly concerned because he has built a program that wins 20 or more games and appears in the NCAA tournament annually.

Conceivably, the bulk of those lost points, rebounds and assists could shift to the Panthers' three returning starters — Young, who started all 36 games and finished second on the team in rebounding as a freshman; junior James Robinson and fifth-year senior Cameron Wright, the leading returning scorer.

Other players expected to benefit from the extra work include Artis and Newkirk, who both appeared in 36 games last season, as well as Chris Jones (30 games). Junior Durand Johnson appeared in 16 games before suffering a season-ending knee injury.

“It's a little different this year. I'm a little bit more comfortable with the new guys,” Dixon said. “The last time we played in one of these (international tournaments), we were an experienced group with a lot of returning guys. Our freshmen didn't play much when we got there.”

Four years ago, Pitt played six games in Ireland the summer after being ranked No. 1 in the country and advancing to the Elite Eight.

Last season, Pitt finished 26-10 and advanced to the third round of the NCAA Tournament.

“This year's team is not as experienced. That last team was ranked No. 1 in the country,” Dixon said.

“We're playing some guys at positions they (didn't) play before. Sheldon's playing more three (small forward), Michael played some five (center) last year — those two really stand out.

“You start establishing your team and who can do what and who does something better than someone else. New guys come out and their confidence builds.”

John Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jharris@tribweb.com.

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