Kovacevic: Dixon's lesson lights Pitt's way
TribLIVE Sports Videos
A good coach makes the right moves.
A very good coach adjusts when those moves invariably get checkmated.
A great coach, and that's a patently fair way to describe Jamie Dixon after his decade at Pitt, adjusts even when the team succeeds, even against his own instinctive judgment.
That's the rock and the hard place in which Dixon was lodged two weeks ago on the team's flight back from Providence. The Panthers had won, 68-64, but one line on the scoresheet kept gnawing at him. The one with all the dashes next to guard Cam Wright's name.
“I didn't play Cam,” Dixon was telling me over the weekend, in a tone befitting confession. “And that was a mistake.”
Hard to see why, at least on the surface. Wright's a redshirt sophomore, he'd scored a total of eight points in the previous five games, and he'd been prone to turnovers.
But that's not how Dixon was thinking. It wasn't about the individual. The coach has been trying to sell his players — and himself, really — on the concept he calls “10 strong,” for the 10 starters he essentially deploys as two rotating quartets.
And yet, as Dixon admitted, the sales job has been tough: “Yeah, there have been times when I've wondered about it. But not now. I'm comfortable now.”
The very next game against DePaul, Wright logged 21 minutes and delivered eight points, four boards, two assists, two steals. Overall, in the three games since that decision, Pitt has twice had 10 players show up on the scoresheet.
And get this: If not for a couple of late Tray Woodall free throws Saturday, the Panthers would have pulled off their 65-55 slam of No. 6 Syracuse without anyone in double-digit scoring.
And you know what?
This is precisely what the Pitt program needed.
No, not just the 18-5 record the Panthers take into their Monday night meeting with Seton Hall at Petersen Events Center. Nor their return to the AP poll, which we'll no doubt see before tipoff.
That's old news in these parts.
What I'm talking about is Dixon correctly pegging his priorities after all those Sweet 16 roadblocks and the season-long setback a year ago. I'm talking about Dixon getting outside the deeply embedded comfort zone of senior-heavy, scrappy teams that looked fabulous in February but melted in March because they never improved.
So give the man credit.
He needed to recruit elite talent, and he landed not only Steven Adams, the top prize of his tenure, but also James Robinson.
He needed to trust freshmen more, and both kids have been fixtures.
He needed to modify strategies to suit the new players' skills and ... well, he's getting there. At least they're all running more.
Above all, he needed numbers to weather the fatigue and foul trouble of tournaments.
Oh, and he needed to hold firm.
“On one hand, you look at Cam's turnovers and wonder why I'd put him back out there against DePaul, which is a pressing team,” Dixon said. “But this is who we are. We're 10 players. This isn't the way we've always done it here, and it's not how most teams are doing it. But we believe — I believe — in what we have, and this is how we're going to go.”
Honestly, I'm not ready to hazard so much as a guess as to how far this group will go. Adams shows more glimpses each game, but he still struggles to get the ball from his hips to the hoop. Robinson's passing and defense are mature beyond his years, but his shooting touch isn't. One game these Panthers are a mess, and the next Jim Boeheim is almost overbearing with praise and saying stuff like, “I don't think you'll see them lose many games the rest of the way.”
But that uncertainty is also the fun of this Pitt season, isn't it?
We used to know, not guess, at how good the team was this time of year. We knew what was there with Brad Wanamaker, Gilbert Brown, Aaron Gray and the like.
Now, we really don't.
I don't think Dixon does, either. But I do get the sense from our richly upbeat chat Saturday that he's genuinely enjoying that very thing.
“We're not where we want to be yet, for sure,” he said in a tone suggesting that's a good thing. “There's no question this team's improved. A lot. That's what you look at. We're getting better every day, and we're excited about where we're going to be.”
Boeheim might be the only one who's got this figured out.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Pirates reassign Liz to make roster room for Morton
- Cops: Man shoots 11-year-old with BB gun; boy is critical
- North Hills students share their knowledge of German language
- Acme man’s ephemeral sculptures appear to defy laws of physics
- Police charge Allentown teen for beating, holding ex-girlfriend at gunpoint
- Couple attempts theft at North Huntingdon Wal-Mart
- Rossi: After L.A., NFL should tread carefully
- Pedestrian injured in accident near busway ramp in Carnegie
- Early success in White House race a pleasant surprise for Carson
- Kennywood fanatic, 82, rides Jack Rabbit 95 times in a row
- Memorial Day service in National Cemetery of the Alleghenies still growing