Harris: Pitt hoops thrives, despite few 1st-round picks
By John Harris
Published: Tuesday, June 25, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Pitt's basketball program occasionally produces a NBA first-round draft pick.
Just occasionally, however.
New Zealand native Steven Adams is expected to be among the top dozen selections in Thursday's draft. That would be the earliest selection of a Pitt basketball player since Indiana drafted Vonteego Cummings at No. 26 overall in 1999.
Prior to Cummings, there's a black hole among Pitt players selected in the first round. In 1988, the 76ers took Charles Smith at No. 3 overall. Jerome Lane went No. 23 to Denver. Then in 1994, Eric Mobley went 18th overall to Milwaukee.
That's four first-round draft picks at Pitt in the past 25 years. Not much of a track record for producing high NBA Draft picks.
But don't blame Jamie Dixon, who signed a 10-year contract extension in March following completion of his 10th season as Pitt's coach.
Recently, Dixon has produced his share of NBA talent.
“I remember a couple years back one of the things that was often brought up was us not having many NBA players. Now we have quite a few of them,” Dixon said Monday, citing the second-round selections of former Pitt standouts Sam Young (No. 36 overall) and DeJuan Blair (No. 37) in 2009, and Aaron Gray in 2007 (49th). “That's what happens over time if you have success. Those are good things for your program.”
Forget the lack of first-round picks on Pitt's roster. Under Dixon, Pitt has averaged 26.2 wins per season and played in the NCAA Tournament nine out of 10 years.
Regardless of who plays, Pitt wins.
“Sam and DeJuan were both drafted early second round,” Dixon said. “They could just as easily have been first-round picks.''
It all works because of Dixon, who seems to turn down job offers every year to remain at Pitt. Among active coaches, Dixon ranks seventh overall in victories.
Dixon wins, and wins relatively big, without an abundance of star players. Adams departed for the NBA after one college season, even though his game needs work. Is he a star? He's an athletic 7-footer with no offensive game but plenty of upside. In today's NBA, where centers play on the perimeter, Adams' skills translate into a lottery pick.
“We're excited about Steven this year,” Dixon said. “I think we all know the draft is about projecting young players. Size is a factor. International guys get drafted higher for certain reasons.”
Using the NBA Draft as a barometer, Dixon probably does more with less than just about any major college coach.
If you know Dixon like I know Dixon, appreciate what he's accomplished at Pitt.
“Guys develop — you want them to get better,” Dixon said. “More often than not, those are the guys that have great (college) careers.”
Those are the guys who play for Dixon.
If Pitt was a college basketball power on a level with Syracuse, Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina and Duke, the Panthers would have a lot more than Cummings, Mobley, Smith and Lane to show for the school's total number of first-round draft picks since 1988.
Elite college basketball players don't matriculate to Pitt with the same frequency as, say, Syracuse. That isn't a reflection on Pitt, as much as it is the perception that Syracuse offers more.
I'm using Syracuse as an example because Syracuse, like Pitt, was a longtime member of the Big East that's also joining the ACC.
Since 2003, six Syracuse players have been selected in the first round: Carmelo Anthony, Hakim Warrick, Jonny Flynn, Wesley Johnson, Fab Melo and Dion Waiters.
Anthony, Warrick, Flynn, Johnson and Waiters were top-10 selections; during that span, coach Jim Boeheim guided Syracuse to a pair of Final Fours and won a national title with Anthony in 2003. Point guard Michael Carter-Williams is expected to make it seven first-rounders under Boeheim in the past decade.
Pitt doesn't operate on a level playing field with some of its biggest rivals. National champion Louisville is the No. 1 revenue-producing basketball program in the country.
Pitt doesn't spend money on its basketball program the way Louisville does, but the Panthers still win relatively big, still go to the NCAA Tournament almost every year, and still pack Petersen Events Center — 11 consecutive seasons of sellouts, and counting.
To his credit, Dixon makes basketball relevant in football-mad Western Pennsylvania.
ACC or no ACC, that doesn't figure to change anytime soon.
John Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @JHarris_Trib.
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.
- Steelers safety Polamalu finds himself in tough position
- LeBeau wants to come back as Steelers defensive coordinator
- Kovacevic: A great day to appreciate No. 68
- Early data reveal downward shift in holiday spending
- Pitt’s Donald sweeps Outland, Bednarik awards, named All-American
- Man wounded in Mt. Lebanon apartment shooting
- Concert promoter’s book shares 40 years of music memories, celeb antics
- Power play, penalty kill help put Penguins on another 100-point pace
- Steelers notebook: Cutting down turnovers, sacks hasn’t led to victories
- Heyl: Convict would like to see Orie stay in prison a while longer
- South African sign language snafu baffles Pittsburgh-area interpreters