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Pitt's Taylor getting ready for life as a starter

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By John Grupp
Wednesday, June 29, 2011
 

Dante Taylor is starting to look a lot less McDonald's and a lot more All-American.

The junior center at Pitt has dropped 15 pounds from his 6-foot-9 frame, trimming down to a muscular 236 to prepare for his first season as a starter.

"It's my time to step up," Taylor said. "I've been here three years. It's time for me to elevate my game."

Taylor arrived at Pitt two summers ago as a five-star recruit, but like most 19-year-old freshmen he needed to get bigger and stronger.

"When Dante got on campus he couldn't bench 185 (pounds)," Pitt strength and conditioning coordinator Tim Beltz said. "We had to take off a lot of weight. Now we're trying to build him back up."

Taylor is the latest Pitt center to make a big physical leap between his sophomore and junior seasons, following eventual second-round draft pick Aaron Gray and two-year starter Gary McGhee. Taylor will try to match their statistical increases as well.

The weight loss, forged during five-day-a-week workouts since the NCAA second-round loss to Butler, has eased the burden on Taylor's aching knees. Nagging tendinitis hobbled him during the second half of his sophomore season.

"They are definitely much better now," he said. "I've been doing treatment every day. They haven't bothered me yet."

Taylor averaged 5.1 points and 4.5 rebounds per game as McGhee's backup last season. He shot 61.6 percent (69 of 112) from the field, second best among Big East players with at least 100 field goal attempts.

Coach Jamie Dixon lauded Taylor's defense since the Greensburgh, N.Y., native arrived at Pitt as the program's first McDonald's All-American in two decades. Dixon expects another step forward this season, as Pitt replaces Brad Wanamaker, Gilbert Brown and McGhee.

"I think if he stays healthy, he will have a very good year," Dixon said. "It's putting it together. It's getting better."

Taylor's leaner look is translating into a strong summer. He is averaging nearly 18 points and 11 rebounds per game in the Pittsburgh Basketball Club's Pro-Am League in Green Tree. He's displaying an array of new offensive moves, including a nifty left-handed jump hook.

"It's definitely his time now," all-Big East guard Ashton Gibbs said. "Hopefully, he takes advantage of it. He's played well the past two years in practice. It was tough for him in games sometimes."

Taylor admits he still has a lot of work to do, as shown during his uneven 20-point, six-rebound effort in the summer league Monday. Earlier this summer, he toyed with Pitt incoming star recruit Khem Birch and posted 21 points and 10 rebounds last Wednesday.

Beltz, whose rugged training regimen has transformed numerous Pitt big men over his 12 years with the school, is pushing for a more aggressive Taylor.

"We are trying to get him more powerful and more physical and confident from a strength standpoint," Beltz said. "He's got to dish out a little bit of pain instead of just absorbing it."

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