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Pitt has all-star games but no coaches

Kevin Gorman
| Sunday, April 13, 2003

As timing would have it, the University of Pittsburgh hosts a pair of basketball all-star games on its campus this weekend without a men's or women's coach.

Don't think the basketball world doesn't notice.

Ideally, Pitt would have hired replacements for Ben Howland and Traci Waites before Saturday night's Pittsburgh Hoops Classic at Petersen Events Center and today's Pennsylvania Girls Roundball Classic at Fitzgerald Field House.

This, of course, has not been an ideal situation.

"Ideally, that would be great," Orlando Antigua said, "but it's just a matter of circumstance. It's the nature of the beast. In big-time college basketball, coaches move.

"Unfortunately, you have these all-stars and no coach."

Antigua can relate to Aaron Gray, Dante Milligan and Walter Waters, the three Panthers recruits who played in the Hoops Classic. Antigua played in the final Roundball Classic in 1991 before coming to Pitt. The only difference is, he was lucky enough to know who his coach was.

As of now, they don't.

"I would have hoped it would be resolved by now," said Milligan, a 6-foot-8 wing-forward from Trinity-Pawling (N.Y.). "I guess it takes a little longer. I'm not that affected by it. The other guys feel the same way I do.

"Basically, we're hoping they get it done sooner or later."

Gray echoed those sentiments, adding, "there's nothing I can do about it."

Pitt could have done something, though. It could have moved swiftly to hire a new coach. Instead, it was blindsided by Howland's departure when nearly everyone else saw it coming, tried desperately to convince him to stay when it was apparent he was leaving, then took its grandiose time in trying to lure Wake Forest's Skip Prosser.

Because Pitt focused primarily -- if not solely -- on Prosser, it gave him time to use the job as leverage to land a 10-year contract and hefty raise to stay with the Demon Deacons.

"I was actually thinking he was going to be the coach," Milligan said. "I was thinking about his style of play, thinking about how he developed Josh Howard and hoping he could do the same thing with me."

Now, the recruits are hoping that Pitt associate head coach Jamie Dixon, Howland's right-hand man for 10 years, turns out to be his successor. All three gave ringing endorsements for Dixon to get the Pitt job.

"As long as we get a coach that's disciplined and makes us work hard as a team -- like coach Dixon -- that's fine," said Waters, a 6-10 power forward from Detroit Southeastern who plans to move here with his fiancee, Kila, and their 1-year-old daughter, Kayla. "I'm going to come, regardless. I believe Pittsburgh will make a good decision."

Dixon is running the program for now, and has been in contact with all three, giving them as much of an update as someone can, who isn't actually the head coach.

"There's not much to be said," said Gray, a 7-footer from Emmaus. "He's hopeful to get the job, and all the recruits are behind him."

Pitt hasn't made its preferences known, but if the administration was planning to dismiss Waites, it should have at least sent a feeler to Suzie McConnell Serio before she signed on to coach the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx.

Perhaps McConnell Serio could have used her credentials as a college All-American, Olympic gold medalist and WNBA player, as well as her highly successful high school coaching career, to convince at least one of the WPIAL stars to stay home and play for the Panthers.

Instead, the Girls Roundball Classic will be played at Pitt and feature players like Meg Bulger (West Virginia), Kamela Gissendanner (North Carolina State), Erin Wigley and Audrey Tabon (Illinois), Amber Harris (Seton Hall) and Loui Hall (Duquesne) -- and no Pitt recruits.

This isn't to say that satisfying the interests of high school players is more important than finding and hiring the right candidate, but having new coaches in place would have been a smart move with so much talent on campus.

After all, coaches often refer to recruiting as the "lifeblood" of their program. On this all-star weekend, the Panthers could have used a transfusion.

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