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Pitt men still battling injury bug

| Sunday, Nov. 16, 2008

Levance Fields' dazzling return to the basketball court in the season opener Friday night slashed Pitt's injury report in half.

The other portion of the Panthers' medical "injured left foot" list remains in wait-and-see mode.

Redshirt sophomore Gilbert Brown could return as early as this weekend's Legends Classic games at Petersen Events Center or, at worst, who knows?

"It's not good," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said Friday night. "He's obviously a guy we had counted on. We thought on paper he was probably going to be in our starting lineup. He just hasn't been out there. He hasn't practiced. He hasn't worked. It's going to take some time."

Monday will be two weeks since X-rays revealed a stress fracture in Brown's left foot -- the far-end initial diagnosis for Brown's return. The injury was expected to sideline the 6-foot-6 swingman for 10-14 days.

There have been no setbacks, according to the Pitt medical staff, and Brown has done some shooting and light running at practice. But Dixon said after Friday's 86-63 victory over Fairleigh Dickinson that Brown, a projected starter at small forward or sixth-man, will likely miss Monday's game against visiting Miami (Ohio).

"If I had to guess, I'd say no (he won't play)," Dixon said. "We'll see."

While Fields had a 15-point, eight-assist, no-turnover return from his left foot injury, Brown wore a walking boot. He sat on the bench in a sweat suit and the closest he came to game action was tossing basketballs to his teammates from the midcourt ball-rack as they ran onto the floor for pre-game layup drills.

Pitt trainer Tony Salesi said Brown is "getting better every day." Salesi said Brown could continue to wear the walking boot to get around, as a precaution, even after he returns to full-time practice and playing.

Team physician Dr. Robin West has examined Brown once or twice a week since the injury, Salesi said.

Brown, perhaps the best all-around athlete on the team not named Sam Young, hasn't been able to do any conditioning with the foot injury.

With Brown out, Dixon has had to shuffle fifth-ranked Pitt's rotation. Sophomore Brad Wanamaker (6-4, 205) has filled the role as the back-up for Young at small forward. Jermaine Dixon, a 6-3 Juco transfer who started at shooting guard, also got some minutes at small forward in the opener.

"We've got to get Gilbert out there," Dixon said. "He's a guy that we need."

Brown averaged 6.5 points and 3.1 rebounds last season and is a shut-down defender.

"I look forward to having a bigger season than I had last year," a healthy Brown said at Pitt's media day last month.

Brown has practiced at full strength for only about six weeks since late June, when he suffered a sprained ankle at the LeBron James skills camp. He returned in mid-to-late September and played well in Pitt's 102-51 exhibition victory over Seton Hill two weeks ago -- totaling nine points, four rebounds and two steals in a pain-free 20 minutes. But the next day, tests found the stress fracture.

The injury continues a frustrating stretch of setbacks for Brown. He was redshirted as a true freshman due to an ankle injury and mononucleosis. When small forward Mike Cook was denied a sixth year, Brown's role with one of the top teams in the nation became that much more valuable.

"It's been interesting, the things we've wanted to do," Dixon said. "Coming into the season, you expect you might have Mike Cook. You expect you are going to have Gilbert Brown. You don't have those guys, so all of a sudden we've got to make some adjustments at (small forward). We've got Sam playing at that spot now."

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