The first night of Green Tree Summer League was Monday and there were some interesting storylines.
Here is a link to the complete stats:
All four of the incoming freshmen were in attendance. Travon Woodall was the only Pitt player who didn’t show. He is nursing what I’m told is a minor injury.
Unfortunately, I was only able to watch the first couple hours, because I had to write and file a story about Nasir Robinson’s off-season and playing in his first organized basketball game since the loss to Butler in the NCAA Tournament.
But based on the statistics and talking with multiple people at the final game, here’s a breakdown.
Of the new recruits, guard John Johnson was dazzling with 26 points. Center Malcolm Gilbert also played very well with 13 points and 11 rebounds. McDonald’s All-American Khem Birch had eight blocks but didn’t do much offensively and wing Durand Johnson struggled, shooting 1 of 7 and 0 for 4 from 3-point range.
** Malcolm Gilbert — He is listed at 6-foot-11, and looks to be all of that. He was very active and battled with Talib Zanna underneath. He has soft hands and made a couple nice touch baskets. He needs to get stronger, but he might not redshirt – something that was virtually taken for granted – and instead play and contribute this season.
** John Johnson was the star of the night, scoring 26 points on 10 of 18 shooting from the floor with slashing moves and a good outside shot. Former Beaver Falls star Lance Jeter is going to miss the first three weeks of the league, at least, so Johnson will get a chance to keep running the show for his team, Center Court. Jamie Dixon was in attendance – along with new assistant Bill Barton and director of operations Brian Regan – and had to like what he saw. The style of play, obviously, isn’t what Dixon runs at Pitt (and it can get sloppy at times), but Johnson, from all accounts, looked very good,
** Durand Johnson had rough debut, finishing with four points and two rebounds with a couple of off-target perimeter shots. He did make a nice hustle play to save a ball from going out of bounds, which was good to see, and I had a nice talk with his father, Derrell, who drove up from Baltimore to help his son get settled in. Durand comes from good stock and definitely will give 100 percent. He’s ideally sized for a two-guard, but he looks like an almost certain redshirt.
** Khem Birch told me before the game he hadn’t played basketball in about two weeks while focusing on school work at Notre Dame Prep and it showed. He did block about eight shots, but went 2 for 3 from the field for four points and one rebound. Hardly an earth-shaking debut. He definitely needs to get stronger.
“I want to get in shape and get my confidence back,” Birch said before the game. “I think I can be an energy (guy) and obviously it’s going to be defense.”
Returning players (in order of game played on Monday)
** Talib Zanna looked vastly improved over last season’s up-and-down showing. He finished with a night-best 28 points along with 11 rebounds. He was 11 of 15 from the field and shot 6 of 8 from the line. He also showed a nice mid-range shooting touch and on one play, put the ball on the floor from the wing and attacked the basket. It was very interesting to see.
** Cam Wright was 2 of 12 from the floor on the way to five points, one assist and one turnover. Some of his shots were wild and off-target, though he did have a nice driving layup from the top of the key. Wright had just returned from the USA Basketball U-19 tryouts in Colorado Springs, Colo., where he missed the cut.
“It was a great experience,” he said. “It was a great opportunity. Unfortunately, I didn’t make the team. But I had fun. I played with a lot of great players. The competition was amazing. I definitely felt like I played my best. I played my hardest. I left there with no regrets at all.”
** J.J. Moore was 2 of 15 from the floor and finished with seven points and five rebounds. He was 0 for 8 from 3-point range. Not a good night for the sophomore wing who is expected to challenge Lamar Patterson for the starting spot at small forward to replace Gilbert Brown.
** Isaiah Epps totaled 12 points, six assists and one turnover to lead his team, The Lair, to a 69-63 win over Center Court. Epps, who redshirted last year, shot 5 of 14 from the field, but he looks bigger and stronger.
** Two years after Dante Taylor showed up to the Greentree Summer League a bit out of shape as a McDonald’s All-American, there is no signs of that guy anymore. He had 12 points on 6 of 13 shooting and grabbed 16 rebounds. He went 0 for 3 from the line, but by all accounts, he was moving well and, hopefully, those bothersome knees from last year won’t be an issue. He also gave Birch an idea of what to expect in the Big East.
** Ashton Gibbs, the reigning summer league MVP, scored 26 points to lead his team, SPK, to a lopsided victory over PBC. He was 7 of 15 from the floor, 5 of 11 from 3-point range and added six rebounds and three assists.
** Lamar Patterson nearly had a double-double with 10 points and nine rebounds. He also made some nice passes on the way to five assists.
** Nasir Robinson wasn’t shy, attempting more shots than anyone all night (21). He only made eight of them – and got a handful of them rejected – and finished with 17 points and nine rebounds. Robinson was playing for a different team (PBC) in the last game of the night. He was supposed to play in the opener at 7 p.m., but got there late and played in the finale instead. It wasn’t the best night, but no worries about Nasir.
** Walk-on Nick Rivers was 1 of 9 from the field with two points and went 0 for 8 from 3-point range, and former Pitt player Griffin Abel had four points.
** The games continue on Wednesday night at Greentree Sportsplex.
Here is the schedule
SPK Law (Gibbs, Patterson) vs. The Lair (Epps, Taylor), 7 p.m.
Center Court (J. Johnson, Moore, Birch) vs. UPMC (Zanna, D. Johnson)
PBC vs. PGT (Gilbert, Wright, Woodall), 9 p.m.