Coach Jamie Dixon met with reporters today to talk about the start of practice for the 2011-12 season. The big news of the day was Nasir Robinson’s knee injury, which will keep the senior power forward sidelined for the next 3-4 weeks.
Afterward, the media met with the players in the lobby for interviews.
The Big East media day is Wednesday in New York City. The pre-season poll and all-Big East teams will be announced at the time.
Here are some of the highlights from the media session.
*** Dixon said Talib Zanna, who will see more minutes with the first team during Nasir Robinson’s month-long absense with a knee injury, had a great off-season. Dixon also singled out the two players vying for the starting job at small forward, Lamar Patterson and J.J. Moore, for their strong off-seasons.
“(Talib), Lamar, J.J. Moore,” Dixon said. “I’m real excited with what those three guys have done.”
*** Strength and conditioning coach Tim Beltz also is having a good summer. Under his watch, Malcolm Gilbert has put on 14 pounds and Khem Birch has added 10 pounds since they got on campus about two months ago.
*** Dixon said that among the two redshirt freshmen, guards Cameron Wright and Isaiah Epps, the 6-foot-4 Wright is further ahead.
“I think Cameron is ready to go,” Dixon said. “He was healthy. Isaiah had some injuries. I think Cameron is going to be a guy that is going to be able to give us some good minutes. You can definite see the difference between a redshirt freshman and a freshman that first couple of weeks. We’ve seen it already in the workouts.”
*** Birch, the five-star recruit, is already learning about what to expect in the Big East. The McDonald’s All-American is not getting any easy treatment during Pitt workouts.
“Every time I go up for dunk, I get either fouled or blocked,” he said. “I have to get used to it.”
Said Dante Taylor, “That’s just how we play.”
*** Taylor, a former McDonald’s All-American, said he has spoken with Birch about dealing with high expectations. Taylor, hampered by sore knees last season, is expected to be a first-year starter this season at center after backing up Gary McGhee the past two years.
“He’s about to come in and experience the same thing that I did, as far as all the hype,” Taylor said. “I told him to play your game. Don’t pay attention to it. Do what you have to do. Don’t try to do too much. You will get better and better.
“It’s college. It’s not high school anymore. You’ve got to be more physical and more aggressive.”
*** All-Big East guard Ashton Gibbs, who flirted with joining the NBA draft, said he doesn’t regret his decision to return for his senior season.
“Basically, I wanted to graduate,” he said. “At the same time, I thought we had a good team coming back this year. I really wanted to show my skills this year. The NBA will always be there. I know it’s a lockout. I really wanted to get my degree and play with my brothers here. The way the lockout is, that’s crazy. I don’t regret my decision at all.”
*** At the end of Dixon’s 25-minute question-and-answer session, the four incoming freshmen — Birch, Gilbert, John Johnson and Durand Johnson — wheeled in a candle-lit birthday cake and everyone in the room sang “Happy Birthday” to Pitt hoops SID Greg Hotchkiss.
*** After meeting with the media, the coaches and players went to coach Dixon’s house in the North Hills for a cookout. For one Panther, it was a trip back home. Gilbert, a freshman center, lived in Cranberry Township, Butler County, for a handful 0f years during his childhood, roughly ages 3-7. He attended Rowan Elementary before his family moved to Delaware. Gilbert returned to his old neighborhood over the summer.
“Man, has it grown since then,” he said.
So, obviously, has the 6-foot-11 Gilbert.
Here are some select quotes from Dixon:
***On the Pitt freshmen
“We anticipate those guys getting better each day and helping us in a lot of ways. We need some of the freshmen to give us minutes. Those guys are going to be key.”
***On starting lineup
“It’s wide open. It always is. I think that’s what keeps everybody hungry and working. They know if they improve and do the work and step up, they will be the guy that gets the opportunity.”
*** On Khem Birch
“He’s going to be a very good player, just like Dante (Taylor) is. He knows he has to get better. That’s what he’s hear to do. What you’ve done in high school is very little to what you become.”
*** On leaving the Big East
” The move is going to be tough in that regard, leaving what has been very good to us. We have no idea when it’s going to be. We’ve talked about it to the team. We’ve talked to recruits. We don’t know what it will be. It doesn’t do us any good to think about the transition. Right now we are trying to be the best team we can in the Big East.
“We want the Big East to do well. When it’s ready and it’s the right time for the Big East for us to move on and Syracuse to move on, that’s when we will move on. I think that’s the right way to handle it.”