NEW YORK – Ashton Gibbs was named the 2011-12 Big East Pre-season Player of the Year on Wednesday in voting by the league coaches.
“He’s outworked people to put himself in the position that he’s at,” coach Jamie Dixon said. “If you thought back four years ago when he was getting recruited, I don’t anybody would have put down he’s going to be the pre-season player of the year in the Big East. He’s made himself into that type of player.”
“It’s definitely a surreal moment,” Gibbs said. “Hopefully, I live up to it.”
Gibbs is the fifth Pitt player to earn the preseason Player of the Year honors, joining Charles Smith (1986-87), Jerome Lane (1987-88), Brandin Knight (2002-03) and Aaron Gray (2006-07).
Like Knight and Gray, Gibbs was named Most Improved Player earlier in his Pitt career.
Gibbs had flirted with entering the NBA draft after averaging 16.8 points per game and shooting 49 percent from 3-point range as a junior, but he decided to return.
*** Senior forward Nasir Robinson, who had surgery on Friday on his right knee, was moving around without any trouble at Big East Media Day. He is expected to miss another three or four weeks.
“It’s doing good,” he said. “Three or four weeks. Probably less than that, the way I am feeling.”
Robinson said the procedure was different to a similar right knee meniscus tear last year.
“They had a little piece that was in there. They took it all the way out this time. The first time they shaved it down. This time they took it all the way out.”
*** Guard Nick Rivers was surprised when Dixon invited the walk-on to join fellow seniors Robinson and Gibbs at Big East Media Day.
“It meant a lot,” said Rivers, a former team manager who has scored nine points in 29 career minutes at Pitt. “It was very humbling. I didn’t expect it. He told me two weeks ago, ‘Make sure you talk to your teachers and let them know you are coming with us and the seniors to Media Day.’ I didn’t know what media day was.”
Said Dixon, “We brought him to show how much he’s given to the program and how much he’s meant to our success in the four years he’s been there. He’s a special kid.”
*** Gibbs and Notre Dame senior Tim Abromaitis, who were roommates at the World University Games in China this summer, gave the opening statements on Wednesday.
Abromaitis couldn’t resist taking a jab at Gibbs.
“I was his wingman for two weeks in China, and I think he got rejected by girls from every country,” he said.
*** Louisville coach Rick Pitino critiqued Pitt and Syracuse for leaving the Big East without, he said, giving it enough thought.
“My problem is not them leaving,” he said. “My problem is you did it in 48 hours. Don’t run away with a girl after one date when you’ve been dating someone else for three or four years. You’ve been dating this woman for 30 years, show a little respect.”
Pitino said the ACC picked Pitt and Syracuse for a good reason.
“They don’t like the fact that the Big East has been the premier basketball conference,” he said. “They (the ACC) are very smart people. They created a major problem for us.”
He also had this to say about the future look of the Big East.
“I can’t picture the Big East without Syracuse. I can picture the Big East without Pittsburgh. I can picture the Big East without DePaul, without Louisville. But I can’t picture the Big East without Syracuse, without Villanova, without Providence. It is a difficult pill to swallow as a fan. It’s tough for me to understand.”
*** Former Pitt recruit and Aliquippa native Herb Pope is looking forward to his senior season at Seton Hall. He averaged 9.8 points and 7.9 rebounds last season after returning from a near-death collapse and surgery to repair a rare genetic heart defect.
“I’m trying to put everything behind me. I had a year to get through my bumps and bruises and fight through fatigue. Now there are no excuses. It’s my last go-around. I’m trying to lay it all on the line. I feel great, a lot better than I’ve ever felt in my life. You know, I’ve never played healthy before. It’s something that’s been with me all of my life and I never knew that. Now I will never have to worry about that again.”
*** Connecticut center Alex Oriahki on the Huskies with life after Kemba Walker.
“Last year we used to sometimes just stand there and watch him because he was basically unstoppable. This year everyone has to be more aggressive offensively.
“It’s easy to play when you’re the underdog. This year it’s going to be a lot harder than last year when everybody knows how good we can be and how good we are. That’s something we are going to have to prepare for.”
“All of us will pick up the slack from the leadership standpoint. We have so many weapons, that makes up for Kemba’s leading. We have one of the hardest working teams in the country. The good thing about this team is everybody kind of leads themselves. Everybody is committed to getting better.”
*** Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun is confident the Huskies will land in a good place — whether it’s the Big East or somewhere else — but he said, “I worry about UConn basketball in the future.”
“It’s cleats and helmets and shoulder pads are affecting us more than any of us would like,” he said. “In the Big East, we are spoiled. We’ve had our way basketball-wise. …Everybody’s world in the last two months has been tipped upside down.”
**** Marquette star Darius Johnson-Odom on the loss of Pitt and Syracuse from the Big East.
“I think it will hurt the Big East. Those are two great teams in the Big East. It’s going to hurt a lot of teams as far as making the tournament. Playing against a team like Pitt and you say you beat them, that might be that game you needed.”
On when to join the ACC
“We’ve made it very clear that when the time is right. When the Big East has the teams that they need and they feel it’s time for us to move on to the ACC, that’s when we’ll move.
“When it’s in the best interest of the Big East for us to move, that’s when we’ll move. If that’s 27 months, if that’s 12 months, if that’s five months.”
“It’s not going away. Realignment is a part of collegiate athletics. It’s not a bad thing.”
On the move to ACC
“My dad was upset when I talked to him about this. He was very upset for a couple of days. I do know how important the Big East is to a lot of people. I understand that. I settled him down.”
On Big East’s unique configuration
“If that was the best situation to have, teams having football and non-football, a lot of conferences would do that. And we’re the only ones that do it.”
“I’m excited about our freshmen. We won’t put a limit on them because of their age.”
On recruiting in ACC
“Our location doesn’t change. Our university doesn’t change. We’ve got to focus on — and not get away from — what’s made us successful. There may be an occasional kid in the Southeast that maybe we get involved with a little bit more so. But we can’t change and start adding 4-5 different areas to start recruiting. You can’t be that efficient when you spread yourself that thin.”
On being attractive to other leagues
“We could control being attractive to other conferences, by winning on the floor, doing things right, not getting NCAA violations, winning the right way. We can control that. That’s why we became attractive to the Big 12, the Big Ten and the ACC. As far as the timing of it, that’s not something we could involve ourselves in. We’ll be ready once the time comes.”
On keeping rivalry with West Virginia
“They are a great program, but no decisions are made on our scheduling in the near-future. Obviously we will try to play rival games as we’ve always done. Given where they land and given where we land, we will have to make the adjustments at that time.”