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Morning Java: Pitt’s ‘elite passers’

By Dejan Kovacevic | Trib Total Media

Morning, Lunatics …

>> The TribLIVE Radio show today — 2-3 p.m. — will feature you. Again. We opened last week’s show with a ton of calls, and really good ones at that. That’s how I’d like to get started every week, by hearing from you and having a conversation about any topic at all.

So do it. Call 412-320-7925.

Feel free to email if you can’t call. But I’d really rather hear from you.

What’s more, at 2:30, we’ll try to figure out what the Pirates are hoping to accomplish this offseason with Trib beat writer Rob Biertempfel. I’ll catch you up on the latest from Consol after covering the Penguins-Canadiens morning skate. And, of course, more wit and wisdom from our @SuckMeter.

To listen, just click on the link up top. If you’re mobile, try the TribLIVE Radio app.

>> Pitt completely crushes Clemson despite both teams entering with 4-1 ACC records and despite Clemson having some superlative defensive numbers, by beat writer Kevin Gorman.

I was up there, as well, and here are some postgame questions I had for Talib Zanna, Jamie Dixon and Clemson coach Brad Brownell

Random blogginess from the scene: Brownell described Pitt as having ‘elite passers,’ which isn’t a term you hear much in basketball. He actually used it twice for emphasis, and he singled out James Robinson and Lamar Patterson. Found that striking. Maybe it’s because we see them regularly or take what they do for granted. But Brownell isn’t the only one to make such an observation. Some include Zanna in there, too. … Here’s the thing: Someone’s got to be doing something at an elite level to shoot 27 of 48 from the field and to have — get this 24 of those field goals attached to an assist. Brought this up in the Pistol Pitt column last week, but this team creates plays unlike any college team we’ve seen in these parts since … I don’t even know. … Josh Newkirk coming up with 10 points and three assists is as dynamite a development from this game as any. Durand Johnson’s absence was going to demand that someone step up sooner or later, and I’ve pegged Newkirk all along. … One ultra-cool play that summed up the game: Clemson’s coaches were freaking out on their guys during a Pitt half-court set. Brownell’s yelling and pointing. Another assistant doing likewise. A third assistant, too. And not one of them noticed Cam Wright sneak behind everyone for a back-door layup off a Patterson assist. Should have seen those guys just shut up and sit down. … One tiny negative? I really am not sure what Dixon is trying to get from Michael Young, but it’s got to be more than watching everyone else play. Young wants no part of the offense. … Wonderful crowd. My goodness, if you’ve never seen hoops at the Pete, whether you’re a grad or not, just go. Nothing like it in town.

Oh, and on a football note, the ACC will release its 2014 football schedule today at 3.

Here’s our full Pitt coverage.

>> The Penguins got a pleasant surprise from Tomas Vokoun, by Josh Yohe.

Here’s our full Penguins coverage., including all you need to know about tonight’s visit from the Habs.

Here’s Canadiens news from the Montreal Gazette.

Here are official game highlights from, including Winnipeg — of all teams — ending Anaheim’s amazing 22-game season-opening home winning streak.

>> The Steelers granted permission to running backs coach Kirby Wilson to interview for the Ravens’ offensive coordinator vacancy, by Alan Robinson. Remember, Wilson was very much in line to replace Bruce Arians before his accidental burning. The granting of permission alone would strongly suggest management is feeling good about Todd Haley these days.

The NFL as flag football? Far from it, writes columnist Joe Starkey.

Here’s what Ike Taylor had to say about fellow NFL corner Richard Sherman on TribLIVE Radio

>> Pittsburgh’s Olympic field finally appears set: Tom Wallisch, the Chartiers Valley grad and world champion freestyle skier, failed to make the U.S. Olympic team yesterday, Karen Price reports. That leaves our region with nine Olympians, the seven Penguins plus Rochester’s Lauryn Williams in bobsled and Robert Morris’ Brianne McLaughlin in women’s hockey.

>> Really hope to hear from you today. The more callers, the more topics, the livelier the show. And thank you in advance.

Author: Dejan Kovacevic

Dejan Kovacevic, a lifelong Pittsburgher, is an award-winning sports columnist for Trib Total Media covering the Steelers, Penguins, Pirates, Pitt and more, including his fourth Olympics in Sochi, Russia. He also appears on WPXI-TV's 'Subway Final Word’ and hosts a weekly show on TribLIVE Radio. For 2011, he was named one of the top four columnists in the country -- highest circulation category -- by the AP Sports Editors. For 2012, he was named one of the top three columnists in the country by the National Headliners Awards. For 2013, he was named top columnist in the state by the Keystone Awards and second-place by the Pennsylvania AP Managing Editors.


  1. Q)what the Pirates are hoping to accomplish this offseason

  2. DK et all
    Best band with NO bass player ever

  3. Pitt was favored by 12 points and the Panthers won by 33 and it’s on to Maryland and Duke. And if Pitt really and truly justified its 20 ranking, then last night’s game was well worth it.

  4. This is my 10th year going to games in the Zoo (grad school can last forever). This is, without question, the best passing Pitt team I have seen. An even less objective observation: This is the smartest Pitt team I have seen, too.

    DK: It’s a fun, entertaining brand of basketball, for sure.

  5. Anyhow, it’s good to see Tomas Vokoun back on the ice since his surgery, and, hopefully, he’ll be able to perform again for the Pens soon.

  6. Good for Tomas, he’s a great locker room guy for the Pens. Question is, do we *want* Vokoun back this year? Him staying on LTIR provides cap relief for the Pens to make a move AND if he came back we would have to put Zatkoff on waivers…

    DK: You’d rather have idle cap space than the goaltender who carried the team to the Eastern Conference final?

    And how many teams do you think would claim Zatkoff?

    • Fair points! :-)

      I just don’t envision him coming back and performing like he did last year. I’d be content to ride the Fleury train and use the cap space for other roster holes. Just my crazy opinion.

    • If Vokoun gets healthy, you probably have to put him back on the roster given his experience and past success. But it’s a legitimate question to raise. Certainly there’s at least one team out there that would take a chance on Zatkoff if he was placed on waivers.

      Plus, the running theory about why Fleury has been so good this year is that he’s not looking over his shoulder at a veteran ready to take his spot, so he can instead relax and mentor the young guy. Now we’re going to upset that balance and go right back to the 2013 formula.

      Look at the big picture: The Penguins aren’t winning a Stanley Cup with Tomas Vokoun in net. He can get you through a round or two, tops. So if Fleury falters in the playoffs, the team is done, no matter who the backup is.

  7. JAL’s 3 Fine Daughters of Farmer BrownMorning Links


    1- MLB Transactions

    2-MLB Trade Rumors-Pirates

    3 MLB Important Dates

    4 Pirates Prospects Spring Training Tracker

    BLOGS and such

    5—Pirates Prospects

    First Pitch: The Difference Between the Haves and the Have-Nots

    Pittsburgh Pirates 2014 Top Prospects: #9 – Luis Heredia

    Winter Leagues: Polanco’s Hustle Not Enough in Escogido Loss

    6 Rumbunter

    The New Instant Replay Rules Fall Short


    Projecting ZiPS projections

    8 Bucs Dugout

    Frank Coonelly messes up Yankees’ plans

    9 Pirates 101

    The Controversy That is the Pittsburgh Pirates’ TV Deal

    10 Green Weenie

    Snow Day

    11 Saber Bucs

    Projection #10: Charlie Morton

  8. NEWSPAPERS and MAGAZINES and Other Media

    12 Columbia County News Times

    Cumpton’s jersey retired

    13 Rant Sports

    Pittsburgh Pirates Should Not Pursue Kendrys Morales

    14 Pirates Site

    Hughes eager to work back into Bucs’ bullpen

    15 The Statesman

    Metal detectors at big league ballparks by ’15

    16 Fangraphs

    Where Closers Come From

    17 San Francisco Chronicle

    Baseball can only fantasize about equivalent of Super Bowl

    18 Baseball GB

    Offseason so far: NL Central

    19 Baseball Prospectus

    Ten Late-Offseason Moves That Made a Difference

    20 Baseball Nation

    The blown calls in baseball history that instant replay wouldn’t have fixed

  9. Steelers Blogs

    21 Behind the Steel Curtain

    Steelers 2014 Roster Projections: Inside linebackers

    2014 Senior Bowl: The pads are on and the evaluations are underway

    22 Steelers Depot

    2013 Draft review- Leveon Bell


    23 Bloomberg Stats Insight

    Premier League Big Chances: Suarez, Soldado & Rodriguez

    24 The Telegraph

    Premier League Transfer Talk


    25 Pensburgh

    Tuesday Pens Points: Pens Lose a Clunker. Melnyk Still on Cooke’s Case


  11. This Saturday is SABR day, chapters across the country are meeting but you don’t have to be a member of SABR to attend. Pittsburgh Chapter meeting in PNC Park (Pirates provided meeting room). Suggested donation $5. If interested contact George Skornickel,

    Guest speakers include former Pirates pitcher Bob Friend; Bob Recker, the team’s batboy from 1959-61; Marty Billson on the Texas Winter League; presentations by Sam Reich, Steve Silverman, and Eliza Marone Richardson.

  12. Gene Collier on the Browns efforts to find a head coach: They’ve called in the Ohio National Guard with coach sniffing dogs.

  13. So took a look at the Coach Disco Team USA bobblehead, looked at the bottom of the box and what does it say? “Made in China”….Son of a……at the risk of sounding like a protectionist…aint that a b#@*&

  14. Mini Ulf getting it done..

    In the 20 games he and Despres have both been in the Penguins lineup, Samuelsson is a plus-15. In the 18 AHL games he played while Despres was away, Samuelsson was a minus-1.

    Good stuff on Harrington:

  15. Professor Tanaka has chosen the Yankees. 7 years / $155 million.

  16. The Pitt Panthers football team has replaced Florida State, which tore them up but good in the opener last season, with Boston College on its schedule next season, so I suppose that after that encounter with Jamies Winston, they’d prefer to have someone on their schedule they think they can handle.

  17. Attended my first game at The Pete last night. Great venue to watch a game! That atmosphere was outstanding. The Zoo is everything you want in a student section – and more! I graduated from the University of Dayton, and UD Arena is recognized as one of the best atmospheres in all of college hoops. The Pete is on a par, no doubt! About the game:

    * Belaboring the obvious, Pitt may be the best passing team in the country.

    * James Robinson continues to grow up before our eyes. He is everything you want in a PG – and much more. Enjoy him, Pitt fans. Two years from now … heck, maybe next year … he will be the best PG in the country.

    * Zanna and Patterson will be tough to replace next season.

    * The ACC is down, down, down right now, I think. Clemson is not a good team if last night was any indication, and they are 4-2. They looked poorly coached and totally unprepared for this game in this atmosphere.

    * The season is young. There are still teams in every conference who right now don’t look like national contenders that are going to get a lot better between now and March Madness. I hope Pitt continues to get better. They can beat teams a lot of ways on both ends of the court. I like where they are headed.

    * Jamie Dixon has not proven to be the greatest recruiter in his time at Pitt, and has been criticized heavily for that. He knows what he wants in a player, and that doesn’t always work out for the best in March. But, the guy can flat out coach. Teams do not move the ball like this by accident. Only very well coached teams ever pass like this. It may not add up to a deep NCAA run, though. The NCAA champion is probably not the best coached team every year. But, the Panthers are a pleasure to watch for my money most nights.

    • Glad you enjoyed, Jim.

      I’m not a PITT alum nor am I a big basketball fan, but I love catching games at the Pete.

    • I really like JRob, but after seeing Freshman Ennis it’s hard to project JRob as the best.

      • They are a little different type of player, I think. JR is not yet a guy who can always free himself for a good look, or get to the hoop at will. But, he is stepping up his scoring of late. Ennis is very talented, and there are others. Taking in the whole package of what a PG is, in the purest sense, I do think Robinson is on track as a senior to be as good as anyone in the country.

        But, you make a good point, AW. Ennis took over the game on Saturday. That is a rare skill for a freshman.

        • And JRob has really improved over last year (and he wasn’t too shabby then), along with Zanna and Patterson.

          • He showed some great moves in the lane last night to free himself up for a few short jumpers. And, nailed up a couple of spot up 3′s. I get the impression he is a kid that just keeps working. He adds to his game a piece at a time.

        • Jim, not only are they 2 different types of players, their coaches do different things with them. Dixon has his point guards in a very structured offense, Boeheim has always allowed his point guards much more freedom to ad lib, or playground style of ball. The two would always be different in that regard,

          • It’s true, plan. Boeheim likes a guy who can go one on one in a jam or at crunch time. Jamie relies on the overall game manager.

            I lamented on Sunday that Pitt never has an Ennis-type, who can get to the hoop almost at will. But, the truth is, JRob is very close to a complete pkg right now, and he has 2.5 more years to continue to develop.

    • I truly enjoyed DK’s tweet after the game last night. Something of this nature: “It’s a final-Pitt 76, Bethune-Clemson 43″

      The man can think on his feet. Or he spent the whole game thinking that up, one or the other, but I’d say the former.

      On the Tanaka thing, who cares? They’ll figure him out in a couple years and he’ll be another Dice-K.

      Besides, Ryoto Igarashi was shocked at the news and that’s really all that matters.

      • Saw DK last night pleading with Starbucks to put one in Sochi. They told him that the NBC tent will have one, but only NBC employees and their “partners” will have access to it.

        Poor DK is gonna be one heck of grumpy over there……..

  18. I’m trying to figure out how the suits at The Fan think that Ron Cook yelling at Andrew Filliponi for 4 hours is good radio.

    • Hey, they fired Vinnie instead of Cook. (I haven’t listened yet to one minute, although not intentionally). Cook’s going to yell at anyone for 4 hours.

      • I catch them via Tune In Radio app on occasion. Cook does seem a might angry … someti– … er, all the time.

        • I always try to figure out why Cook is on their payroll…….. he must be the “character actor”, who does things just to get ratings……. Cook can’t possibly be that angry all the time, can he?

    • They don’t care about good radio. They care about radio that people will listen to.

    • Haha, that does sound like the most horrible pairing ever. But then again, I remember when Mark Madden and Stan Savran were teamed up for the Steeler post-game show. I thought it would be a train wreck, but they were really good together. So who knows.

      With Cook-Filiponi, they’ve taken the two most unlistenable broadcasters are put them in the same time slot. I almost want to tune in out of morbid curiousity.

      • I tend to listen more often to Tribune Live Radio because they sometimes read the emails I send them, although at night, I have listened to Colin Dunlap on 93-7 the fan since he’s a most interesting radio personality to whom I’ve also sent emails in response to his articles. Actually, I’ve found Cook and Filliponi entertaining enough as well when I’ve listened to them, although Filliponi is more entertaining when he covers the Pitt basketball warmups with Julius Page.

    • It’s horrible radio. I used to listen on down here in KY, but now I’d rather listen to Cowherd from 10-1. Not the local flavor I want, but I never liked Cook in the first place, and putting another outsider who doesn’t seem to understnad the Pittsburgh fan base seemed rather short sighted to me

  19. For you Pittsburgh folks: putting aside what might be your favourite sport and just concentrating only on the overall experience it provides, which Pittsburgh sports venue do you enjoy going to the most ? the least ?

    Perhaps, a HS venue. Doesn’t have to be pro digs.

    -A curious outsider.

  20. From the Pens’ website:
    Vokoun wasn’t the only player to get on the ice in the morning before the Pens morning skate. Forwards Beau Bennett (hand/wrist) and Brian Gibbons (lower-body) worked with strength and conditioning coach Mike Kadar.

  21. Saw Pitt last night on the ACC network broadcast, which has an affiliate on my cable system. Really enjoyed the first half and a little more. Clemson was surprisingly non-competitive. Think Jim’s comments above and those that followed were right on, along with Dejan’s.

    Unselfish basketball with good passing skills is as rare as it is beautiful. Only the lack of competition kept me from watching the whole thing. Can’t wait to see more vs. better teams.

  22. I would certainly hope that Dejan won’t become a terror victim while attempting to cover the Olympics in Sochi in two weeks.

  23. Here is a picture of the grounds crew at MetLife Stadium yesterday getting ready for the Super Bowl………….

  24. Dejan,

    Loved your column the other day regarding Peter Gammon’s comments about hockey. Now comes word that the Yankees, and their massive YES network just paid huge money for Masahiro Tanaka. In and of itself, this doesn’t bother me much. A team like the Pirates cannot mortgage their future to get into this bidding war, and when I saw the list of teams that actually placed bids, it was the same old cast of characters, the ‘big money clubs”, and again, its not the end of the world. The Pirates last season proved that a wise spending, build from the inside club can win in this league, while the free spending Yanks finished out of the money.
    What bothers me more than this though, is the uproar raised by these so called ‘big money clubs, including Mr. Gammon’s beloved Red Sox, when a team like Pittsburgh dares to be aggressive in the draft, and goes over the slot in order to secure talent. It’s okay for them and their ilk to drop 155 million on one guy, but they throw a fit, want to assess penalties and take away draft choices because another teams dares outbid them for young talent. Talk about bush league. I’d love to see you call these free spending clubs the hypocrites that they are in only the way you can. Seems to me that if you can spend 155 million (or 22.14 million per year) over 7 years, then paying a ball player a third of that in a signing bonus to get him to come to Pittsburgh, or Cleveland, of Kansas City ought to be just fine. Lets see if the commissioner, who was a small market owner has the heart to stand up for the smaller guys and put an end to the non-sense that the big market clubs are trying to pull in order to hold on to an unfair economic advantage

    Thanks for the great columns. I enjoy them each time I get on line and read my hometown paper.

    Chris Mason
    Somerset, KY

  25. Regarding JAL’s link #9 above………

    Would the Pirates even be allowed to break their TV deal with Root, without a substantial penalty? Or they locked in until 2019?

    Hi Frank!

    • I’ve speculated that often here, plan. If they do not have a renegotiation clause, I would hope they would still approach ROOT if the deal is lopsided in favor of ROOT. I think there is something to be said for both parties wanting a long term relationship. If that is the case, both sides have to feel it is fair. It is worth it for the Bucs to investigate at some point, I believe, if they truly feel this is the case.

    • There’s an article about how coonelly effed up the Yank’s aim to stay under the luxury tax cap. Yay Frankie, first round is on me bub!
      Then a scathing write-up on the absurd TV deal Frankie put together with Root. Second round is on you bub.

      bipolar business dealing.

  26. And that is fine. I didn’t really Tanka in the first place. I would like my scouts and other evaluators to be able to restock our minor leagues without the hypocrites in Boston and NY crying about it, then wanting to take thier ball and go home

  27. I’m not certain that the ‘cheap’ label applies as much as maybe before. Paying Cutch, Morton and Martin kind of answered that. Lets see what happens with Walker and Pedro

  28. $22 million for 6 years, and $23 million for the 7th. Thank goodness for that. I couldn’t live with myself if the Tanaka deal did not have a total that ended with a 0 or a 5. Don’t you love symmetry?

    Let’s not also forget the $20 million, up front fee of $20 that goes to his former Japanese employer.

    I don’t blame the Yankees at this point. If they didn’t make this crazy offer, Tanaka would have accepted the crazy offer of one of several other teams.

    MLB really needs to update its revenue sharing. I believe there are the large markets (aka the “haves”), the medium markets (aka the “have somes”), and the small markets (aka the “have nots”). Will the small and medium markets decide that they are both losing ground very quickly, from a revenue standpoint, and band together to ensure changes are made?

    From a competitive standpoint, I don’t believe they have a choice.

    • Jim, see 2002 Labor Negotiations………. where the small and medium sized markets caved for “revenue sharing”.

      Look for a few more $$$$ thrown their way, so the boat doesn’t get rocked too much.

    • I would think they’ll make any adjustments to the revenue sharing formula when they negotiate the next CBA without much issue.

      • Yeah, they’ll make adjustments, 21. But, we are talking about mammoth adjustments here. Do you really think the Steinbrenner boys, the Dodgers and a few others are just going to say “Hey, you are all our partners. We want a level financial playing field for all teams.” Those teams do not agree that they have an advantage simply because they have more fans.

        I think they will need to be forced to make changes. It can be done, though. There are a lot more teams on the losing end of things here.

        • I think they’ll adjust enough to keep about the same level of revenue/payroll disparity that exists today. You can’t level the playing with just revenue sharing, IMO. That would take away a ton of revenue from the larger teams. You’d have to have a salary cap too to level the playing field and that’s not happening. Small markets don’t have near enough leverage.

          • The small market teams can’t fight both the big’uns AND the player’s union.

            They would have to, to make any meaningful change.

            So instead, they go along and keep their mouths shut, so that they can keep receiving their “luxury tax” scraps.

    • The current CBA expires Dec. 1, 2016. 2016.

  29. On a fun note for Bucs fans, Polanco beat out a grounder to 2b in the Dominican League finals on Monday. It was a bit of a high chopper, but was still a pretty routine out for a 2b. If someone in MLB beat one out like that last year, I didn’t see it.

    He blasted a HR last night. His team is down 2-0 in the best of 9 series. But, Polanco has had very few AAA ABs so far. It will take awhile for him to get to Pittsburgh, but he continues to impress.

    Hopefully, he can be putting up a Cutch-type slash line right about the time the Bucs need to trade Cutch to the Yankees or Angels.

  30. Go to ESPN front page to see the Tanaka headline. Below it, a link to another article with the headline reading ‘What does this mean?’

    Without clicking the link, I am guessing it means the Yankees have more money than anyone else to waste on FA talents.

    Silly ESPN

  31. Polanco is #3 and Austin Meadows is already #9 in’s list of Top 10 OF. That is all.

  32. Yanks designated David Huff for assignment. He’s the inevitable casualty from the Tanaka signing. When you add payroll, I guess you need to cut it elsewhere ….

  33. Pitt Football Schedule just released — games against 8 bowl teams

    August 30 — vs. Delaware
    Sept. 5 — at Boston College
    Sept. 13 — at FIU
    Sept. 20 — Iowa
    Sept. 27 — Akron
    Oct. 4 — at Virginia
    Oct. 16 — Virginia Tech
    Oct. 25 — Georgia Tech
    Nov. 1 — Duke
    Nov. 15 — at North Carolina
    Nov. 22 — Syracuse
    Nov. 29 — at Miami

    Florida State replaced with Virginia Tech.

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