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June 24, 2014
by Kevin Gorman

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Pitt at the PBC Pro-Am Summer League

The last time I saw Sheldon Jeter was at the NCAA Tournament in Orlando, where he was wide-eyed while watching the Panthers during their shoot-around before their second-round game against Colorado.
Jeter looked like a kid window-shopping outside a storefront.
When I saw Jeter Monday night at the Pittsburgh Basketball Club Pro-Am Summer League, now at Montour, he looked like someone who is finally fitting in with not only an NCAA-caliber team but one in his hometown.
* Mike Young is much trimmer, and his back is better for it.
Young said he arrived at 250 pounds as a freshman, and a fracture in his back caused discomfort during the season. It didn’t require surgery, so Young has taken some steps to reduce stress on his lower back.
He has grown to 6-9 ½ and now weighs 229 pounds, down 16 from his playing weight last season. He said he is down to nine percent body fat, and looks like a much leaner version of himself.
“I lost weight and have been stretching and working on my legs,” Young said. “I’ve been doing hot yoga. The first few times, I had to get used to the heat. It’s 105 degrees. It helps get me sweating so I have shed a lot of weight, and it helps me stretching.”
Here’s an even bigger development: Young expects to play center next season, even at a lighter weight. And he’s OK with that, acknowledging that he’s the tallest player on the roster (except for Joseph Uchebo, who has a bum knee) and, according to Pitt coach Jamie Dixon, was the team’s best post defender last season.
“Coach already has been changing the offense,” Young said, “so the ‘four’ and the ‘five’ are interchangeable.”
* If you know anything about Jamie Dixon, it’s that he puts very little stock in these summer league games. They are designed for his players to get a chance to play against some good competition but they are nothing but glorified pick-up games.
“It’s just fun,” Dixon said. “I think it gives them a different look. We’re working out during the day. I get to see my guys play against different guys.”
This is why I don’t pay much attention to the Pro-Am statistics, though they can be telling. For instance, Sheldon Jeter scored 17 points and had 10 rebounds, which amounts to a nice debut.
But he also was 1 of 8 from 3-point range, which makes you wonder if his mindset has changed at all from high school, when he went 0-for-10 on 3-pointers in the 2012 PIAA Class AA final. If Jeter is going to make an impact at Pitt, it’s probably going to be as a stretch-four.
The surprise of the night was freshman Cameron Johnson, the late spring signee out of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart. He scored 15 of his team’s first 21 points and finished with 24 points on 9 of 16 shooting (4 of 9 from 3), and looked smooth doing so. He graduated from OLSH a few weeks early so he could enroll at Pitt on May 12, and has already added 11 pounds to his wiry 6-foot-7 frame. Whether he cracks the lineup this season or takes a redshirt, Johnson might have been a steal.
* Remember this: The player who had the biggest impact on the Panthers last season, Lamar Patterson, missed most of the Pro-Am with a bothersome knee. The player who was the biggest surprise, Cameron Wright, missed some games because of a conflict with classes. Then again, the MVP of the league was Talib Zanna, who carried over that confident play into a strong performance in the ACC last season.
As of right now, Pitt’s starting lineup should like this: junior James Robinson at point guard, fifth-year senior Cameron Wright at shooting guard, redshirt sophomore Chris Jones at small forward, sophomore Jamel Artis at power forward and Young at center.
That would leave sophomore Josh Newkirk as the first guard off the bench. Durand Johnson, who is recovering from a torn ACL and won’t be ready until at least August, also is expected to be a scorer off the bench. Jeter can play either forward position. And Derrick Randall should get minutes at center.
That leaves three players – freshmen Cameron Johnson and Ryan Luther and junior center Joseph Uchebo – vying to crack the rotation. Johnson and Luther are candidates to redshirt, although one or both could get playing time if they show they are ready or someone is injured.
Tyrone Haughton, the junior-college center from Iowa Western, still needs to finish a class to become eligible and is missing valuable time working out with the team this summer. And it doesn’t appear that Shaquille Doorson, the 7-footer from the Netherlands who signed last fall, is in the team’s plans anymore.
Both players were recruited by former Pitt assistant Barry Rohrssen, who left for Kentucky.
* Some notes from my conversation with Dixon.
Dixon said new assistant coach Marlon “Smoke” Williamson, hired last week to replace Rohrssen, “is going to do a great job.”
“We’ve had a lot of great assistants,” said Dixon, who has seen staffers Joe Lombardi (IUP), Tom Herrion (Marshall), Pat Skerry (Towson) and Mike Rice (Robert Morris) get head-coaching jobs, “and I think he’s going to be another one.”
James Robinson is at a Nike point guard camp in New Jersey, so he missed the opening of the Pro-Am. Durand Johnson also won’t play in the Pro-Am this summer because of his knee injury. Not sure why Cameron Wright did not play Monday night, but he missed games last year because of a conflict with classes.
Pitt will play overseas this summer, taking advantage of an NCAA rule that allows teams to do so once every four years. The Panthers will play in the Bahamas Aug. 1-7, with the key being that allows them to practice 10 times prior to the trip and while they are away.
“We did it for Ireland and had 10 days but this is only seven,” Dixon said. “With Ireland, we didn’t have eight weeks of (summer) workouts with the guys.”
Dixon said the Bahamas has “become the place to go,” and he decided on going there after getting positive feedback in discussions with Louisville coach Rick Pitino and North Carolina coach Roy Williams.
“They said it’s really good,” Dixon said. “It’s the simplest trip. As you can see, 13 teams are doing it. We finish summer school early, so we will be the first team to play. The teams there will be somewhat fresh. It’s not the ACC, but… it’s a reward for our four All-ACC Academic guys and finishing in the top 10 percent of the APR.”

June 17, 2014
by Kevin Gorman

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Pitt replaces Slice with Smoke

Word leaked Monday night that Pitt coach Jamie Dixon hired a new assistant. Although Pitt couldn’t/wouldn’t confirm the news, it didn’t stop Marlon “Smoke” Williamson from changing the bio on his Twitter profile.
Pitt announced Tuesday that Williamson was hired to replace Barry “Slice” Rohrssen, who left to join John Calipari’s staff at Kentucky.
I spoke to Williamson this afternoon, and filed this story to and got some interesting background on the new hire.
* First, it’s worth noting the Calipari-Pitt-UMass connections to these coaching moves: Calipari was an assistant at Pitt under Paul Evans before taking the head coaching job at UMass. Calipari hired former Pitt player and assistant coach Orlando Antigua away from the Panthers when he was at Memphis, and Antigua followed him to Kentucky. When Antigua got the head-coaching job at USF this spring, Calipari targeted Rohrssen to replace him as ace recruiter. Williamson played at Youngstown State as a freshman for Derek Kellogg, who left to join Calipari’s staff at Memphis. Kellogg was later hired as head coach at UMass and hired Williamson as an assistant in 2012. Now, Dixon is hiring Williamson away from UMass.
Small world, huh?
* Williamson is deeply appreciative to Kellogg for giving him an opportunity to become a Division I coach.
“Coach Kellogg is a long-time friend,” Williamson said. “I can’t say much except that I love him to death, appreciate the opportunity he gave to pursue my dream to be a D-I coach. He left for Memphis, but our relationship continued and got stronger. He told me, ‘If I ever get the opportunity to come back and hire you, I’m going to hire you.’ Coach has been great. It’s easy to come and work for somebody when you love somebody the right way. That’s what I have with Coach Kellogg.”
* Now, get this: Williamson has Pittsburgh ties. His father, Julius Jerome “Bart” Williamson, grew up in Garfield and attended Peabody High School. Williamson also played collegiately at Youngstown State, where he was a four-year letterman who was team MVP and Horizon League defensive player of the year as a senior.
But first things first. I’m sure you’re wondering by now how Williamson got his nickname.
It came from his godfather, Fred Anderson, who bestowed it upon a 6-year-old Marlon at his first basketball game. Williamson said it was in reference to his dark skin tone. And it stuck, much to his mom’s chagrin.
“My mother hated it,” Williamson said. “In Detroit, Michigan, where I grew up, nobody is exempt from having a nickname. It was my first year playing, at 6, and it’s stuck with me. It’s replaced Marlon, actually.”
* Williamson first met Dixon when he was director/coach of The Family, a Detroit-based AAU program. Williamson can’t recall whether Dixon was after Manny Harris, who went to Michigan, or Wes Clark, who ended up at Missouri.
The Family has produced a number of major-college basketball stars: Brandon Cotton (Michigan State), Joe Crawford (Kentucky), Jordan Crawford (Xavier), Chris Douglas-Roberts (Memphis), Draymond Green (Michigan State), Malik Hairston (Oregon) and James Young (Kentucky).
“We had a crop of good guys,” Williamson said. “We developed a recipe, a certain way we did things. The kids understood the way we did things, and there was no other option.”
* Dixon mentioned in his statement that he likes that, “as a former point guard with strong knowledge of the game, Marlon will help us in recruiting, scouting and player development.” Williamson believes playing the position prepared him for a career in coaching.
“As a point guard, your job is to know everything,” he said. “You’re the extension of the coach. Jamie Dixon is one of the great coaches. I want to make sure I deliver that message to players of what he expects from them.”
* Williamson and Pitt assistant Brandin Knight are the same age, but Williamson said the way they met “was not the best introduction in the world.” Apparently, Knight wanted to recruit one of Williamson’s players from The Family, but instead of going through Williamson “went in another direction.”
Williamson said they “butted heads” before becoming close friends.
“You had two Type A guys trying to get their point across in conversation where nobody wanted to be quiet,” Williamson said. “Brandin is somebody who is one of my best friends in the business, by far. We’ve developed a great relationship over the last three or four years. That’s my friend, not co-worker. That’s my brother.”
* That gives the impression that Knight might have had some input on Dixon’s decision to hire Williamson, who has a reputation as a strong recruiter but, like the man he is replacing, doesn’t want to be pigeonholed.
“Actually, my pursuit is to become a great assistant coach right now. In the future, I want to become a head coach,” Williamson said. “When you say ‘great assistant,’ you have to fill a lot of bullets. Recruiting is definitely one, but I don’t want to be singled out as just a recruiter. I can get in the film room and break down Xs and Os. The relationship with the players is a huge factor for you as a coach. It’s much easier to play for someone you respect and love versus someone you just play for. That’s what I want to strive for as a professional in this business, being able to relate to the coach, co-workers on the staff, as well as the players and their parents.”
So, like Kellogg before him, Williamson made a move to put his career in an upward trajectory.
“This is a big step,” he said. “When you talk about the University of Pittsburgh and ACC, you’ve got to go get players first. Our position as assistants is to put Coach Dixon in a position to be great. I look at coach Dixon as a legend. I don’t think he hired Coach Knight or Coach Barton to be mediocre. We want to give him the tools that he can go coach those guys. Our goal is to win the last game. Why not us?”

January 8, 2014
by Kevin Gorman

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An update on Ryan Luther’s injury

A special thanks to Trib reporter (and new father) Jason Mackey (@Mackey_Trib) who covered the Hampton-North Allegheny game Wednesday night and shared the following report on injured Pitt recruit Ryan Luther:

Pitt fans, exhale.
Ryan Luther’s going to be OK in seven to 10 days.
The 6-foot-8 Hampton senior, who signed with the Panthers in November, sprained his ankle at practice Tuesday while running a routine, two-on-one drill.
While the injury kept him out of Wednesday’s 62-61 win over North Allegheny, Luther could return as soon as next Tuesday against New Castle.
“We’re hopeful,” Hampton coach Joe Lafko said. “It’s very doubtful for Friday. It’ll be a week next Tuesday. That’ll be probably the earliest.”
Which is around the time Lafko’s heart rate may settle down.
Luther’s injury “made me sick (Tuesday),” Lafko said. “Literally. My stomach did flip-flops.”
Don’t know quite what those are, but they sure don’t sound fun.
And in case you’re wondering what Lafko was doing having his team practice on a day when it was below zero, he’s got you covered.
“We have all kind of people taking blame for us,” Lafko said. “My principal blamed the athletic director for letting us practice. I blamed myself for even calling a practice. (Senior guard) Jack Obringer blamed Ryan because Ryan made the comment that Ryan was the only one who didn’t get injured last year. They thought it jinxed him. There was a lot of blame to go around, but it’s the way basketball goes.”
Luther committed to Pitt in late October, picking the Panthers over Dayton, Duquesne and George Washington. He averaged 21 points per game last winter while leading Hampton to the WPIAL finals for the second consecutive year.

December 17, 2013
by Kevin Gorman

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Why no UMass?

It appears the absence of the University of Massachusetts on my Associated Press men’s basketball ballot has caused some consternation in New England, as one paper exposed me, I guess, as the lone voter not to vote for the Minutemen in the top 25 and a blogger used his forum as a bully pulpit to attack me.

Fair enough. UMass is 9-0, ranks No. 2 nationally in RPI (.7111), behind Wisconsin. The Minutemen have beaten opponents from the ACC (Boston College and Clemson), Big Ten (Nebraska), Mountain West (New Mexico), Southeastern (LSU) and West Coast (BYU) conferences this season. By those standards — undefeated record, high RPI and opponents from quality conferences — the Minutemen certainly deserve to be ranked in the top 25.

So allow me to explain my rankings.

First, this is not the first time I’ve been a dissenting voice in an AP poll. Yes, even though I cover high school sports (primarily writing columns on Western Pennsylvania football) for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, I also have covered college football (Pitt and Penn State), as well as the Super Bowl and Stanley Cup Final (twice each) and countless other major sporting events.

Now, I have nothing against UMass. In fact, I was a fan of the Minutemen when a pair of Pittsburghers, Central Catholic’s Jim McCoy and Allderdice’s William Herndon, played for Moon native and former Pitt assistant John Calipari in the late 1980s/early ’90s. But I didn’t have UMass in my preseason top 25, and the reason I don’t know is that it hasn’t beaten any teams that I have ranked in my ballots this season. (UMass did beat New Mexico, which I didn’t rank).

I did, however, rank Pitt in the preseason top 25. This is my second season on the Pitt men’s basketball beat, but I’ve covered them for more than a decade, first as the backup to the beat writer, later as a columnist. So I’ve seen my share of college basketball, and believe this Pitt team has a chance to be pretty good despite the graduation of Tray Woodall and Dante Taylor, the early entry of Steven Adams to the NBA and the transfers of J.J. Moore and Trey Zeigler.

The Panthers are 10-0 heading into tonight’s game against Cincinnati in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden. They have yet to beat a ranked opponent, although they have beaten teams from the Big Ten (Penn State), Big 12 (Texas Tech), Mountain West (Fresno State) and Pac-12 (Stanford) this season. They won nine games by double-digit margins.

Attack me as a homer, if you will, but Pitt finished fourth in the Big East last season and returned three starters
and two reserves who have moved into greater roles. I expected the Panthers to be a top 25 team, so I ranked them 21st to start the season. They have since moved up six spots in my ballot.

I don’t believe in punishing ranked teams for playing each other, especially when the games are close. That’s why I have a three-loss Kentucky team ranked No. 14 (ahead of undefeated Pitt). The Wildcats’ losses are to then-No. 2 Michigan State, then-No. 20 Baylor and then-No. 18 North Carolina. I have all three of those teams ranked ahead of Kentucky.

That rationale doesn’t leave much room for teams to jump ahead, which is why Wisconsin has gone from No. 20 to 11th on my ballot and Baylor (who has wins over Kentucky, Dayton and Colorado and whose only loss is to Syracuse) from No. 18 to seventh. I didn’t have Villanova ranked to start the season (I saw Pitt beat the Wildcats twice last year), but have moved them to 19th. And I dropped North Carolina before the Tar Heels beat Kentucky, Michigan State and Louisville, teams that started the season 1-2-3 in the AP rankings. I don’t have Gonzaga ranked because its lone loss is to Dayton, which only lost to Baylor by one but then dropped a game to Illinois State.

I hope that begins to explain my reason for not ranking UMass, which is off to its best start since 1995-96. If the Minutemen beat Ohio Wednesday and Florida State Saturday, that should help their cause. If the Twitter attacks of their passionate fans, which I don’t take personally, has done anything, it’s made me very well aware of UMass.

December 13, 2013
by Kevin Gorman

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About the rankings…

Pitt is getting national attention for not getting enough national attention.
The Panthers are 9-0, one of only 14 undefeated teams in the nation, yet aren’t nationally ranked.
“We’ve been ranked most of the time. Now, we’re not. It’s kind of a new dynamic for us,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “I do think we’re as good as a lot of teams that have been ranked, so that’s a good thing.”
The players have noticed, and are using the slight for motivation.
“I’d be lying to you to tell you that I don’t look at those rankings,” Pitt redshirt junior guard Cameron Wright said. “I think it provides a bigger chip for our team to have. I feel like we’ll definitely be ranked. Until then, we’ll just take it one game at a time.”
Don’t blame me.
Full disclosure: I’m a voter in the Associated Press poll (you can see my ballot here), and I had Pitt No. 15 last week.
But not everyone is sold on the Panthers, and Gary Parrish of CBS Sports explained why: “Specifically, some folks want to know what Pittsburgh must do to crack the Top 25 (and one).
My answer is simple: Beat a quality opponent.”
So, the knock is that Pitt is undefeated because it hasn’t played anyone of consequence.
The combined record of the Panthers’ opponents is 45-43. Not impressive. But three of those teams — Savannah State (2-9), Howard (2-10) and Duquesne (3-4) — have losing records and combine for 23 of those losses. Dixon said the Panthers had no control over their opponents in the Legends Classic, where they beat Texas Tech (6-3) and Stanford (6-2), or the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, where they beat Penn State (8-3).
“If that’s what they need, we’ll use it,” Dixon said, adding that Pitt has played non-conference games in the past against Ohio State, Oklahoma State, Tennessee, Washington and Wisconsin. “We were in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. We were in the Legends Classic. You’re in with the best people. We’ve played a lot of the best ones in the past. Generally, the teams that are in there haven’t beaten too many ranked teams, either. Maybe they’ve beaten one. If one’s a lot more than none, so be it. I’m not too good at math, but…”
Dixon believes Pitt’s preseason status was based on the Panthers’ returning only five players from last season, although Talib Zanna, Lamar Patterson and James Robinson were starters. Most national voters, however, probably noted that Pitt lost its leading scorer in Tray Woodall and a lottery pick in center Steven Adams.
But Pitt wasn’t ranked last season until after it started 12-1.
Since the 2001-02 season, Pitt has been ranked in 80 percent of polls.
“We were always ranked when we lost a lot of guys,” Dixon said. “There was probably a stretch where we were getting ranked when with the guys we had returning you probably wouldn’t have thought. I’m not too concerned about it. Nobody’s setting the world on fire by who they’ve beaten. Maybe a game or two, but we’re going by the long haul.”
It was suggested to Dixon that blue bloods like Kansas, Kentucky and North Carolina are often ranked based on their pedigree, whether they are truly deserving or not.
“We’re right there, but we’re not there,” Dixon said. “I’m the first to say that you just mentioned three teams that have won numerous national championships, and we haven’t. We’re right below that and I recognize that and acknowledge it. That’s something we’re trying to do, trying to get and that’s what we need to do. I can’t do anything about what programs did 30 years ago. That’s beyond our control.”
So are the rankings.
Pitt plays host to Youngstown State Saturday, then plays Cincinnati in the Jimmy V Classic Tuesday at Madison Square Garden. The Panthers won’t play a top 25 opponent until January.
If they are still undefeated by then, it will be hard for voters to leave them off their ballots.

December 10, 2013
by Kevin Gorman

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Randall sues Rutgers

Pitt junior forward Derrick Randall has filed a lawsuit against Rutgers, alleging that he was “chronically and heinously targeted and abused, both physically and psychologically” by former Scarlet Knights basketball coach Mike Rice, according to a report by the Newark (N.J.) Star-Ledger.

The Star-Ledger story also provided links to lawsuit documents.

Here is an ESPN report showing video of Rice physically and verbally abusing Rutgers players at practice.

Randall transferred to Pitt from Rutgers following the scandal that prompted Rice’s firing last April, and received an NCAA waiver for immediate eligibility. Randall endured a difficult year aside from the abuse, as his mother lost her battle with ovarian cancer last spring.

Rice spent the 2006-07 season as a Pitt assistant coach under Jamie Dixon, and three seasons as head coach at Robert Morris.

December 3, 2013
by Kevin Gorman

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Lamar leads the way

Lamar Patterson is coming off the best week of his college basketball career, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the fifth-year senior swingman was named ACC player of the week.
Aside from the statistics, what people around Pitt are noticing is Lamar’s leadership. Pitt coach Jamie Dixon noted that Patterson, who had recorded career highs in back-to-back games against Texas Tech and Stanford, passed up a scoring chance that would have given him at least 20 points for the third consecutive game to find an open Chris Jones for a basket.
“He’s unselfish,” Dixon said. “The play at the end, where he looks to get Chris Jones a shot … that spoke volumes.”
It’s not just in games, either.
Pitt freshman forward Mike Young said Patterson, who also spent his senior season at St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark, has taken him under his wing since his arrival and shown him how to play the Panthers’ way.
“He’s a great leader: always calm, always collected, always under control, never rattled,” Young said. “Him being here five years, he’s very experienced and being versatile himself, he knows every position.”
Patterson said Brad Wanamaker did the same for him when he first came to Pitt, treating him like “his little brother,” so he’s simply paying it forward.
“He showed me the ins and outs of how to play for coach Dixon, how to play college basketball,” Patterson said.
Patterson, by the way, needs 86 points, 53 rebounds and 89 assists to become the third player in Pitt history to record 1,000 points, 500 rebounds and 400 assists in a career. Wanamaker and Carl Krauser are the others to accomplish the feat.
“Just to be mentioned with those guys,” Patterson said, “is a great honor.”
The honor, his teammates say, is playing with Patterson.
And, ultimately, for him.
“What he brings to the team is a lot of leadership. He’s been around, so he’s been through the battles,” point guard James Robinson said. “This is his last year. As younger guys, when we see him putting in extra time on the court, we owe it to him and Talib to make sure we bring our best effort because we want to send them out the right way.”

December 1, 2013
by Kevin Gorman

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A whirlwind week

When you do what you love and love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.
That’s my regular reminder that I have my dream job, combining my love for sports and writing. It’s a phrase I’ve uttered more than once in November, when my worlds as a columnist who covers high school football, Pitt basketball and boxing collided and made for an incredibly busy past few weeks.
It started with a column reminiscing the unforgettable run by former Woodland Hills star Steve Breaston against Central Catholic in the 2001 WPIAL Class AAAA championship game. A dozen years later, Woodland Hills and Central met for a WPIAL title rematch.
The storyline on Saturday was about North Catholic winning its first WPIAL title at Heinz Field, the alma mater of Steelers chairman Dan Rooney claiming a championship at the home of his family franchise.
I followed the Trojans to their locker room, where Rooney and Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert were waiting outside to congratulate every player and coach for their accomplishment. North coach Bob Ravenstahl asked Rooney to speak to the team, and he joked that today’s players were “bigger, smarter and faster” but that “we were tougher.” The players asked Rooney join their team photo, and surrounded him as he held the WPIAL trophy.
That column touched on every championship game, from the story of Central’s O’Neill family to West Allegheny’s Bob Palko becoming the first coach in WPIAL history to win seven outright district titles to South Fayette’s Conner Beck making a dream come true at the expense of Aliquippa star Dravon Henry, whose hopes were crushed.
On Monday, I drove to Brooklyn to cover Pitt basketball in the Legends Classic. This was supposed to present the first tests of the season for the Panthers, who had cruised to easy victories at Petersen Events Center and were playing on the road for the first time against respectable programs like Texas Tech and either Houston or Stanford.
So much for that.
After scoring a career-high 23 points against Texas Tech, Lamar Patterson outdid himself by scoring 24 against Stanford.
Back to Pittsburgh and high school football, where my column concentrated on West Allegheny center Mike Ross, who overcame a serious injury to finish his career on a high note.
The next day, I watched Pitt play Duquesne in the annual City Game. Check out Duquesne beat writer Chris Harlan’s story here and Dejan Kovacevic’s column here.
Now, along the way, I had written a few stories on McKees Rocks boxer Paul Spadafora after visiting his training camp near California, Pa. For one, he added trainer Buddy McGirt to his corner a week before his WBA light welterweight title fight with Johan Perez, a fight that Spadafora knew could change his life. But Perez, a Golden Boy Promotions protégé described as an awkward fighter, stood in his way.
And the decision didn’t go Spadafora’s way, either.
Today, I will head over to the Pete to talk with the Panthers about Tuesday’s game against Penn State.
Two more weeks of juggling high school football with Pitt basketball for me, then I can concentrate on the Panthers’ inaugural basketball season in the ACC. I’m planning to give you additional coverage throughout the season on this blog, which was named in honor of Larry Merchant’s book, Ringside Seat at the Circus.
From here on out, maybe it should be called Sitting Courtside.

September 17, 2013
by Kevin Gorman

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McKenzie left a mark, and with one

Washington’s record-setting running back, Shai McKenzie, learned Monday that his senior season is over after tests revealed that he has a torn ACL in his right knee.
The injury ends the high school football career of one of the most productive backs in WPIAL history.
Like every running back who has played at Wash High since the mid-1980s, McKenzie couldn’t avoid comparisons to Little Prexies legend Brian Davis. Difference was, McKenzie thrived on it. He wasn’t shy about wanting to break Davis’ school records.
First, McKenzie broke Davis’ single-season mark. McKenzie led the Little Prexies to the WPIAL Class AA final, finishing with 2,689 yards — only 52 shy of Rushel Shell’s single-season WPIAL rushing record.
Soon, McKenzie was one of the most coveted recruits in Western Pennsylvania. He drew an invitation to The Opening, the Nike-sponsored camp in Oregon for elite prospects.
So, it’s no wonder McKenzie set lofty goals for his senior season. He wanted to become the first player in Western Pennsylvania history to rush for 3,000 yards in a season. And, through the first two games, he was on pace to do just that. Then he planted and heard a pop and crumbled to the turf at Charleroi, his senior season and his high school career were suddenly over. He finished with 4,509 rushing yards and 69 touchdowns, surpassing a standard for greatness despite playing less than 10 quarters this season.
Now, surgery awaits.
McKenzie should take some solace, knowing that he left an indelible mark on WPIAL football.
Unfortunately, WPIAL football will leave an indelible mark on him, as well.
– By Kevin Gorman

March 20, 2013
by Kevin Gorman

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Last dance for Jack R. Anderson

When my father started taking me and my brother to high school football games, there were rules to be followed.
We got to games early enough to watch warm-ups and be settled into our seats in time to watch the band perform the national anthem. And we weren’t allowed to leave our seats until after the bands performed their halftime shows. He loved music as much as football.
So, one of the most enjoyable parts of covering Pitt football and basketball for me over the years has been listening to and watching the joy with which Jack R. Anderson has directed the Pitt band.
Anderson, who is retiring as Pitt band director after 27 years, is an institution within an institution. Not only is he a popular professor among students but a long-time fixture on the sporting scene. He also has received the Distinguished Service to Music award, the highest honor presented by Kappa Kappa Psi. Robert “Ace” Arthur, Pitt’s band director from 1939-70, also was given the award, and Anderson believes no other college has two recipients.
This NCAA Tournament is Anderson’s last hurrah with the Pitt band at a sporting event.
Not only does Anderson have deep family roots in the Pitt band, but he met his wife, Peggy, when they were students. Peggy played the piccolo and flute, as did their oldest daughter, Carrie. Their youngest daughter, Katie, played the baritone. And there’s probably more Andersons in Pitt band’s future. Anderson has a miniature Pitt band drum set in his basement that his grandchildren are learning to play.
Anderson was essentially raised on the Pitt sidelines, whether it was football or basketball games.
“The old field house was all dirt,” Anderson said. “Did you know that? After basketball season, they could take the court up and the football team would practice there.”
One of Anderson’s earliest Pitt sporting memories was going to the 1956 Sugar Bowl by train with his grandparents – and the Pitt freshman football team, which included future Panthers head coach Foge Fazio.
“I grew up with sports,” Anderson said, “so I know sports.”
Anderson also knows the Panthers not only by their names but their numbers. On family road trips, Jack B. Anderson would sing the beginning of a school march and make his children identify it. Or he would name a Pitt player and make them recite his number.
To this day, Jack R. remembers that Bill Kaliden wore No. 19, Bob Rosborough No. 84 and Joe Walton No. 87, that Charles “Corky” Cost wore No. 20 and Don Hennon wore No. 21.
The Andersons also collected memorabilia long before it became fashionable. It started with his father and continues with Jack, who has old game-worn jerseys, warm-ups and helmets from every era dating to at least the 1950s before they could be tossed out.
In fact, Anderson presented Hennon with his white, short-sleeved game jersey at the last game at Fitzgerald Field House. He also presented Corky Cost his jersey on the day Pitt opened the Cost Center, where the Pitt band still practices sometimes.
“We never lose a practice because of rain or snow,” Anderson said, noting that because the Cost Center field is 100 yards long but not 53 yards wide, “we put duct tape down to make hash marks for guiding lines.”
And, even though I’m a Penn State grad, I can’t leave this out:
Anderson “took a beating” when he was ordered to remove the break strain in the Pitt Victory Song that allowed fans to chant “Penn State Sucks!” Angry alums accused him of going soft on the Nittany Lions.
If they only knew that Anderson celebrated Pitt’s 31-11 victory over Penn State in 1984 – a 3-7-1 season for the Panthers – by purchasing a Joe Paterno cardboard cutout that shared a seat at his dinner table at a prominent downtown State College restaurant.

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