Since there isn’t an official training camp in College Basketball, the annual scrimmage means a lot to those respective programs. Yes, the practices also take place, as well as the Summer Leagues, but as the upcoming season looms there’s nothing like getting the ‘feel’ of what it would be like to play on that level-while continuing to receive instruction from their Head Coach.
The veteran players benefit from it as their skills get fine-tuned and the incoming freshmen benefit from it as it’s basically the first time they play competitive college ball. In the annual scrimmages, they play in their home arena, in front of their home fans. They also have the cheerleaders, the mascot, the referees and the public announcer. But since they’re playing each other, the scrimmage is basically a glorified practice.
On Saturday, The Pitt Panthers basketball team had their scrimmage at Petersen Events Center in front of their fans. Like their football program, it was a Blue and gold game that was free to the public. This scrimmage was significant to the team because it was the first one under new HC Kevin Stallings, who took over for longtime Coach Jaime Dixon, who departed to coach TCU, which is his alma mater.
Stallings first directive for his new team was to instill a more up-tempo offense not only to create more scoring opportunities for the team, but also for competing in the faster-more finesse Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) which Pitt has been a part of since 2013. Many media types feel that Dixon’s offense just wasn’t a good fit in the ACC but a better fit in their previous conference-the old Big East.
The Up-tempo offense was introduced to the hundreds of fans who showed up at the Pete. And although it wasn’t any true scoring or stats, every member of the team had a chance to show what they got on the floor-something that most of those players won’t see during the regular season.
Seniors forwards Mike Young and Jamel Artis were Pitt’s leading scorers the past 2 seasons and they played on opposite teams and as they demonstrated their skills, it was just another day at the office for both as they scored the baskets and grabbed the rebounds. The same for fellow senior F Sheldon Jeter, the team’s 3rd-leading scorer. Redshirt senior G Chris Jones was also able to put in work as he will begin the season as the team’s 6th Man and spot starter.
But for junior F Ryan Luther, this scrimmage was more critical to him because this upcoming season will give him the opportunity to crack the starting lineup. Sophomore G Cameron Johnson demonstrated his skills with hopes of getting through an entire season with a clean bill of health. Fellow Sophomore G Damon Wilson hopes to build off an impressive freshman season. And then there’s redshirt-junior center Rozelle Nix who was a junior college transfer last season but didn’t play a game-because of injury. He got extensive playing time in the scrimmage, getting rebounds in the paint, getting dunks on offense and even made a jumper. His presence in the middle would be huge if he’s able to prove to the coaching staff that he’s ready.
Sophomore Ryan Seeve didn’t play much last season and benefitted from the scrimmage by also showing what he can do from the forward position. Pitt also added redshirt G Jonathan Milligan who proved that he could shoot and bring the ball up the court, and walk-on junior G Zach Smith hopes to provide depth to the team.
As was mentioned before, the freshmen of the team benefitted from this scrimmage the most as they got a taste of the College Basketball Experience. F Corey Manigault, and guards Crisshawn Clark and Justice Kithcart took the floor and demonstrated talents that they hope will not only make an impression to the team, but also to the fans.
Clark made the most impression as he showcased his ball-handling skills and jump shot as he got the ball into the hoop several times. Kithcart also showed that he could shoot and Manigault provided skills in the paint.
The scrimmage wasn’t made up of 2 halves-like a regular game. Instead, it was several 5-minute rounds in which Stallings oversaw from certain areas of the court and even stopped play to give instruction before the crowd.
Talk about on-the job training.
Except for the center position where either Dix or Young could play, the main question is who will play point guard? In the team’s Media Day, Stallings stated that Artis would be the point guard, which Artis seemed excited about. But if Clark or Milligan can make enough of an impression, maybe Artis will move back to his original spot at Small Forward.
The Panthers next tune-up for the regular season will be their only exhibition game vs. Pitt-Johnstown Saturday Nov. 5th at the Petersen Events Center. Then their regular season begins Nov 11th against Eastern Michigan.
Time will tell what this team will look like, but with a new Head Coach, a new offense and incoming freshman talent, the potential of an exciting season is very promising.
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