Pitt basketball finally hit by wave of transfers

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For years, Pitt coach Jamie Dixon defied the odds while mass player movement was happening nearly everywhere else in college basketball. In NCAA Division I, basketball players transfer at a high rate, but somehow the Panthers evaded the problem.

The Panthers were a model of stability when it came to player retention. But, in the past year, the Panthers have been making up ground and contributing to the burgeoning number of transfers. In the past 12 months, four players decided to transfer, including three from the 2011 recruiting class. Two of those players left the team in the past six weeks.

The latest was sophomore center Malcolm Gilbert, who informed Dixon Thursday of his desire to leave. Gilbert is transferring to Fairfield, where his brother plays basketball.

Gilbert was preceded by John Johnson, who is enrolled at Penn State. In April, Isaiah Epps transferred to Monroe Junior College and a year ago Khem Birch transferred to UNLV.

Losing three-fourths of a basketball recruiting class is highly unusual, but a high rate of transfers is not. According to data compiled by the NCAA, 40 percent of players are not at the school where they started after their sophomore year.

Dixon said the issue with the 2011 recruiting class wasn't so much their performance as much as the performance of the 2012 recruiting class. Gilbert decided to move on after freshman Steven Adams earned starting duties this season. The same was true for Johnson, who saw the writing on the wall when point guard James Robinson also earned a starting job ahead of him.

"With us, the main situation is we followed up that class with a very good recruiting class," Dixon said. "That oftentimes has more impact. You can't have great class after great class because someone's not going to play.

"When you have a real good class before that, a real good class after that, something has to give. There are only so many minutes. We still have 11 really good players in the program. [Johnson and Gilbert] weren't in the top 10, let's put it that way. The realistic person will see playing time is a factor. We don't want a guy who is not happy not playing."

Dixon is on the National Association of Basketball Coaches board of directors and NCAA ethics coalition. Dixon said Saturday he was present when NCAA president Mark Emmert spoke earlier this year about issues in college basketball. He said the majority of Emmert's time was spent discussing the number of transfers in men's college basketball.

Dixon believes there is a growing problem with transfers, specifically the ones who graduate from a university in four years and then are granted another year of eligibility at another school. He believes the NCAA's generous rulings with those transfers have led to more than 400 transfers the past few years.

"When that team loses a transfer, that team is looking for a player at that same time late in the spring," Dixon said. "It's really a cycle that will continue. They've opened it up. They realize it and they're discussing it."

Dixon is not a fan of those types of transfers, but he said other coaches are gaining big advantages by adding older and experienced players. If the rules don't change, Dixon said he will reconsider his stance on going after those players.

"I just don't understand the thing about graduating a kid," he said. "You've redshirted him. You spent four years on him. You developed him. You've done everything right as a coach, as a program, as an institution, and then, in his fifth year, he can leave you right before the season starts.

"I don't see how that's a good thing. It's just not the right thing to do. But teams are making their program with kids like that. I may have to look at it. Teams are gaining great advantages because of it."

Pitt senior point guard Tray Woodall waited his turn before getting an opportunity to start full-time a year ago. He said every player is different, but after some doubts early on, he now sees the advantages in staying with one program for an entire career.

"Everyone goes through their struggles," said Woodall, who started 11 games as a redshirt freshman before giving way to Jermaine Dixon when he came back from an injury in 2009-10. "It's just about being patient, and, when your opportunity comes, you have to take advantage of it.

"A lot of guys come from schools where they scored 50 points a game in high school. They were the man at their school. Some guys just don't want to wait. Some guys want the opportunity to come right then and there because they feel they're ready. Maybe they are. But, at the end of the day, if you have patience everything will work out for you. They definitely have a plan for guys here early on. I didn't see it at first. I just had to be patient. The ultimate goal is winning regardless of how many minutes you play."

NOTES -- Pitt opens Big East Conference play against Cincinnati at noon Monday at Petersen Events Center. The only player who did not practice Saturday was senior center Dante Taylor (foot).


• Game: No. 8 Cincinnati (12-1) vs. No. 24 Pitt (12-1), noon.

• Where: Petersen Events Center.

• TV: ESPN2.


Ray Fittipaldo: rfittipaldo@post-gazette.com and Twitter: @rayfitt1.


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