The first fireworks of the Pitt men's basketball season started Sunday afternoon, a full month before the season opener.
Redshirt junior guard Cameron Wright sank an off-balance, 3-point buzzer-beater to capture the Blue-Gold Scrimmage crown for the Blue team, 68-67, at Peterson Events Center.
Wright stole the show, leading all scorers with 27 points, and was followed by redshirt senior center Talib Zanna, who scored 19 points and grabbed 14 rebounds.
The coaches' focus, though, was on freshmen Jamel Artis and Mike Young, who are locked in a position battle at power forward.
"They're both guys that deserve to play right away," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said, "so we're going to be starting a freshman."
There's plenty of familiarity between the two rookies. Young, a Duquesne native, spent the past three years at St. Benedict's Prep in Newark, N.J., where Artis was his teammate in 2010-11.
Both highly rated recruits, Young and Artis reunited at Pitt this fall despite knowing they would be competing against each other, one playing second-fiddle to the other at the No. 4 position.
"[Young] is a great player," Artis said. "He got better over the years. Playing with him is great, because I know what he can do and he knows what I can do."
Young described them as a "versatile" duo, each holding the upper hand on one end of the court: "He's more offensively gifted; I'm more defensively gifted."
And the scrimmage numbers aligned with that thought.
Going head to head, Artis flashed a strong offensive game with 12 points to Young's 7, and Young hauled in 11 rebounds to Artis' two.
Artis, listed at 6 feet 7, 230 pounds, is down 18 pounds this fall and "in better shape," according to Dixon. But he was bullied on the boards by 6-foot-8, 245-pound Young, who was only 3 of 11 shooting.
Though Artis, who was 5 of 7 from the floor, initially appeared better suited to handle the starting duties after the abbreviated scrimmage, it's not scoring that Dixon is focused on.
"Both of them have good, unique talents, and it [depends] who defends and who rebounds," Dixon said. "They're all behind on that, but that's to be expected. ... They've got a lot of deficiencies, [especially] on the defensive rebounding end. And they know it."
The Blue-Gold Scrimmage was the grand finale for the fifth annual Maggie Dixon Heart Health Fair/Fan Fest. The event is in honor of Maggie Dixon, the head coach's younger sister, who died in 2006, just weeks after she guided the Army women's basketball team to her first NCAA tournament berth. She was 28.
Pitt will hold the Oakland Zoo Blue-Gold Scrimmage, a second open scrimmage, Oct. 18 at Peterson Events Center to give the new players another experience under the bright lights of the main court.
"It was great to play with people in the stands, with family and friends cheering," Young said.
NOTE -- Redshirt sophomore forward Durand Johnson had a concussion at practice Monday and did not participate in the scrimmage. Joining him on the bench was sophomore center Joseph Uchebo, still recovering from a knee injury.
Stephen J. Nesbitt: email@example.com, 412-290-2183 and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt. First Published October 7, 2013 4:00 AM