Pitt freshman Khem Birch has decided to leave the team, Pitt announced tonight. Birch, a 6-foot-9 freshman, was a McDonald's All-American and Jamie Dixon's highest rated recruit since taking over as Pitt's head coach in 2003.
"Khem has decided to leave the team for personal reasons," Dixon said in a statement. "We thank Khem for his contribution to our program over the last semester and wish him great success in the future."
Birch had started the past six games and was averaging 4.4 points and 5.0 rebounds per game. He had been Pitt's starting center since replacing Dante Taylor in the lineup for a Nov. 25 game at Penn when Taylor could not play due to migraine headaches. He scored 15 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in that game.
Birch, a power forward by trade, said he did not mind playing center because it meant he would be playing increased minutes. "As long as I'm playing it doesn't matter," he said.
The starting power forward position is manned by senior Nasir Robinson, a three-year starter and Pitt's third-leading scorer and second-leading rebounder.
Birch started the next five contests, but he was not as producitve. After logging 28 minutes against Penn and 29 against Robert Morris while Taylor was out of the lineup, Birch has not played more than 15 minutes in any of the past four games since Taylor returned to action.
Foul trouble has played a role in his playing time in some of those games, but Dixon simply chose not to use him much in others. That was the case in a close victory at Tennessee when Birch played only four minutes after halftime even though he finished the game with one personal foul.
Birch was ranked among the top 10 prospects in the country when he signed at Pitt, and there was speculation that he would stay at Pitt for one or two seasons before delcaring for the NBA draft. That's why a decision to tranfer is curious.
If Birch decides to transfer he must sit out two full semesters in order to be eligble at another NCAA Division I school next season.
Ray Fittipaldo: email@example.com and Twitter @rayfitt1.