Pitt basketball lacks experience but not options at shooting guard

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Pitt coach Jamie Dixon has a decent idea of what his lineup might look like in the fall. He has an experienced point guard in James Robinson, a reliable small forward in Lamar Patterson and a versatile scorer and rebounder in the post in Talib Zanna.

Add in freshman forward Mike Young, one of the top recruits in the nation who is likely to assume a prominent role alongside Zanna, and the starting portion of Dixon's rotation isn't all that hard to predict.

Except when it comes to who will take Tray Woodall's place at shooting guard.

Dixon has no fewer than five options to choose from when deciding who will replace Woodall, the team's leading scorer last season (11.5 points per game) who moved to off-guard upon the arrival of Robinson.

There is junior Cameron Wright, who has 11 games of starting experience under his belt. There are three freshmen -- redshirt Chris Jones and incoming players Josh Newkirk and Detrick Mostella.

And then there is a reserve small forward who would like an opportunity to prove he can win the job as well.

Sophomore Durand Johnson, who served as the backup to Patterson at small forward last season, is the team's top returning 3-point shooter (38 percent) and got time at shooting guard late last season when Dixon was searching for someone to jump-start his slumping offense.

"Right now, it's all about what coach wants to do," Johnson said. "Whatever he wants me to do I'm fine with that."

But Johnson made it clear he would relish an opportunity at shooting guard. While Wright is the best defensive option, Johnson is the more-talented offensive player. Beyond his 3-point shooting, Johnson is one of the better athletes on the team and could score more in transition if given the opportunity.

Johnson knows he must improve two aspects of his game if Dixon is going to trust him in the backcourt.

"My main thing is ball-handling and decision-making," he said. "If I get those two things down I'll be a [heck] of a player. I feel like it will be hard to guard if I can create for my teammates."

Johnson, who averaged 4.3 points per game as a freshman, is working on his consistency this summer in the Pittsburgh Basketball Club Pro-Am. He is coming off a 21-point effort Monday night on 8-for-17 shooting.

One of Johnson's summer league teammates will be vying for playing time in the backcourt, too. Newkirk, a lightning-quick 6-foot-1 point guard from Raleigh, N.C., was told during the recruiting process that he could play alongside Robinson much in the same way Woodall did last season.

"James is a great passer," Newkirk said. "He's more of a strong power guard. I bring the quickness. We complement each other so that's a good look."

Newkirk has scored 33 and 23 points in his past two summer league outings.

"Josh will help us change the tempo," Zanna said. "He's fast. When he plays pickup, he's unstoppable, he's so quick."

Newkirk did not shoot much from the outside at Word of God Academy in Raleigh. He has been getting up extra shots this summer in an effort to develop that aspect of his game.

Wright had been a favorite of Dixon, but he saw his playing time dwindle late last season. He played a total of 17 minutes in the postseason against Syracuse and Wichita State while Johnson played 32 minutes in those two contests.

The wild cards are Jones and Mostella. Jones redshirted last season and Mostella, an athletic guard who was ranked among the top 60 recruits in the country by one scouting service, will not be on campus until August.

Johnson, Newkirk and Mostella would seemingly fit well in the up-tempo Atlantic Coast Conference, Pitt's new home after 31 years in the Big East.

"Coach said he wants to run," Johnson said. "He's been talking about getting up and down, so I feel like he will change his style and be more run and gun."

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Ray Fittipaldo: rfittipaldo@post-gazette.com and Twitter @rayfitt1. First Published July 10, 2013 4:00 AM


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