Chat transcript: Pitt basketball, 12/6/07

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Terrelle: Given the high level of basketball played in the Big East, do you think a player could join the team in January (say, after a major bowl game) and contribute?

Ray Fittipaldo: It's been done before, but not very often. I believe Julius Peppers played a fairly big role on a North Carolina team that went deep into the NCAA tournament. Off the top of my head, that's the only instance I can think of right now. I'm sure there are others. I assume you're asking because of Terrelle Pryor, the star quarterback-forward at Jeannette High School who is hoping to play both sports in college. I know most basketball coaches do not count on major contributions from a football player. Anything they get is gravy because there is just so much time to make up. If a player joins a team in January he has basically missed three months of practice. I don't care how gifted a player is, it's going to be hard to crack a rotation when you come into a situation three months late.

Wanny: What is Jamie Dixon's current salary and how many years does he have left on his contract? Could we see a similar extension for Dixon similar to the Wannstache?

Ray Fittipaldo: Dixon signed a contract through 2012 or 2013 at the end of the 2005-06 season. With bonuses included he is making around $1 million a year. Wannstedt needed an extension for recruiting purposes. The recruits needed to know he was going to be the coach. Dxion is in no such situation as the basketball coach. The only way he would receive another extension after this season is if another school threw a bunch of money his way and Pitt was forced to match it.

Moderator: Good afternoon everyone. Seems a bit slow today. Any questions? Or perhaps some comments about the victory over Duquesne? Did anyone think the game would be close? Or that the Dukes even had a chance to win?

skirace217: I thought that the team played timid last night after jumping out to a huge lead and seeing their only true big man, Blair, get into foul trouble. Do you see their depth at big man being a problem?

Ray Fittipaldo: After last night there certainly has to be some concern in that area. Blair is already so important to this team. He not only scores and rebounds, but he hustles and seems to inspire his teammates. Dixon got next to nothing out of Tyrell Biggs last night and he didn't even attempt to play Cassin Diggs or Gary McGhee. When Blair and Biggs were in foul trouble he had 6-6 small forward Gil Brown playing in the low post on defense. One of two things has to happen: Blair has to stay out of foul trouble or Diggs and McGhee have to come around to the point where Dixon can feel comfortable playing them even if it's only for a minute or two at a time.

Mr._Jones: Were you surprised by how short the Pitt bench was last night? What did you think of Shawn James? I thought he was terrific and that the game changed when he took away the inside from everyone but Blair (who also was great until he got in foul trouble)

Ray Fittipaldo: Not that surprised. Dixon made the comment Monday that guys like Brad Wanamaker, Diggs and McGhee had to earn their playing time. I'm not sure they're going to get much out of Diggs or McGhee this season, but Wanamaker had been playing well until the last two or three games. He's in a little bit of a slump now, but he's also the backup to perhaps the most indispensable player on the team -- point guard Levance Fields. As for James, he was as advertised from a defensive standpoint. Talking with some Duquesne people after the game, they told me that was by far his best offensive game of the season. He picked a good time to have his best game. He just needed some help last night to pull off the upset.

Wanny: Really impressed with Gil Brown last night...looks like he definitely has a chance to be an impact player for this team.

Ray Fittipaldo: Brown has been playing well all year. I think it was a one- or two-point game when he made a steal and converted a layup at the other end with about eight minutes remaining. Dixon is not afriad to play him at any point during a game. I actually think Dixon could have leaned on him more last night, but Mike Cook was having a nice game at the same time.

skirace217: Man, I have to agree about Blair, though. I know it sounds crazy, but is it possible that he's already the leader of this team as a freshman? I know it's premature, but he could end up being one of the best players to play at Pitt...he's that good and seems to have that much desire, in my opinion.

Ray Fittipaldo: He's not the leader of this team. Fields is the vocal leader and Young is the guy they look to when they need someone to make a play. Cook, Benjamin and Ramon are good leaders, too. But I know what you mean. Blair plays beyond his years. He looks nothing like a freshman out there. And when he got on the floor and got those loose balls last night it sent a jolt into his team. The kid is going to be special.

Wanny: What do you think Pitt's biggest weaknesses are as of right now? It seems like they are playing a little out of control to me right now.

Ray Fittipaldo: I don't think they played out of control. Duquesne is good at getting teams to play at its pace. Things got a little ragged there for a while, but the Panthers made all the right plays down the stretch to win that game. There are several areas for concern. The first is post defense. The second is depth in the frontcourt. And the third is outside shooting. Pitt was one of the top 3-point shooting teams in the country last season. Now the Panthers are among the worst teams in the Big East, shooting 33.9 percent through eight games. I think they'll shoot their way out of the 3-point slump. But I'm not sure what can be done about the post defense and the depth up front. They'll have to be creative.

Wanny: Pitt is in serious trouble underneath this year...does Dixon really have no confidence in Biggs/Diggs?

Ray Fittipaldo: I think he has confidence in Biggs. It just so happened that Biggs did not play all that well last night. Biggs can play a role on this team, but he is playing out of position at center. He needs to get his nose dirtier and commit himself to playing bigger. As for Diggs, I sensed from the first time I saw him in the summer league up in Green Tree that maybe he was not going to pan out. He could prove me wrong, but it's obvious right now that Dixon does not feel comfortable playing him.

Ricky_Greer: Maybe I'm just jaded after watching the officials in the Pitt/WVU game, but I thought that there were some very questionable calls last night that went against Pitt and kept the Dukes close. Do you agree? In fact, a couple possession calls were eventually overturned and given to Pitt after the initial signal was Duquesne ball.

Ray Fittipaldo: Well, Dixon picked up his first technical foul of the season, so that might be a sign that he didn't think his team was getting a fair shake. But honestly, I never got the feeling that the Dukes were getting the breaks because of the officials. They were getting some breaks because they continued to play hard.

skirace217: Fields seemed to be pressing somewhat last night, perhaps because he was going up against an old nemesis. I always felt like Krauser would do the same when Pitt played at MSG. Have you noticed similar things?

Ray Fittipaldo: Fields made some big plays late in the game when Pitt needed him. It was not his best game, but he was there when it counted. He drove right down the lane at James and made that floater with a minute to go. Fields is the least of Pitt's worries right now. I know he is not shooting it well. But he's a streaky shooter who will eventually start making some of his 3-pointers.

Wanny: I was actually pretty surprised by Duquesne last night. I think it is great for the city to have 2 quality teams playing each other, but of course you don't ever want to lose to Duquesne.

Ray Fittipaldo: It's great for college basketball in the city. Ron Everhart is recruiting some good players and it's showing on the court. I would expect the Dukes to win more games in the Atlantic 10 than they lose. Maybe that will produce an appearance in the NIT. That doesn't sound like a lot, but it would mean the world to that program.

YO: Did Dixon actually see Diggs play in person before he offered him? Don't laugh, Howland never saw Lett before he got on campus (of course Lett was good)....

Ray Fittipaldo: Dixon knew of Diggs going back to his days in Williamsport, where he played his high school ball. I don't know how many times he watched him in junior-college, but Dixon is not the type of coach who would not follow the progress of a player and offer him a scholarship.

Mr._Jones: Do you think that some of the poor shooting is less inside out play as they ran through Gray? Also, Ramon seems to be drifting a bit on his shot. Is he healthy?

Ray Fittipaldo: You make a good point about how many open outside shots Pitt would get because of Gray. That should not be overlooked. It also might have something to do with their concentration on the transition game, too. Ramon has had hamstring and ankle injuries already this season. He said he is 100 percent healed, but I suspect he's still making his way back to the point where he feels completely comfortable out there. Like I said before, the shooting will come around. Other than Antonio Graves, it's the same players taking those outside shots.

Wanny: DeJuan Blair seems a bit raw, how do you think he will respond to Big East play?

Ray Fittipaldo: Blair is raw. He is a freshman. He's not going to be polished at this point. But he makes plays no matter what. You don't have to be polished to get on the floor and hustle for loose balls. You don't have to be polished to bang for rebounds under the hoop. He does all the little things that someday will make him a great player.

Ray Fittipaldo: Thanks for all the great questions. I have to do some interviews at Pitt before they head to the airport for Seattle, where the Panthers play the University of Washington Saturday afternoon. We'll do it again next week.


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