Junior point guard Levance Fields expects to return to the Pitt lineup tomorrow night when the Panthers travel to Marquette for a nationally televised game against the Golden Eagles.
Fields, who has been out for seven weeks after the fifth metatarsal bone in his left foot was fractured in a Dec. 29 game at Dayton, will be in uniform for the first time in 12 games as long as he has no setbacks today or tomorrow.
"I'm looking forward to playing on Friday as long as the foot feels good," Fields said last night after Pitt's light workout at the Petersen Events Center. "Everything is going as planned."
When asked later about how confident he was in playing, Field said: "I know I'm going to play."
- Game: No. 22 Pitt (19-5, 7-4 Big East) at Marquette (17-6, 7-5).
- When: 9 p.m. tomorrow.
- TV: ESPN.
Fields said on Jan. 17, two and a half weeks after his surgery, that he would return for the Marquette game. Team doctors and trainers had projected an 8 to 12 week time frame for a return, but Fields had his own timetable all along.
"I told you all that I'd be back, so I didn't surprise myself," he said. "I knew that I would. I knew it was only a matter of time. I had to be patient. Besides a little soreness I've been feeling pretty good."
Fields was cleared by team doctors to return to practice a week ago. He has been going through conditioning on his own in addition to practicing with the team. Other than some typical soreness in the foot, which is usual for such an injury, he feels like he is ready to return to the team and contribute.
Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said he does not have a set plan on how he is going to use Fields tomorrow night, but Fields expects his minutes to be "limited."
"We'll just see how it feels," Dixon said. "There are no rules in this thing. Nothing is going to be set. You just have to play it day to day. Things change. We're not setting any rules. We're not setting any dates. I don't want to put any undo pressure on him."
When Fields was injured panic set in among the Pitt fan base. He was the second starter to go down in 10 days after Mike Cook tore the ACL in his left knee in a Dec. 20 victory against Duke. But the Panthers held it together without Fields and enter tomorrow's game with a 7-4 record in Big East play, a half game ahead of Marquette in fifth place.
The Panthers still harbor hopes for a Big East regular-season championship, and Fields' teammates are thrilled that he is going to rejoin the team for the stretch run.
"We see him at practice and he looks really good," junior forward Sam Young said. "He's been playing a lot, getting a lot of run in practice, sweating a lot. He's back to his normal self. As a team, we're definitely going to have a lot of confidence in him when he gets back. We're just waiting for that time for him to get back so he can shine and do what he does."
"I feel great about it," freshman guard Gilbert Brown said. "I'm excited to see him out there again. He's definitely going to be able to do a lot. He's been working out and getting in shape. I think he's going to be ready to play."
For now, the starting lineup is expected to remain the same. Seniors Ronald Ramon and Keith Benjamin will play point and shooting guard. Brown will play small forward with Young at power forward and freshman DeJuan Blair at center.
Fields will play the point when he is inserted into the game, which will allow Ramon to return to his old shooting guard spot.
"I'm just going to try to go out there and give whatever boost I can to the team," Fields said. "There's no sense in me playing if I'm not going to be confident. The biggest thing is not thinking about the injury. Once I'm out there, I'm going to play."
Fields was playing it low key during his interview session with reporters yesterday, but he said his emotions will be running high come at 9 p.m. tomorrow.
"You probably can't tell by this face, but I'm real energetic," he said. "I have a lot of emotions going through me right now. I can't wait until Friday, just to have my uniform back on, knowing that I'll have a chance to get in there and do something. When Friday gets here I'll be extra excited."
Ray Fittipaldo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1230.