Cameron Wright blocks a shot by Derrick Randall during the Blue and Gold scrimmage Oct. 7 at Peterson Events Center. Wright is ready to take on more responsibility for the Panthers this season.
By Paul Zeise / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Pitt men's basketball team entered this season with questions at two positions -- shooting guard and power forward -- but that doesn't mean there aren't answers on the roster.
That's especially true at the shooting guard spot where redshirt junior Cameron Wright appears poised for a breakout season, presumably his first as a starter.
Wright, who is 6 feet 4, has made coach Jamie Dixon smile on more than one occasion this preseason because of how hard he has worked to improve his game. And even though Dixon isn't ready to name a starter at the spot, he said Wright has certainly looked the part at practices thus far.
"It is our hope [that Wright is ready to make a big jump] and that is definitely what he has shown in two scrimmages and practices," Dixon said. "It hasn't been a one-time thing. It has been pretty consistent, so we are excited about that. He is playing with a lot of confidence, he is in better shape, he is shooting the ball with a lot more arc, he has played really well.
"Obviously, we have the three returning starters [Lamar Patterson, James Robinson and Talib Zanna] that stand out, but he is playing like he is a returning starter and that has really helped solidify that spot in a big way and that was not the case last year."
Wright and the rest of the Panthers fighting for a spot in the rotation will get their first opportunity against an opponent when they play host to Division II UC San Diego tonight.
This is the first of two preseason exhibition games, but Wright said it is an important first step for the Panthers because they have so many new players looking to fill roles.
"I don't look at it like an exhibition; this is our first game and we have to come out and play hard and play the right way," Wright said. "I think we all know we have to work hard every day. We can't take anyone for granted; [UC San Diego] is coming a long way to play and so I am sure they will have a chip on their shoulder, so we can't take anyone lightly.
"I just want to go out there and have fun and I know my teammates want to have fun playing together out there for the first time together as a team against a different group of guys."
Wright has been a defensive specialist for the early part of his career but said he knew that in order to take the next step and be able to fill a starting role, he would have to work on his shot and his overall offensive game.
He said the biggest change in his game is his shot but he has also worked hard on every aspect and has made sure he has paid attention to the details and little things, as well.
"Defense is definitely still a big part of my game and I make sure to continue to take pride in my defense," Wright said. "I definitely worked on my jump shot and handling the ball in the offseason. As a unit, we all take pride in our defense but I feel like my shooting has improved."
Wright said the best part of this preseason so far has been the competition for playing time as he battles with Chris Jones and Durand Johnson for the starting job.
Dixon said the power forward spot has been a little tougher to figure out because injuries have kept some key players out of practices at times. But if he has his way, he hopes that the competitions at power forward and shooting guard continues throughout the season.
"The hope is that those spots are not worked out," Dixon said. "We have some freshmen who are going to be a key and [Rutgers transfer] Derrick Randall will be a key in terms of how they evolve. And hopefully their learning curve is greater and they can pick up things and get better."
Randall and Joseph Uchebo, two reserve centers, are out tonight so Dixon said freshman Jamel Artis will play the power forward spot and freshman Michael Young will play more center.
Tonight's game was scheduled by Chris Carlson, who was Pitt's director of basketball operations under previous coach Ben Howland and was the UC San Diego coach from 2007 until about two weeks ago. He resigned to take a position with the West Coast Conference.
His top assistant, Eric Olen, is now the head coach.
Paul Zeise: email@example.com or Twitter: @paulzeise and 412-263-1720.
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