Although Pitt coach Jamie Dixon still must find replacements for departed starters DeJuan Blair, Sam Young and Tyrell Biggs before the college basketball season begins in November, he appears to have his candidate at point guard for Levance Fields: Ashton Gibbs.
"This was a big month for him," Dixon said of Gibbs' play on the USA under-19 team at the FIBA world championship in Auckland, New Zealand. Dixon coached that squad to the gold medal, the first by a USA under-19 team in 18 years; Gibbs was the primary point guard.
"We really pushed Ashton to step up and be a leader on the team," Dixon said. "I thought he did a real nice job with that. You could just see him get more and more confident as the tournament went along."
Gibbs, who will be a Pitt sophomore in the fall, played a team-high 22.4 minutes per game for a U.S. team that breezed through the competition with a 9-0 record. He averaged 9.8 points per game, getting 13 in the 88-80 win against Greece in the gold-medal game Sunday night. He also had 20 assists and just six turnovers.
"I wanted to show what I had," he said.
"The best part for me was his defense," Dixon said. "He was our best perimeter defense player. That was a big step for him. That's what we're going to need from him next season."
The defensive improvement didn't happen by accident, Gibbs said. "I've worked real hard this summer, especially on my defense and my lateral quickness. I think that improved a lot and I was able to express it at the tournament. I guarded the best guys on the other team in every game and did pretty well."
Gibbs agrees with Dixon that his confidence will carry over into Pitt's season.
"Definitely," Gibbs said. "I played against some of the best players in the world in this tournament. If I can play with those guys, I know I can play with anybody in this country."
Gibbs still must prove he can run Dixon's offense as well as Pitt point guards Fields, Carl Krauser and Brandin Knight did before him. But Gibbs might be a better shooter. Although he made just 12 of his 38 3-point shots in New Zealand, he hit 43.9 percent (36 of 82) from that range for Pitt last season when Dixon gave him valuable playing time, nearly 11 minutes a game.
"I'm just going to take what the defense gives me," Gibbs said. "If the defense is giving me open shots, I'll be aggressive and knock 'em down. But if they're leaving my teammates open, I'll find them and get them the ball."
Gibbs knows many Pitt fans are wondering if next season's team can make the NCAA tournament for a ninth consecutive season despite losing Blair, Young, Biggs and Fields. His message? No worries.
"Those are the same guys we went head-to-head with in practice every day and beat sometimes in practice. We know we can play."
For Gibbs, now more than ever.